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What We Learned: Henrik Lundqvist and the weight of human rights advocacy

Ryan Lambert
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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The thing with being an advocate for any cause is that, at some point, people come to expect you to uphold your beliefs when you might not want to do so.

Take, for example, Henrik Lundqvist, who this week drew a lot of richly deserved criticism for answering a question about his feelings on Russia's anti-gay laws by saying:

"I have no problem with talking about some of my views in other contexts, but when it comes to the Olympics, I think you should just focus on the sport."

This was a problem, obviously, because it didn't necessarily jibe with his previous support for the You Can Play initiative to get homophobia out of sports. That he lent his time and celebrity to supporting such a cause is clearly noble and a generally decent thing to do. That he then turtled when someone asked him a direct question about something that he obviously cares about on some level and he demurred, well, it's reason enough to at least be curious as to why it happened.

Initially, you could have dismissed the talk as something of a party line from the Swedish team as a whole, at least while it conducted its orientation camp last week. After all, the team's coach, Pär Mårts said:

"We are there to play hockey, we leave everything else to others, such as the government. We have received orders that we are doing sport and that we should not do anything different."

Orders are orders, so while it was fair to criticize Lundqvist, you could at least see where he was coming from in not commenting. But then, a few days later, it turned out some of his Swedish teammates, Henrik Zetterberg and Victor Hedman, came out of the corner swinging.

"It's terrible, incredibly awful," Zetterberg said. "It is unbelievable that in this era such laws exist, especially in a country as big as Russia."

Added Hedman, "It's completely wrong, we're all humans. No one should have a say in what way you're sexually oriented."

The problem, though, is that those quotes also came from that Swedish Olympic camp. Doesn't make Lundqvist, a previously-outspoken advocate of gay issues, look too good. Saying that the Olympics should be about sport and sport only kind of makes it seem as though he thinks hockey should be more important than this terribly sad state of affairs for what is very much a human rights issue.

But this is an issue far more complicated than that.

There are concerns that Russia could bar some more outspoken athletes from even entering the country for the Olympics, and maybe Lundqvist is just hedging his bets so that he can compete, but when other athletes are saying they're willing to go to jail to support gay rights on the world's grandest athletic stage, that comes off as crummy and maybe even cowardly.

While competing with the Tre Kronor on your jersey is something to which all Swedish hockey players aspire, it shouldn't be more important than an issue he's supported in the past.

Lundqvist again reiterated his support for the LGBT community over the weekend on Twitter, responding to a column from Sportbladet in which Marcus Leifby asked whether the star goaltender really has a heart if he can back down from the issue (I'd recommend you read that, by the way).

"Dear Leifby, if you had done any kind of research then you would know where I stand on the issue," Lundqvist wrote in Swedish (here and here, via Google Translate) while linking to the You Can Play video in which he appears. "To me, all people have equal rights granted to them. Similarly, [you have] the right to choose WHEN, WHERE and how you want to express your opinions."

Sure, just like Tim Thomas has the right to say or not say whatever nutbar things pop into his head, and those who disagree with the decision to say or not say those things are free to criticize. You can't expect NBC or the IOC to do anything about this, really. There are billions of dollars at stake for them and they are businesses. Lundqvist is a person.

The problem here is very simple: Lundqvist has said he'd accept and support gay teammates and opponents, and try to promote the elimination of homophobic language and behavior in sport.

If he, in playing at the Olympics, has a gay teammate or opponent, he is essentially not doing so by saying nothing. Can his words, or anyone's for that matter, change Russian law or Vladimir Putin's mind?

Of course not, but his saying that might not change every hockey fan's mind or hockey's ultra-masculine and sometimes unaccepting culture either. That doesn't mean the issue is something he should be putting aside because of the Importance of Sport. In fact, it's the opposite.

Now, I do get the arguments to the contrary, which have come from many corners. No one should be required to voice opinions if they don't want to and obviously this is a divisive issue.

So it comes down to a matter of how much it matters to you. Lundqvist has been an ally in the past, but how far does that go? If he sits in silence, that doesn't amount to tacitly opposing the law. In general, people who have to say, "Look at my past record on this matter," are only doing so because they don't have anything in the present to lean on.

What is put at hazard in voicing opposition to these disgusting laws? It costs someone like Henrik Lundqvist very little, maybe even nothing, to lend his celebrity to the right side of the issue, even if it ends up amounting to howling futilely in the wilderness. But the difference is that it doesn't signify nothing. If anything, it would have lent support to those whose mere existence as an LGBT person in Russia means putting everything at hazard, every day.

Normally, I hate moralizing to professional athletes about their Obligations, as they owe us nothing but being good at their sports for our enjoyment. I certainly don't consider them to be role models. But when you come out as an advocate for something people worldwide have a stake in, as Lundqvist has, people are going to expect some sort of follow-through.

That he didn't provide one on this very important topic entitles you to disappointment, regardless of the "context."

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Everyone seems to still be holding onto this idea that Teemu Selanne is coming back this season but I'm increasingly of the idea that it might not be the best of his idea. Hate to say this, but he started to really slow down toward the end of last season; only four points in his last 16 games, all of them against non-playoff teams, and that was at the end of a 48-game season.

Boston Bruins: Gregory Campbell hasn't even started skating at this point, and consequently doesn't know whether he'll be ready for training camp.

Buffalo Sabres: Good news, Sabres fans, they're opening up more seats for season ticket holders so you, too, can watch them get creamed by every team in the league 41 nights a year.

Calgary Flames: Matt Stajan is hyped for the coming season (maybe because he's the damned-by-faint-praise No. 1 center right now), but this quote, man, I dunno: "I think for us to be successful, we have to be a good team. We're not a team that is going to go out there and have two or three guys carry the load." Or 18, for that matter.

Carolina Hurricanes: Sometimes you forget that Alex Edler blew out Eric Staal's knee for him and how bananas that was. Anyway, here's a long conversation with the 'Canes trainer about his recovery which I thought was quite good.

Chicago Blackhawks: If Canada doesn't win the gold medal at the Olympics, Jonathan Toews is going to sob and sob all day and night forever. Start stocking up on tissues now, Captain Crybaby.

Colorado Avalanche: Wait, was Gabriel Landeskog not the face of the franchise before his extension because yes he definitely was. Landeskog rules. Who doesn't love that guy?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Blue Jackets sophomore Dalton Prout will miss training camp after getting abdominal surgery and that's more important than you might think since you've probably never heard of him. Thom Drance of the Score dug up some stats on him, including the fact that the Jackets outscored opponents 15-2 in "close" situations last season (though this may have been a consequence of Bobrovsky's .989 save percentage at those times).

Dallas Stars: Stars broadcaster Ralph Strangis and the team might be at an impasse when it comes to a contract for the 2014-15 season. He's been with the team 24 years. You know, the entire time the team has been in Dallas, plus the three previous seasons.

Detroit Red Wings: Mike Babcock says the Alfredsson signing is "unbelievable," and I can only assume he means it's unbelievable how much they paid a 40-year-old UFA.

Edmonton Oilers: Should the Oilers make it more difficult for Flames fans to buy tickets to a game at Rexall? If you really wanna stick it to em, make it more difficult for them to buy paper bags to put over their heads during those games.

Florida Panthers: Who's going to lead the Panthers in scoring this season? They better hope it's Jonathan Huberdeau because if it's Tomas Kopecky or Shawn Matthias just fold the franchise.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings were recognized as "champions" by the Hermosa Beach City Council at a meeting on Aug. 13. When reached for comment, the Chicago Blackhawks said, "Uhh…?"

Minnesota Wild: Wild preseason tickets go on sale today so be sure not to buy those because preseason games are usually not worth paying to see. Go for free if you can, though. That's fun.

Montreal Canadiens: Here's a real thing Mike Therrien said about George Parros oh my god: "He's a presence, he's a good teammate, he's a good leader, he'll stand up for his teammates like we all know. We filled a need because we didn't have those types of guys last year." Yeah and you finished second in East!!! What do you think that tells you?

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The Predators' policy of keeping Blackhawk fans out of the building is getting a lot of headlines but really, who wants a bunch of animals who think whatever Chicagoans call pizza is actually pizza to be within 250 miles of them? I applaud the Nashville Predators on their decision here.

New Jersey Devils: What can Devils fans expect from Scott Wedgewood next season? How about zero appearances?

New York Islanders: There's a brewing custody battle between Nassau and Bridgeport over the Islanders farm team, and that's a sentence I bet you never thought you'd read in your whole life.

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New York Rangers: Glen Sather on the coaching change this summer: "I think you need to change your coach once in a while because your players get tired of listening to him." I don't think it gets any more honest than that.

Ottawa Senators: Eugene Melnyk says the Senators are doing fine financially but then he opened his wallet and a moth flew out.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Rob Zombie Flyers movie starts filming this winter if you are interested in seeing a hockey movie that will be terrible.

Phoenix Coyotes: How many stories per week can we expect to come out of Arizona that amount to 800 words of wistful sighing over the fact that there's a real-life owner of the Coyotes this season? A million? A BILLION?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Wow stats say the Penguins shouldn't have signed past-his-prime Rob Scuderi until he's 38 wow.

San Jose Sharks: Speaking of he Sharks seem to have started talk with 324-year-old Dan Boyle on a contract extension and what could possibly go wrong?

St. Louis Blues: When are the Blues going to extend Alexander Steen? Soon, is what everyone thinks.

Tampa Bay Lightning: If you're wondering whether Ryan Malone will ever be worth his cap hit (an hilarious $4.5 million) the answer is no.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs recently gave all the members of Black Sabbath personalized jerseys before a recent concert at the Air Canada Center which is a cool coincidence because this season the Leafs will be Supernaut-good.

Vancouver Canucks: Hey Canucks wingers, start scoring more. You know, with John Tortorella as your coach now and everything.

Washington Capitals: Will the Washington Capitals Still Be Successful in the Newly Formed Metropolitan Division? No, there are actually good teams in it, not the garbage in the Southeast the last six or seven years.

Winnipeg Jets: Regular ol' Jets fans are all mad because the team recently decided to change policies for its season ticket reselling service, now giving first crack to people who paid to be on the season ticket waitlist instead of regular schmoes who didn't. Boo hoo. They're paying for it.

Gold Star Award

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Hockey camps don't even open for another three weeks or so, but at least the Premier League is back. That's something, anyway. (I know what you're going to say: "Soccer is boring." You're wrong.)

Minus of the Weekend

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From that Globe story on "advanced" stats vis a vis Rob Scuderi comes this gem from Fluto Shinzawa: "In contrast, there is at least one club whose GM does not know how to calculate Corsi." It's Dave Nonis, right? Has to be. (Dark horse: Patrick Roy.)

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
I can't tell if user "Sarcastic" is being that.

To Toronto:
Brent Burns
2nd Rounder 2014

To San Jose:
John Michael Liles
Cody Franson
Nikolai Kulemin
1st Rounder 2014

But when reading HFBoards a good rule of thumb is, "Assume this is thoroughly and deeply un-ironic."
Signoff
Worker's comp? Do I look like a hobo to you?

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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