The NHL maintains a largely apolitical stance, with commissioner Gary Bettman going so far as to say, “I don’t think people come to games for (social or political protests).”
But the league waded into political waters last week when it announced musician Kid Rock would headline a concert at the All-Star Game.
The decision drew widespread backlash on social media, forcing the NHL to defend its choice of entertainment for the Jan. 28 showcase in Tampa, Florida.
“Most of the time, our acts are passionate hockey fans,” Steve Mayer, NHL executive vice president and executive producer for programming and creative development, told ESPN.com.
“It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover. That’s simply the background here.”
Kid Rock, whose real name is Robert Ritchie, has been criticized for displaying Confederate flags at his early concerts and making anti-transgender comments during recent shows.
Kid Rock’s appearance in August at the opening of Little Caesars Arena in Detroit drew more than 200 protesters.
The 47-year-old Republican and Detroit Red Wings fan hinted last year at a run for Senate in his home state of Michigan before admitting it was a promotion for his new album.
Kid Rock is a five-time Grammy Award nominee and has sold more than 26 million albums worldwide. He is one of several musical acts that will perform over the weekend.
“Kid Rock remains at the center of media attention in regards to his musical and personal ambitions, leaving his mark in a multitude of genres,” the NHL said in a news release.
The timing of the announcement is notable, as the NHL last week honored the 60th anniversary of Willie O’Ree breaking the league’s color barrier and promoted its message of inclusion in hockey.
Kid Rock’s performance will come days before the start of the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” month in February, which seeks to “drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities” through hockey.
“(O)ur sole objective is to choose musical acts to perform at our events and entertain our fans,” Mayer told ESPN.
Kane on block
Trade rumors continue to swirl around Buffalo left wing Evander Kane, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“Obviously I’m aware of my situation, and things are probably going to happen with the position we’re in as a team,” Kane told reporters.
The Sabres are mired in last place in the Eastern Conference, and general manager Jason Botterill reportedly is asking for four pieces — a first-round draft pick, a prospect, a conditional draft pick and an NHL roster player — for the 26-year-old Kane.
The Blue Jackets, Ducks, Kings, Penguins and Sharks have been mentioned as possible suitors, but it’s unlikely they’ll meet Botterill’s asking price.
The group behind Seattle’s bid for an NHL expansion team registered internet domains for 13 team names, according to a report last week by DetroitHockey.net.
The possible names for the league’s 32nd team are: Cougars, Eagles, Emeralds, Evergreens, Firebirds, Kraken, Rainiers, Renegades, Sea Lions, Seals, Sockeyes, Totems and Whales.
Three Stars of the Week
1. Matthew Barzal, New York Islanders — The electrifying rookie posted nine points (three goals, six assists) in four games, including a five-point showing Jan. 13 against the Rangers.
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh — The center had seven points (two goals, five assists) in four games and helped the Penguins go 3-1 over that stretch.
3. Jonathan Bernier, Colorado — The goaltender went 3-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .955 save percentage for the streaking Avalanche in place of injured starter Semyon Varlamov.