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Roundtable: NHL-Style Manningcast Hosts, TikTok Stars

Is the seat under Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan getting hot yet? Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

On this week’s roundtable, we look at what a new arena means to the fan experience as the Washington Capitals announced plans to build a new arena and district outside of downtown Washington D.C., who is most likely to embrace TikTok trends, players that could host a NHL-style “Manningcast” in the future, and whose seat is on fire as the league saw the third coach fired already this season.

The Washington Capitals announced plans to build a new arena and entertainment district in Virginia. How much of having something to do around the arena plays into the game day experience when attending hockey games? And does that change if you’re there only for one or if you go to all 41 regular season home games?

Paledragon, The Cannon: This is a deeply personal question for me. On one hand, Columbus has a perfect example of how an arena can revitalize an entire neighborhood. I can remember as a kid being afraid of the area between downtown and the OSU campus, where the abandoned prison sat. Now, it’s the heart of the city, and the hockey arena has been joined by a concert venue and stadiums for championship-winning baseball and soccer teams (Go Crew). It absolutely helps the experience to have places to hang out before or after a game, or to patronize even when the team isn’t playing. On the other hand, I attended college in DC and saw how that arena helped the downtown/Chinatown neighborhood. While this new plan for the Caps could help a new development in Virginia, it would also kill an area in the heart of the nation’s capital. Now it looks like there may be a bidding war between cities, at the taxpayers’ expense, while Ted Leonsis could easily afford to build a new arena (or upgrade his current one) by himself.

Sky on Air, Davy Jones Locker Room: I think it does matter and it can help a local arena, but much more important to the discussion is how you get there. Just about every thriving arena district connects either to a local bus lane or some form of subway/light rail system,  and if it doesn’t, issues emerge and fast. Ottawa fans have been kvetching for years about their team’s lack of proximity to Ottawa and the issues of attendance as a result; the team itself has been angling to get back into downtown Ottawa for years directly because of this (and also because Canadian Tire Centre is a rapidly aging building that isn’t being paid for by public money). The big problem Caps fans are going to run into with this, should Leonsis go through with the Potomac Yard proposal, is that much of Potomac Yard is still a literal parking lot; it’s been seeing rapid re-development sure, but only in the corporate and residential sector; Alexandria’s a pretty big town, but it’s not ready for both Caps and Wizards fans looking for something to do before the game starts/after it finishes. It has connection via the Metro, but that station is woefully underequipped for the purpose of getting a s#!tload of people from downtown DC to Alexandria…and WMATA just froze out employee wages and regularly has to beg for money just to get track maintenance done. The current road to the proposed site is one a two-lane highway. Oh yeah, and the Potomac regularly floods Alexandria and they’re plopping this proposed arena right next to that. I’m sure Leonsis will pull out all the stops to make certain there are enough mildly overpriced eateries around, but just getting there could end up being such a nightmare without significant improvements that it may not even matter.

Cara Thorington, Arctic Ice Hockey: I am only speaking from experience in Winnipeg, but I think a well-done district can be transformative to a city at least partially. When I was attending the University of Winnipeg, they were renovating (and later opening) more restaurants around campus which is smack in the middle of downtown within walking distance of the Winnipeg rink. All of a sudden people who worked downtown had places to go for lunch or dinner before heading home. It was a nice change. Districts around arenas, if in areas that are not ghost towns outside of game days, allows for casuals attendees to make a real night of it by going out prior to the game. Most people cannot afford that for 41 games, but it is nice for the odd special game. 

Mike McGraw, Winging It In Motown: Those in Detroit old enough to remember The Joe and compare it to Little Caesar’s Arena will probably tell you it doesn’t matter. With The Joe, you always had your favorite spot somewhere around the downtown area (or out in the suburbs) and you’d shuttle over to the arena or take the People Mover. There wasn’t much around Joe Louis Arena but it didn’t really matter, you just did whatever your pre-game ritual was and went on with your experience. Now that Wings fans have LCA… honestly I can’t say much has changed. There’s more to do, both in the immediate area and at the arena itself, but Detroiters and Michiganders still largely hit up their favorite watering hole, canteen, dive bar, or speakeasy and then shuffle on over to the arena. Maybe for a game or two we might hit up one of the sit-down restaurants at the arena or up/down Woodward, but a hockey gameday in Detroit mostly remains what it has been for the past 40+ years.

Eric Gegenheimer, Second City Hockey: United Center is weird because although there’s stuff to do around it, it’s all at least a few blocks from the stadium – plus they actively use the atrium connected to it for performances/events/places to eat before the game. I visited TD Garden in Boston earlier this season and I loved how much there was to do and see immediately around the arena (walk around the North End and hit up the delicious Italian bakeries, people!). And ditto for some other stadiums/areas I’ve traveled to before; Toronto is another one that immediately comes to mind. But notice these are all road cities I’m mentioning, so a big part of that is the sightseeing aspect. I think we all have favorite spots and traditions when we go to games locally, I don’t know how much access to fast casual chain restaurants or sky diving tubes or fancy bowling or whatever would ever be of interest to me as part of a gameday experience though.

The Boston Bruins have embraced TikTok trends and are a hit on social media this season, getting active participation from some of their star players to join in. Who in the NHL would be the LEAST likely to hop on a TikTok trend?

Taylor Baird, Defending Big D: Connor McDavid, because he does not have an ounce of humor in his body.

Thorington: I agree with Connor McDavid. When he was playing I think Jonathan Toews would be a solid choice as well. Somewhat off topic, but the Habs had some of their alumni (like the older dudes, not the recently retired ones) offering opinions on players suits and it made for some good content. 

Paledragon: McDavid was first to mind for me as well, but really it describes about 80% of NHLers. “Oh yeah, just gotta battle for the puck out there, ya know?” BORING. The NHL definitely needs to find a way to tap into the players who DO have a personality, though I would caution against simply hopping on current Tik Tok trends. That ends up coming across as false, or “cringe” as I’m led to believe the youths would say. Find players with unique hobbies away from the ice and let them show them off. 

Sky on Air: McDavid, Bedard, Jack Eichel, all of them are absolutely miserable interviews and hockey robots. While they’re great on-ice, that’s just about where the excitement around them ends. Unfortunately a lot of players with genuine personality in the NHL either aren’t stars, are on teams most other fans generally don’t like or want to support, or get the personality coached out of them in Junior. Even worse, if they do end up showing a bit of personality, there’s a non-zero chance they might get raked over the coals by local and national NHL media for showing it. It’s happened before.

There are interesting people in this sport, I swear to god there are…but it requires both a willingness to send people to places they might not think is immediately interesting or even worse…giving players an opportunity to be themselves at some point between them becoming unpaid professionals at the ripe age of 14 and their first game in the NHL.

Gegenheimer: I’m guessing Alex Wennberg has had enough of social media for his next few lifetimes. The superstars in the NHL are like hot people in real life, they have little to no personality because they never had the need to develop one. 

Craig Berube became the third coach fired in the NHL this season. Whose seat is the hottest now?

Thorington: Easy answer is Pittsburgh, no? I would say Columbus, but their recent coach history is, well their own fault. 

Erika Towne, Fear the Fin: Mike Sullivan. The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins fired a coach mid season, the team won the Stanley Cup. It can happen again right?

Paledragon: It’s honestly baffling that three coaches have been fired before DJ Smith. This was supposed to be the year the Senators got back to the playoffs, and instead they’re in last place in the Atlantic. Is the new ownership fooled by the fact that the Sens have at least two games in hand over anyone else in the league? Even then, they’re just 24th best by points percentage, and 14th in the East. They may feel firing the coach so soon after firing the GM is too much instability, but it’s clear that new leadership is needed throughout the organization. The foundation is there for this team to be good.

McGraw: Wings beat the Wild, they fire Evason… Wings beat the Blues, they fire Berube… the Wings play New Jersey on the 23rd and if the Devils are still out of a playoff spot by then… I’m not saying Lindy Ruff SHOULD feel like he’s on the hot seat, but if recent history is any indication then maybe he wants to get a few more points out of his squad before then. But to be realistic… it has to be Pittsburgh hands-down, no?

Sky on Air: It probably should be DJ Smith; the team he has should absolutely be way better than it is, but for some reason it simply…cannot be. Their underlying numbers seem to have them at being kinda mid, but even kinda mid in the Atlantic should be able to get them into a wild card spot. That said, I wish Mike Sullivan all the best in his future endeavors at some point past the trade deadline when he inevitably gets canned.

Gegenheimer: I’m rolling with everyone else in that Sullivan probably already has Dubas’ number blocked on his phone in anticipation but I’ll toss Dave Hakstol out there as another name I haven’t seen mentioned yet. The Kraken have been very, very bad this season after seemingly taking some major developmental steps last year. Eventually that leads back to the coach.

Which retired hockey player duo could host the best NHL-centric “ManningCast”?

Thorington: P.K. Subban and a rotating cast of goalies including: Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Eddie Lack, Ilya Bryzgalov and more. I don’t know if they would have the same blend of dorkiness and knowledge, but I think they would nail the knowledge piece as they are all funny and knowledgeable dudes. Also, Price for this reason alone:

Paledragon: I know you said retired, but if the NHL wants their own version of the Mannings, they should start grooming the Tkachuk brothers for that role now. They fit the bill: American-born, second-generation pros, and combine old-school physical play with the modern level of skill and flair. 

McGraw: If the “Manningcast” happened over in Sweden, the obvious answer would be the Sedin twins. That may be too on-the-nose. Maybe Ryan and Drew Miller? Brothers that both had long NHL careers that touched both coasts and both countries… I have no clue what their personalities would be like on-air, but Drew always seemed fun when he was here in Detroit. Maybe we can get PK and Malcolm Subban once the latter retires?

Sky on Air: Bobby Lu and PK Too, weekdays on TNT.

Gegenheimer: Whoever it is, just please God not another BIG HOCKEY PERSONALITY (I’m forced to watch them enough on broadcasts and/or their terrible liquor commercials that run during every ad break). I like PK, but not nearly as much as PK likes PK. Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack would be great, but almost feels kind of redundant because everybody knows you need a straight man. So I’m going Bobby Lu and, even though he’s not officially retired yet, Phil Kessel. Yes Kessel gives off big serial killer energy, but he’s also a total wildcard and I have a feeling he’d say some truly insane stuff. He’s also played in some fantastic markets and has had an incredible career, which should give him a really unique perspective. And one million points to Cara for suggesting Bryzgalov.

If you could fill one NHL team’s stocking full of coal, which would it be and why?

Thorington: Boston Bruins because my first love hockey team is the Montreal Canadiens. Or the Minnesota Wild because they always make me want to fall asleep. Or the West Coast teams because their games start so late. I have a lot of teams I don’t like. 

Paledragon: Homer pick here, but…John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen. Betting everything on hiring Mike Babcock was a bad call, and it predictably blew up in their faces. Now some of the biggest contracts on the team like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine are underperforming (Laine especially). Unless Jarmo has a complete 180 after being visited by the ghosts of Doug MacLean and Scott Howson performing “Marley and Marley”, some big changes are likely to happen before the trade deadline.

Sky on Air: While part of me desperately wants to write “Every single Canadian team with the Canucks excepted because they chose stability or identity over being successful and they do not have the excuses of the other NHL teams”, I think you need to give coal out not just for bad behavior in general but for bad behavior leading into the holiday season in specific. So I am walking right over to the Honda Center on behalf of Ducks fans and saying “How DARE you do this over the holidays.” You really had people going. You really had them thinking the Ducks were back. Then it all went up in smoke, and you’re right back down with the Sharks. How do you sleep at night? There were people excited for this team!

Gegenheimer: I will gladly give the Calgary Flames as much coal as they’d like (I’ve heard it’s very cold in Alberta in the winter) and just about anything else within reason in order to get them to send Elias Lindholm and Chris Tanev to Chicago. The Blackhawks need so, so, so much help to even be a watchable team this season, and that’s a good place to start.