Why Women Should Matter to the NHL 

This post was written by Robyn Pennington (@robyn_jftc) as a guest contribution for Puckology. It represents both how deeply the NHL’s attitude towards women is hurting their customers and how personal the choice is to remain engaged with the league.  Welcome, Robyn.

Content warning: Domestic violence, sexual assault.

Why Women Should Matter to the NHL

I wrote this piece partly inspired by Sarah Connor’s amazing article at Stanley Cup of Chowder and partly in light of the NHL’s and Blackhawks’ lack of response to the Patrick Kane case.

When Slava Voynov was arrested, the league did the right thing by suspending him immediately. Though the Kings voiced support for the league’s decision, they also violated the conditions of said suspension by allowing him to practice with his teammates. In essence, their actions never quite matched their words. They’re not off the hook accountability-wise, but they have at least taken steps to try and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Semyon Varlamov was accused of assaulting his girlfriend and was eventually arrested, yet the league did nothing. Varlamov was allowed to return to practice and even played in games. Though charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence, the fact remains that the NHL shrugged their shoulders and carried on, business as usual.

What’s worse is the league’s handling of the Patrick Kane situation. Not only was he not suspended, the NHL has stood by his team’s decision to have Kane actively participate in training camp and to take part in what can only be described as the most ill-advised press conference ever. Patrick Kane was given the opportunity to denounce his accuser while representing his team and then refuse to answer any questions about his own behavior.

It’s still business as usual. The league has the power to act under a provision written into the CBA to allow the league to protect its reputation (Article 18-A.2) but they have deemed this not…harmful?

I am sick to my stomach for Kane’s accuser. I hope she finds justice and eventual peace despite this horrifying nightmare happening to her. No one ever deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted.

As for me, I feel like the league is telling me I don’t matter. By their inaction, the NHL has long been telling us that we don’t count.

I had convinced myself that it was getting better, that they were starting to listen and realize that my dollar spends just as well as any man’s. When the Blackhawks said they were listening to their fans and the New York Islanders did away with “ice girls” in favor of a co-ed crew, I thought maybe the league is finally changing.

I was wrong.

If anything, the league is reversing course and actively shutting out the voices of women. By standing around with their hands in their metaphorical pockets, the league is basically saying that it condones violence against women. They are not perpetuating the squeaky-clean image that Gary Bettman boasted about so recently. They’re perpetuating the ugly “boys will be boys” stereotype while doing nothing to support victims of violence.

I’m not talking about financial support but moral support. Something to say, “I believe you,” or, “we will not tolerate rape in this league no matter how good you are at hockey.” An easy start would be suspending Kane, or at the very least, not allowing him a public forum with which to deny the accusations against him.

The league lacks a standard form of discipline. They finally figured it out (kind of) for on-ice conduct with the Player Safety position. If a cross-check to the head deserves a five-game suspension, why does a rape accusation not deserve the same consideration? I’m not suggesting it should be a set amount for a player is accused of doing a horrible act – but why is it not an automatic suspension until the legal matter is cleared up?

Why was it an immediate suspension for Voynov? Was it just because he was arrested? Is it because the NFL screwed up and the NHL wanted to look like they were cracking down on domestic violence and “taking a stand” against it?

Why is the league cherry picking these issues? If a player is formally accused in a legal setting of committing an illegal act, the NHL has a responsibility to its fans to ensure that the legalities are taken care of before allowing the alleged wrongdoer to return to work.

Every 107 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted; one in six women in America has been a victim of either attempted or completed rape in her lifetime; one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

That translates to approximately 2000 rape survivors in attendance at every Chicago Blackhawks game. (Via Jen LC @RegressedPDO)

I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars on the Kings and the NHL. The league has chosen to turn a blind eye to the extremely serious allegations against a star money maker and I have never felt more isolated, frustrated or incredibly outraged. I feel like I don’t matter.

But the fact is: I do.

And I should matter. Between 32 and 40% of NHL fans are female. At minimum, that is one  in three fans. Even better, I live in the same city as my favorite hockey team and I will contribute to gate sales, which are still the biggest portion of NHL revenue. Even from a business standpoint, it is not favorable to alienate part of your customer base, especially one as large as the portion girls/women make up.

Think of it this way: If you’re a business owner with a million customers and you decided to ignore a third of them because “reasons,” you’re not maximizing profits. In this hypothetical scenario, if each person brings in a profit of $10, you’re now losing out on $3 million worth of revenue. This is now a poor business decision by the NHL to make me, a woman, feel like I don’t matter.

The fact that I am not a 45-year-old man with a household income averaging more than $100,000 a year doesn’t mean I don’t matter. It doesn’t mean the league ought to ignore my voice.

So to Bill Daly, Gary Bettman and all the other deniers in the NHL’s front office: I. MATTER.

I will fight for a better, more open, more caring hockey league that tells burgeoning fan bases, “WE CARE. WE LISTEN. YOU ARE IMPORTANT.”

Hockey may be a children’s sport, but it has brought so much joy to my house and opened up new worlds and ideas that I never knew I could ever experience.

I refuse to go away quietly and ignore this issue just because someone else has decided that the game isn’t right for women. I am not ready to walk away just yet and I will continue to tell the NHL that I matter, that all women matter and that we will not tolerate the embarrassing ways they find to exclude us. We will knock down that door kicking and screaming and demanding to be heard.

As a new season dawns on the National Hockey League, I want to remind women that we are valuable and that we shouldn’t let a bunch of old geezers in suits tell us we’re not.

We are important. We matter.

On the Other Hand…

[Content warning: This talks about SA/DV. Please know your limits before proceeding.]
I’m sitting here trying to figure out something very important in my life. What do I do now? How, given the shitshow that the NHL has become (or more accurately been revealed to be), does my relationship with the league change?

The NHL has in recent weeks and months shown itself to be not only hostile to women and to the survivors of sexual abuse but absolutely and completely unwilling to change. The NHL is a league that publicly supports the shaming and silencing of the victims of sexual and domestic violence and they are unwilling to even consider that there might be something wrong with that.

As a whole, they proceed on the assumption that players being called out on reprehensible behavior is something underhanded that happens to them. They believe that the crime is that someone spoke out and tarnished their reputation. 

They believe that a rape investigation is a distraction to the league. 

The distraction, of course, is not that someone accused a player of being an evil shithead, but that the evil shithead still gets to fucking represent the league in public. The distraction is that the story isn’t what’s happening on the ice but the total assholery off the ice from both players and management. 

Patrick Kane. Mike Ribeiro. Drew Doughty. Semyon Varlamov. 

Not one of these players saw anyone in any professional authority over them take a stand against rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence. No one did. No one said, sit down, you evil shithead. How dare you claim to represent me? That’s some next level assholery, NHL. 

I believe that there are good people in hockey. I believe that there are good people employed by the NHL and its teams. I have met some of them and have interacted with others online. Patrick Kane now represents those people and that’s not fair. 

Where do I, then, fit in? How can I support a league that is openly hostile to my existence as a woman and a rape and abuse survivor?

I have already stopped wearing NHL merchandise. I mostly stopped months ago after David Poile of the Nashville Predators not only called Mike Ribeiro a good family man but said that he couldn’t be bothered about the woman Ribeiro assaulted because she filed a civil case. Despite the fact that rape and assault victims often have literally no other recourse. Really? Fuck you too, David Polie. The justice system let her down, and you kicked her. 

I have stopped purchasing tickets and attending Predators games. This is actually a bit of a problem because the company that staffs concessions and security at Bridgestone Arena literally gives homeless people jobs. Some of those people are my friends. But I just can’t bring myself to do it.

On the other hand, I have a job. I love my job. I am a better, happier person because of my job and the challenges it brings me. And part of my job is to write about goaltenders in the NHL. Which promotes the NHL along with the individuals. Not to mention that I have to have an NHL streaming package to do that job. That’s my money in their pocket.

I have been trying to decide what to do about that. Trying to decide if I am still able to fulfill those duties. Right now, I believe I can, even though it means compartmentalizing the fuck out of my life. So to the extent that I can live with it. I will live with it. Because, again: healthy, (largely) happy, growing. 

On the other hand, I’m trying to remind myself to keep tabs on how I’m doing. To balance NHL coverage and the attendant implications with women’s hockey coverage, which I am more proud and honored to do than I can possibly say. Healthy, (largely) happy, growing. Things change over time. I need to be aware of that. 

There is so much I want to learn and I have to learn it in the real world. Maybe I will have the chance to do good along the way.

On the other hand, the NHL must face up to the moral imperative to change. This is a pivotal challenge. What they do now will have repercussions down the road. Make the right decision. And don’t expect me to shut up about it, either.

And for fans who are reeling from this, I give the only wisdom I have to give. Know thyself. Respect your own boundaries, because no one else will respect them for you. Give the part of yourself that you are able to give and give it to the people that will allow you to be healthy and happy and to grow. And don’t let anyone shame you for the decisions you make. However you survive is good. 


I confess. I do not like math or statistics. This is why it’s a little uncomfortable to me that I have in any way become considered part of the “stats crowd.” 

I don’t enjoy statistics. I don’t enjoy doing it and I don’t enjoy reading about it. I don’t enjoy thinking about it. This is not my bailiwick. I’d rather be learning something else. It is very hard to be creative in a field you find a chore.

This summer, Network Goaltending put on a weekend symposium with goalie coaches from all over the world. I longed–physically longed–to be there. I wanted to put the list of attendees on my wall as inspiration. 

This is perhaps more meaningful if one understands that I don’t handle crowds well. I don’t do small talk and I don’t chitchat. I’m a bore at parties unless I know everyone already. But for that experience I would have done all of that and more. Just to be able to listen and see and learn. 

On the other hand, there are now multiple stats conferences every year, with people I already kinda know from Twitter and such. I’ll probably never go to one. 

The questions I want answered are not sparked by statistics and they’re not fully answered by them. The statistics sometimes help me look at those questions but they show only partial outlines of the answers. 

The full lived experience of hockey complicates the statistics and I’m interested in that fuller question. I want to know how to see the game better, how to understand it more, how to make decisions and judgments about it. I want to know it on a micro level. I want to understand the game’s place in our lives. The stats can sometimes help with those questions to some extent, but they simply cannot give me what I need. 

I do numbers work because it’s necessary, not because it’s fun or fascinating to me. There’s simply too much to be gained by adding the stats to your repertoire to justify not knowing something about the process. And there are some questions that can’t be answered any other way. 

People make assumptions about things like frequency and variation and significance of events. Those assumptions can be tested and they should be. They can often only be tested by numbers work. 

The work that has been done in hockey statistics is changing the way people think about the sport, generally (though not always) for the better. 

I do believe in the statistics, at least the ones that are vetted and tested. And I understand the testing process that turns so many observers off. I don’t enjoy it, but I do understand the need for it. I also applaud those who are taking the initiative to break new ground. Thank you. I appreciate your efforts and I’m sure I’ll get around to reading it eventually.

But this confession is my declaration of independence. This is me saying to me that I don’t have to keep doing that which I don’t enjoy. I did statistics work in the past in large part because I was able to. I’m ready to grow in a new direction now and learn to do something different.

I hereby give myself permission to ask the questions I want to ask and find the answers the way I think best. Regardless of the work that anyone else is doing or their opinion of my search. 

The Thing About Stamkos

The Boltosphere is all in a tizzy these days because Steven Stamkos, who’s in the final year of his last RFA contract, hasn’t signed an extension. 

This is not the first time this has happened, of course. We all bear the scars of the last #Stammergeddon in 2011. When he signed in July. It is now the latter part of August. So it’s getting a little antsy in here. 

 I don’t necessarily have the feeling that Stamkos won’t sign. I don’t have the feeling that he will, though, either. I know I’m going to hear from a whole slew of other writers that it’s still early and still preseason and he’s still under contract for another year anyway. But, really, you’re all just fooling yourselves. 

It is late. Not hugely late. Not panic-inducingly late. But it is a little bit late to be hearing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the state of these contract talks. Not even “they met today” kind of stuff. Total radio silence is okay in June or even July, given how late the season ended. August, though? It’s reasonable to have some concern.


Steven looks a little concerned, too.

Because I can guarantee you that if there’s no agreement by the opening of training camp the next thing we’ll hear is that they (meaning Stamkos and his agent) don’t want to negotiate during the season but that he loves playing in Tampa. 


Then before you know it, he’s taking questions about this at the All-Star game and saying “it’s not just about the money” and we’re all parsing every word and debating trading him and making “Please sign, Stammer. We love you.” videos and probably church signs because this is Tampa and then he goes and signs in Minnesota of all places for like the entirety of the salary cap because, hey, it’s not all about the money.

I’m just saying I’ve been here before. It’s about the money and loyalty is dead.

On the other hand, I don’t think this is an undoable thing. If it were I’d be a bit less concerned. Certainly some kind of max contract would be tough to work around, but there are ways to make it work without selling off all the young talent.

For one thing, you need young talent to be a Cup contender, not just marginally useful veterans, a bunch of rookies, and one superstar in his prime. If you have half a chance, you trade away one or more of the veterans like, say, Valtteri Filppula, despite the fact that the team would be Finn-less and significantly less blond if you did.  

 Filppula is one of those moderately useful veterans and he’s got a cap hit of $5 million and if you have to choose between him and Steven Stamkos plus Alex Killorn or I don’t know, Ondrej Palat, sorry but näkemiin, Val.

The kids might get more in trade, but that’s because they’ll provide value above their contract for another few years and Steve Yzerman would have to be Mike Milbury not to see that. I thank all the heavens daily that Steve Yzerman is not Mike Milbury.

It’s that very dynamic that makes trading Stamkos a losing proposition if it comes down to it. Nothing you get in exchange for Stamkos will be worth what you give up unless you are, in fact, trading with an idiot. There are plenty of idiots out there, but they’ve already traded all the good players for gritty fourth liners with heart so there’s nothing left to put together a package for Stamkos.

Plus, and this always gets ignored, Steven Stamkos has a no move clause in his contract, so he controls where he goes. 

  In the end, I expect that Yzerman will do everything possible to retain Stamkos for the long haul but that even he has a line he can’t cross. If he’s as smart as I think he is, that line is drawn around the young core of the Triplets, Kucherov, Drouin, Killorn, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy. Maybe Stralman, too. With everyone else a deal can potentially be done. 

Again, though. Steven Stamkos has to agree to all of this. If he doesn’t, if this drags of for another six months, trade him. It will be painful, but that doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do. 

On Women, Sportwriting, and “Just Keep Writing”

People like to give advice. People who have become successful at something love to share their wisdom about how to end up where they are. It’s a kind of humble brag: I did this (I’m special and worth listening to) and you can, too! (but not too special.) It’s also a way of saying that the actions a person took are more important than the context in which they took them.

Recently, a successful hockey writer gave some (as far as I know unsolicited) advice to women and people of color who wanted to become successful at–and get paid for–writing about hockey. It was well-meant but naive and more than a little arrogant. If you don’t like the rules at one site, start your own. Create great content and people will find you. Just do it. That kind of thing. Continue reading

Oh, Captain! What a Day This Could Have Been

Marty St. Louis retired yesterday. It ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, to use a cliche. Everyone knew it was coming. He’d become something of a liability on the ice recently and no offers appeared to materialize on July 1. So the next day, he retired.

When I first heard the news, I simply stopped. I didn’t know what to think or what I really felt. Sadness? Nostalgia? A little bit of schadenfreude–some “serves you right!” ? How about regret? Continue reading

Observations on Drafting Goaltenders

Over the past few years, I’ve been spending my summers immersed in NHL goaltending draft data. In light of the upcoming draft I’ve pulled together some general observations that fans of drafting teams might find interesting. All of this has been published before, mostly at Raw Charge or here at Puckology, although in one instance it was published in Justin Goldman’s latest book, Between Two Worlds. Links are provided below. Continue reading

The Montreal Canadiens Really Are the Underdogs. But….

I find it fascinating how winning changes people’s perceptions of a team’s actual strengths. Take the 2014-15 Montreal Canadiens, for instance. They won 50 games, the Atlantic Division title, and a first-round series. And somehow, it gets forgotten that they have been, at least over the long haul, not very good as a team.

You’d think they were good, looking at their roster. They should be good. And yet, there is virtually no measure by which the Montreal Canadiens are actually a better team than the Tampa Bay Lightning. In every single measure of process, they are worse. [All data and graphs are from War On Ice and are 5v5 Score-Adjusted, including playoffs.]

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CWHL/NWHL: Competition is Good, War is not

Not even a month ago, on March 26, a new women’s professional hockey league was announced: the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). The arrival of this new, US-based league had sparked intense interest and discussion among women’s hockey fans. It has also sparked anxiety and hostility in some quarters. While the former is positive, the latter is not.

Continue reading