Not only is the July 4th holiday weekend quickly approaching, an exciting theatre event is happening today when Disney+ releases the filmed stage production of the Tony-Award-winning musical Hamilton.
Hold on. Just wait. There is a reason this is on a hockey blog.
There aren’t many things that appear as “diametrically opposed—foes” as hockey and musical theatre. Fang fingers and jazz hands aren’t the same thing at all, but with no hockey to watch in the next few weeks there is a decent argument to be made for a Fosse-Forsberg crossover. Allow me to lay out the reasons why I think Predators hockey fans might want to give the Hamilton musical experience a try.
1. Hamilton is the hockey of musicals.
When a sports fan thinks of musicals, they may automatically think of tender ballads, star-crossed storylines, or perhaps people dressed like cats (although as a musical lover, I still cannot explain that one). Hamilton is not those kind of musicals. While Nascar is fairly Grease, golf is basically The Sound of Music, and football is some West Side Story with a dash of Sweeney Todd, Hamilton is all hockey.
There are a variety of music styles in the show, but most of Hamilton is hip hop—edgy, with just a little appropriate irreverence that will appeal to the hockey fan. This is the musical for people who passionately chant “you suck!” While Predators fans might easily describe, say, Rocco Grimaldi as “young, scrappy, and hungry”—and rightly so—those words also describe a young, ambitious Alexander Hamilton who is determined to fight (and write) his way into the history books.
2. Washington is to Hamilton as Rinne is to Saros.
The Predators’ goalie situation has been tumultuous this season, but the relationship between elder statesman Rinne and his heir apparent Saros has always been special.
The Predators have one of the most endearing goaltending tandems in the league, and that tight mentor-mentee relationship is reflected in the show’s scenes between Washington and Hamilton. The advice Washington give to Hamilton could be something Rinne might say to his on-ice “son”: “I know that we can win. I know that greatness lies in you, but remember from here on in history has its eye on you.”
Knowing that Rinne’s contract expires in 2021 and having watched his highs and lows in net this season, it is easy and bittersweet to imagine his thoughts are similar to Washington’s in “One Last Time” as he may be slowly stepping back from center stage for the Predators.
3. Aaron Burr’s PR class for professional hockey players isn’t going to cut it these days.
Despite having a season that needs some introspect and insight, the Predators (and hockey players in the NHL in general) excel at answering questions with polished ambiguity that reveals...nothing. How many Predators fans were desperate for some brutal honesty during the highs and oh-so-painful lows of November and December or for the inexplicable benching of Kyle Turris for seven games? Aaron Burr was the epitome of the NHL’er as he advised an outspoken Alexander Hamilton to “Talk less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”
That appears to have been the standard public relations advice given to hockey players in the past, but with the sport finally beginning to face the issues of inclusion, abuse, and injustice within the sport, it is now time for the NHL to learn what Aaron Burr never did—“if you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” Many sports fans may want athletes to “stick to sports”, but it is time that the players speak up and help the league declare what they are for and what they are against clearly and without apology. The danger of going along to get along is a lesson Hamilton teaches well.
4. King George III sings the perfect Laviolette swan song.
Once King George III realizes the war with the colonies isn’t going to go in his favor, he sings a slightly bitter song entitled “What Comes Next?” to the newly formed country. King George III is only on stage for nine minutes of this nearly three-hour show, but this song is a highlight that, in my mind, would be the perfect walk-off song for former head coach Peter Laviolette.
There is no disputing that Peter Laviolette has been a successful NHL coach. He led the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2005-06, served as assistant coach for the 2009-10 Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, and Nashville couldn’t forget the Western Conference Championship and Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17. Laviolette’s tenure in Nashville was marked by high praise from GM David Poile, a generally positive vibe from players, and a mostly supportive fan base—until the Predators’ struggles in November and December of this season.
It seemed that whatever adjustments and line rotations Laviolette concocted, it was going to be impossible for him to coach this team out of its struggle for consistency. Despite fan grumblings and some internal conflicts (see “Turris benching” above), Predators fans were shocked when David Poile relieved Laviolette of his head coaching duties on January 6, 2020. It was clear during the press conference that Poile did not like making this decision and didn’t feel that the team’s struggles were a result of bad coaching. There was some underlying dynamic that Predators fans were left to wonder about as Peter Laviolette exited stage right.
Laviolette left with the same class he coached with, but secretly I hear him singing these lyrics from “Hamilton”:
“What comes next? You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You’re on your own. Awesome. Wow! Do you have a clue what happens now? Oceans rise, empires fall. It’s much harder when it’s all your call. All alone across the sea, when your people say they hate you, don’t come crawling back to me.”
Predators fans recognize after the season was suspended on March 12 that there just isn’t an equal substitute for watching live hockey. Fans miss the team, the players, the smell of the ice, the chants.
Hamilton, John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan are not Arvidsson, Forsberg, Ellis, and Ekholm, despite sharing similar ambition, talent, and focus. It would be understandable if fans chose to spend three hours on Friday continuing to lament the season that was and may (or may not?) be, but might I suggest Preds fans grab a beverage and some BBQ nachos, and watch Hamilton’s story of grit, teamwork, and legacy until the puck drops once again.