Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can A 6th Defenceman Make A Difference?

Just a reminder that there is something more important than a goalie wanting to play more than 3 times in a month, more important perhaps even than the return of a 5-goal hero...

Today is the the day the leaders of the world are making their way to Copenhagen. Among them will be Stephen Harper and the ubiquitous Barack Obama. It's a critical few days for the world and for Canada, as it could affect several aspects of our daily lives and indeed the way our economy is focused.

The NHL and the NHLPA, despite their heroic ability to negotiate something as important as hockey pay, won't be at the table. But that is not to say they are not interested. Between the league and the players union Green issues are something (they have been advised to portray as) close to the heart. What better time to have a look than today as we await the news of another mass African walk-out?


The NHL


Two years ago, the NHL went as Green as they were ever going to go, when they aligned with GreenLife to: "assess current operations, identify and implement best practices, and recommend specific steps to reduce the League's carbon footprint and improve its overall environmental impact."

That was two years ago. Now I don't know much more than that, and I haven't done the most thorough piece of investigative journalism, but it strikes me that since the NHL liked the PR at the time, they would be keeping up the PR if they were still going with the partnership.

Perhaps they are. After all, it is probably just some consultants providing suggestions at the end of the day. But I also wonder what the NHL has achieved in the two years. After all, what are their options? Teams need to fly, because great distances need to be covered. Teams need to drive, since arenas aren't usually at airports. Rinks must be refrigerated and buildings heated and lit. There's really little the league could do – barring one thing: design a better schedule.

Now you don't need to look far to see they haven't really took green issues to heart in that regard. Perhaps it's too complicated in an Olympic year, but this week alone Montreal plays 2 games in New York City. They will have flown there for today's game only to take a flight right back home tonight and then return to the Big Apple for Saturday's contest. now I'm not a climate change consultant, but...

You'd have to give the league a break if they were getting it mostly right. But they aren't. This post shows how total travel is actually up this year (despite their PR alliance). An area that would seem to be the first to look at back-to-back games is a shambles. The Habs have had 5 sets so far, and can look forward to 10 more. Should be climate friendly time right? Stay at home, take travel out of the equation. Wrong. The 5 sets so far have all been one home game, one road game. Of the 10 to come, only one is 2 home games, 6 are home and away.


The NHLPA

The situation is different in the NHLPA.

The issue here, as I'm sure it will probably be in Copenhagen, is one of leadership. NHL the Brown stands still, because after all, which owner is going to call for less games, call for less variety in opponents. There is no natural lead. NHLPA the Greener is moving forward thanks to the work of Andrew Ference in particular

Andrew Ference
Though it's not easy for me to write kind words about a Bruins player, I must make an exception for Mr. Ference. I greatly admire him for finding a passion for something, talking about it, and most importantly doing something about it.



What Ference has done so far has been to rustle up all the other players and get them to sign up to a carbon off-set scheme. Now carbon off-set schemes have their problems and their detractors, and they probably don't represent the ideal solution to all the world's problems. but consider where Ference was coming from – a world where you fly thousands of miles to play 60 minutes of hockey and then fly thousands of miles out again the same night. With the precedent being doing nothing about it (which frustratingly is what most critics of schemes like carbon offset do) he decided to at least make a start.

Now, where he goes from here is to be seen. One concerned for the enviroment might hope he lobby the league to re-align the conferences more sensibly, cut the number of games or just press for greener scheduling even if it does mean double doses of the same team. but to this point, what the 6th defenceman has done is worthy of praise. And high praise, he has received too, from no less than an original eco-warrior: David Suzuki.



Amazing what the 6th defencemen on some teams can do. Speaking of 6th defencemen, the Canadiens...



Canadiens signed up



I wish one of our players was providing the league-leading example here, but instead it's a (ugh) Bruin. The Canadiens players are involved though. Initially 523 players signed up to Ference's plan, which was a massive proportion of the NHLPA membership. The list of Habs from that initial 2008 tally was 17 (Begin, Bouillon, Brisebois, Dandenault, Hamrlik, Koivu, Komisarek, Kostitsyn, Kostopoulos, Kovalev, Lapierre, Latendresse, Markov, Plekanec, Ryder, Smolinski, Streit). The 17 is just about on average for an NHL outfit and though it falls short of the total participation from Florida, it still puts 6-signee Carolina and Columbus in their place.

Notably absent were Huet, Price and Halak (goaltenders like the mushy ice), Higgins, Gorges and O'Byrne. Maybe they've signed up by now.

Funnily, all the additions from this summer were also already on the list.

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