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Screen Shots: Jersey Ads, Wheeler and NHL's Exposure Combine

Adam Proteau looks at the NHL's introduction of jersey ads, what's next for Blake Wheeler and the Winnipeg Jets, and the league's recent reffing combine that aimed to help create opportunities for women in professional hockey.
Buffalo, NY: Montreal Canadiens defenseman Gianni Fairbrother (#36) during a game at LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo, New York, USA

This is another edition of Screen Shots, a regular THN.com feature in which we analyze a small number of hockey topics in a brief span. As always, let’s do away with any excessive introductory words and get right down to brass tacks.

– The NHL’s “jersey advertising program” kicked into high gear as high-impact jerseys, including those of the Montreal Canadiens, were unveiled.

You can see why teams might want them – there’s no extra work to be done for lucrative jersey ad deals – but jersey ads are like the Greyscale affliction in Game of Thrones. (And yes, if you’re counting, this is the first hockey/GoT comparison of what could be many from this corner this year.) It starts out with a small “infected” area, then, slowly but surely, it spreads throughout the “host” and eventually covers the entirety of the person.

Of course, there will be those who say this type of reaction to jersey ads is naive, and point to the rise of rink board advertising as something similarly inevitable as teams (as well as the NHL Players’ Association) max out all revenue streams. But at some point, is there nothing sacred? The beauty of NHL team jerseys lies, in part, because of the fact they’re not scarred with ads, and the last thing anyone should want is for NHL jerseys to start looking like European-league jerseys, which in many cases are more ads than team name or logo.

Besides, it’s not as if NHL team owners can cry poor here: before the league’s salary cap was implemented, high-powered teams in Toronto and Detroit were spending close to or at the current cap ceiling of $82.5 million; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has brought costs under control, and player salaries have not grown at nearly the same rate as NHL franchise values have grown. Leave jerseys alone.

– The Winnipeg Jets shocked the NHL recently with the announcement veteran winger and locker room leader Blake Wheeler was stripped of his captaincy of the team. While some people make a good argument this is an indication the franchise has lost its way, at the very least, it should be clear Wheeler’s days in Winnipeg are numbered.

The 36-year-old Wheeler has spent the grand majority of his NHL career with the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers organization, but he has yet to lead them to Stanley Cup playoff glory. He’s under contract for this coming season and the season following at a cap hit of $8.25 million, a number that will limit the number of suitors for his services. But he’s a proven commodity, a big-bodied, 20-goal scorer who can handle the pressures of playing in a hockey-mad market.

In any case, moving him would be a clear indication of a new era in Winnipeg, something many observers believe is now overdue. If the Jets struggle to start the year, longtime GM Kevin Cheveldayoff may not be around to be the person who gets to trade Wheeler, but it now seems more likely than not Wheeler won't be in Winnipeg for the remainder of his contract. Let the bidding on him begin.

– Finally, let’s praise the NHL for continuing to push the envelope on female officials at the highest levels of the game. At this year’s Exposure Combine in Buffalo, there were nine women participating, with many of them working rookie tournaments and in the American League and junior hockey leagues.

As we’ve said many times, the NHL, and hockey in general, must do more to be more inclusive on many fronts, including the gender front. The only way they’re going to get there is through outreach programs like the NHL/NHL Officials’ mentorship program, and while there’s still a long ways to go in that regard, it’s encouraging to see the sport make real progress, and inspire younger women to put their time and energy into this side of hockey.

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