What we learned last week in the NHL: Racist taunts unite league

Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot makes a save on a shot by Arizona center Christian Dvorak on Feb. 17.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

What we learned from the last week of play in the NHL:

The response to the Devante Smith-Pelly incident was uniting

The NHL and the Chicago Blackhawks promptly condemned an incident Saturday in which the Washington Capitals forward and former Ducks player was subjected to racial taunts from attendees at United Center. The league has been active with diversity and inclusivity programs such as Hockey Is for Everyone and You Can Play, and the episode at least allowed the league and players to reinforce the message. “Unfortunately we live in a world where there are people who are ignorant,” said Kings forward Dustin Brown, the team’s ambassador for Hockey Is for Everyone. “I think it was the response, how the Blackhawks handled it, how the league handled, how Smith-Pelly handled it, is what we should be focusing on.”

There is traction for an expansion team in Seattle


The city submitted its application, along with a reported $10-million fee, to be the NHL’s 32nd team. There has been growing sentiment for the league to expand to the Pacific Northwest. One of the issues is the arena, but there are preliminary plans for the ownership group to remodel Key Arena, formerly the home of the Seattle SuperSonics. The NHL is beaming from the success of the Vegas Golden Knights, who benefited greatly from arguably the highest-quality expansion draft in the modern era. The running joke is that the most coveted job in hockey is general manager of Seattle’s NHL team. The area seems ripe for another sports team, but will it work in the long run? The targeted date for Seattle’s debut season is 2020-21.

It just gets worse in Edmonton

The Oilers might have found a new low last Saturday in a loss to the Arizona Coyotes. They gave up a goal on the first shot of the game for the 11th time this season, according to the Edmonton Journal, and goalie Cam Talbot vented about goaltender interference calls in a postgame interview spiked with an expletive. Officiating is the least of Edmonton’s problems. The Oilers were thought to be Western Conference finalists and perhaps Stanley Cup contenders but they’ve profoundly underachieved and are believed to be sellers at the trade deadline. Missing the playoffs is inexcusable considering Edmonton showcases Connor McDavid, one of four overall top draft picks chosen by Edmonton from 2010 to 2015. Judging by their trajectory, the Oilers are in line for another No. 1 pick.

Reaves scored one for a legend

Ryan Reaves is one of the last true enforcers in the NHL. He doesn’t score goals often — he has 31 in 477 career games compared with 779 penalty minutes — but his goal against the Kings on Thursday went well beyond the scoresheet. Before the game, Reaves met Willie O’Ree, the first African American to play in the NHL who attended the morning skate. Reaves, who is also African American, told O’Ree he would try to score a goal for him, and he did so on a wrist shot for Pittsburgh’s first goal during a 3-1 win. “With Willie O’Ree in the house, it was pretty special,” Reaves told reporters. “He’s a pioneer for players like me and it was nice to get him one.”


Twitter: @curtiszupke