When the NFL’s Rookie-Gate story broke earlier this season, we hockey types performed a quick self-examination to see if any symptoms of freshman bullying still existed in the NHL. The initial consensus diagnosis was “all clear.”
Hazing, came the echoes from corners of our world, is a thing of the past. Veterans are no longer forcing frosh to shave body parts or perform other acts of humiliation. The kids are treated with due respect.
There is one minor holdout, however, a last rite of passage that NHL newcomers must endure if they want to be truly accepted into the club: the rookie dinner. On a pre-determined date, during a road trip, the players and perhaps other team personnel enjoy a lavish outing at an expensive restaurant. And the first-year players pick up the tab. It’s a night of excess that costs the kids thousands each.
And while there has been the occasional black eye – following a dinner in 2008, Montreal’s Ryan O’Byrne was arrested for stealing a woman’s purse, then had charges dropped after he apologized – the events are typically benign and remembered as good team-bonding sessions. Calgary’s team president Brian Burke said his clubs have installed a cap of $5,000 per freshman to protect the newbies. Unless we’re missing something, hazing at rookie dinners is not an issue.
Heck, even Sean Avery looked innocent back in 2003 during his rookie dinner with the Wings, as seen on this ESPN clip.
What does niggle, however, is the specter of conspicuous consumption. While it may not be the players’ intention, in some social circles their over-the-top night out is perceived as an obscene display of wealth. The mental image isn’t too dissimilar to when Evander Kane had his photo taken in Vegas, using a bundle of cash as a phone prop.
We’re not suggesting the boys stop having their fun and discontinue the rookie dinner tradition. But there are measures they can take to counter any bitter taste. How about all veterans on the team match the tab and donate the money to local charities? (As we understand it, something similar to this concept has been done on Ted Nolan-coached teams).
We’re aware the NHL and Players’ Association are already good corporate citizens and that many players are philanthropic, but a gesture to turn an over-the-top dinner that flaunts riches into a fundraiser for those with less could be a public relations coup. At the least, it’s food for thought.