Bettman Will Get Quebec Into The NHL

One of the myths that Canadian hockey fans like to believe in is that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is anti-Canadian. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bettman has looked bad in Canadian eyes because during his tenure as Commissioner, two Canadian franchises Quebec and Winnipeg were lost and in trying to get a rich American television contract, he placed many new NHL expansion teams in American markets where hockey was unfamiliar, trying to convince American television networks that hockey was an American game. This angered Canadian fans even more because markets where hockey was loved, especially in Canada and the northern United States were ignored.

Bettman can be blamed for a foolish philosophy which has created many NHL franchises that lose money, but he is not anti-Canadian. In 2010 he made a tour of the three cities that lost their teams during the tough times of the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford and listed three reasonable terms for their readmission to the NHL; adequate fan-base, excellent ownership, and a proper NHL arena. If Bettman was really anti-Canadian, he would not have opened the door again for Quebec and Winnipeg.

Winnipeg is already back and Quebec is knocking at the door. They had built an arena and had billionaire Quebecor as an owner, but it was the unfortunate timing of Quebec finally ready to get a team just when the Canadian dollar took a nasty tumble in comparison with the American one. Now what seemed a sure thing is in doubt. Also unfortunate was a ridiculous $500 million entry fee that in no way corresponds to the true market value of an NHL franchise, that puts a colossal burden on any would-be NHL investor.

When Bettman stated his terms for readmission in 2010, Quebec jumped. 80,000 fans had signed a petition demanding that the Nordiques be brought back. It was apparent that spending tax dollars on a new arena was a popular way of getting votes both at the municipal and provincial level. Money was pledged and Bettman was soon seen hobnobing frequently with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier. At the same time, media giant Quebecor wanted to expand its presence in the Province of Quebec and made an unsuccessful bid to buy the Montreal Canadiens. When that failed and the company noticed the popularity of getting the Quebec Nordiques back, they switched goals and became a firm backer of both a new Quebec arena and a returned Nordiques.

Now look at the results of the recent NHL expansion process. Of 16 application forms for a new franchise, only two investors, Quebec and Las Vegas accepted the NHL’s terms. Clearly the business world has said we will not pay sucker prices for sports franchises. In this setting, unless the NHL reduces its excessive entry fee, future investors are going to be hard to come by and now Bettman and hopefully the rest of the NHL owners know it.

Bettman cannot make tours of cities stating terms for admission and then renege. He will not tell communities to spend $400 million of their tax dollars on a new sports arena and then go back on his word. He cannot afford to alienate important politicians and friends like the Quebec City mayor and the Provincial Premier. Most of all he will not be unreasonable to important investors like Quebecor when it has been shown that good investors will be hard to come by. Make no mistake, he wants Quebec back into the NHL.

Quebec will get the Nordiques back despite the fall of the Canadian dollar. Bettman will find a way either by manipulating the expansion process or shifting an existing money-losing American franchise like he did with Winnipeg. Quebec with a proper arena and a great owner like Quebecor is a sure winner and Bettman will find a way to get the Nordiques back into the NHL.

Was Sharp The Key To Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks are now on the sidelines but one the core members of their recent three Stanley Cup triumphs keeps on playing, Patrick Sharp, now with the Dallas Stars. Sharp had been a key member of the Blackhawks during those three NHL championships but the Blackhawks decided to let him go as a free agent most likely because he was now 34 years of age. He was promptly signed up by Dallas which was eager to get a player who knew how to win the big one and could pass the same spirit and knowledge on to the younger players of this up-and-coming team.

There is some logic to Chicago’s decision. Sharp was clearly past the prime of his career and Chicago wanted to free up some cap space to acquire and develop younger players. And even when the Blackhawks had Sharp, they were never able to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

But the question is how much Sharp really deteriorated and will his absence have a negative long-term effect on the Blackhawks? Certainly Sharp was still contributing significantly to Chicago and Dallas’s decision to sign him shows that they believe he has much still to contribute in the later years of his career.

Sharp’s value really cannot be measured by his statistics. He was the type of player who would get the key, timely goal when Chicago needed it the most, especially in the playoffs. He was a key member of that inner core of Blackhawks, Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, and Seabrook whom Chicago built its Stanley Cup winning teams around. It is never easy to replace such a player.

Some players are born winners and they take whatever it makes them win with them when they depart from a team. Henri Richard was never the top player on any of his great Montreal teams, but he won 11 Stanley Cups during his career, more than many of his more famous teammates. Will Sharp’s departure have a long term negative effect?

One only has to look at one of the survivors in the second round of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins to see what can happen if the wrong player leaves. Pittsburgh drafted Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and seemed poised to win several Stanley Cups, the first of which came in 2009. But after that year, General Manager Ray Shero tinkered incorrectly with the chemistry of his team and Pittsburgh has been searching ever since. Both Shero and his coach, Dan Bylsma are now gone.

Sharp was never in the class of Toews, Kane, Keith, and Seabrook but he made a significant contribution, many times at critical moments when Chicago needed him the most. If the Blackhawks can find a similar, younger player, then they will be back again in the near future for more Stanley Cups. But the Pittsburgh example is a good warning of what can happen even with the best of players when they lose a teammate who may not have been as good as some of their top players, but played a significant role in putting a team over the hump. Time will tell if Sharp was that player.

Fried Computers, Lucky Number 13 and Young Guns.

So it’s been a while. Any of my twitter followers will have seen that approximately a month ago, I was working on a Marlies article – related to their near record setting season and what it could mean for their playoff chances. Then something died in my computer and all my work was gone.  I had charts, and they were pretty.  So apologies to any who were looking forward to it. But luckily more exciting things have happened since then.

THE LEAFS ARE DRAFTING FIRST! We rode the treads of hope all the way to victory (side note, someone more skilled than I would be owed a favour if they turned Bernier’s pads into tank treads). In a fantastic reversal from last year, where coming down to the last ball the Leafs snatched defeat from the Jaws of victory on the last number, the Leafs had the lowest chance at being top dog coming down to the last ball when Mats Sundin saved the day. The ghost of wasted Leafs potential came back to give us a second shot at redemption as #13 was the winning Leafs ball. So the question becomes who do the Leafs draft? Do we pick up a scoring winger who may be as good as a superstar level player? Or do we draft the 6’2, Franchise level power-forward centerman that you literally cannot get anywhere but at the draft? If you answered winger, allow me to direct you to the trades for a Mr. Kessel as a reason why you don’t pass up on a potential star centre over a superstar winger.

Now the Leafs are deep in the middle with small skilled centermen in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. But Marner has shown a propensity for being an offensively skilled and defensively responsible winger at the OHL level and would look really nice distributing from the wing to either Willie or Auston. With Nazem Kadri locked up long term to a good 2nd line (or elite 3rd line) center’s contract, and Steven Stamkos nothing more than a possibility, you cannot pass up on a player of Matthews ilk.

In system news, the Marlies are currently trailing 1-0 in their second round series against the Albany Devils. Will Ny missed the first game of the series with illness, and it was obvious that the powerplay is nowhere near as efficient or dangerous without the Swedish Assassin. Hopefully he returns to the lineup and to regular season form, as 1 goal and 1 assist through the first series was well off his usual production. Meanwhile in the OHL, the invisible Mitch Marner just won the  Red Tilson Trophy as the league MVP, and is at a near historic pace in the OHL playoffs. 37 points in 14 games is mind-boggling and skill-wise he seems to have outgrown the league. The only question remaining for Marner is whether he is physically ready to compete against NHL competition, and if not, is it worth taking that risk anyways? And last but not least Dzerkials and Timashov are facing off in the QMJHL Finals. Tima has been more impressive stats wise netting 22 points in 15 games, but Dzekials is no slouch with 10 in 13 in his first year across the pond.

To round out the day, it’s a confusing time as Leafs fans. It’s an odd sensation to have hope for this team with how often we’ve been burned, but it seems like we are finally safe to have a sense of cautious optimism. Not because, hey, we might make the playoffs, but because it wasn’t even necessary to do so to see growth in the right direction. The management of this team has done a fantastic job of showing progress without feeding into the perpetual hype machine, and without breaking from a clear and planned upward progression. It might finally be time to come out of “hiding” and be proud of the Maple Leafs crest once again.

NHL Making Itself Truly A National League

With the KHL’s growth into China, it is giving itself a leg up on the NHL in growth. While the NHL has remained within Canada and the USA, the KHL has been trying to grow at a rapid pace all over Eastern Europe and Asia. I am not arguing that the NHL should try to capitalize the Mexican and Caribbean market, cause frankly, the only news you hear about Caribbean hockey is this. What I am arguing though, is that the KHL has positioned itself in growth markets and the NHL hasn’t responded. I know that the KHL isn’t in the greatest position financially, but turbulence was expected.

China is trying to develop it’s presence in hockey in preparation for the 2022 Olympic Games. The Government is placing a lot of resources on development of sports that haven’t been well developed in China. In order to do so, the Chinese government has been working with the KHL to get a team located in China. Mission complete, the HC Red Star Kunlun will be joining the KHL for the 2016-2017 KHL season. There are further opportunities for growth in Asia with markets such as South Korea, Mongolia, and even INDIA available.

Meanwhile, the NHL is unable to continue to compete with the growth of the KHL and is losing out on possible revenue streams. A valid argument includes the fact that the NHL is an established league that doesn’t necessarily have to grow while the KHL is still a league that technically is still in it’s infancy and it’s owners still treat the league as the “Wild West“. However, the NHL is still growing with expansion speculation in Las Vegas, Quebec City, and Kansas City. Yet, the growth is not the growth that the NHL needs. The NHL markets itself as the greatest league in the world, yet it is unable to grow past two countries. It has attempted to play games in Europe a few times, and results have been well, but there isn’t the appetite for the sport isn’t there. Hockey remains a niche sport, and their games were in areas where hockey is already being played full season (Germany, Finland, Sweden).

Critics will argue that the NHL expanding to unserved markets will lead to a NFL Europe like disaster. However, there were many opportunities to grow the NHL brand without having capital investment like NFL Europe. Training camps, development camps, and community outreach programs allow for NHL organizations to develop hockey in developing countries, or find unknown prospects. However, their lack of development has left the NHL in a stagnant position. Without continued growth, maturity of the product peaks, and eventually, the decline begins.

Boudreau’s NHL Head Coaching Career Is Probably Over

It did not take long for one of my NHL second round predictions to come true. Five days after publishing my predictions which included a brief analysis of the possible fate of each team and player who won or lost big, the Anaheim Ducks, – one of the first round’s biggest losers – fired coach Bruce Boudreau after a devastating loss to the Nashville Predators.

To me it comes as no surprise. There are regrets including some of the Anaheim players stating that Boudreau took the fall for them but Boudreau’s NHL coaching record speaks for itself. He is one of countless coaches – also in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB – who can make a bad team good but cannot make a good team great. He is in the class of George Allen, Dan Reeves, Don Coryell, Marty Schottenheimer, Chuck Knox, etc., coaches who take teams that were being kicked around at the bottom of the league and then get them into the playoffs, but never win a championship.

In Boudreau’s case, he was one of an unfortunate string of coaches who could not get an Alexander Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals team into at least the Conference Final. He managed to surpass himself in Anaheim by getting to the Western Conference Final but no further.

In fairness to Boudreau, he was pitting his Ducks against the two dominant teams in the NHL of the last four years, Chicago and Los Angeles. It was no disgrace to lose to the Stanley Cup champion. That the Ducks lost to the Blackhawks and Kings is as much the fault of management which failed to provide Boudreau with enough talent or players who had won a championship before and could be relied upon to come through in the clutch.

But to lose to the up-and-coming Nashville Predators, was viewed as a step backwards, no matter how good Nashville really is. The Ducks had home ice, had battle-hardened veterans who had been through the fight against more formidable teams, and at one time led the series 3-2. And when their two main rivals, the Kings and the Blackhawks were eliminated, the door seemed wide open for the Ducks to at least advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The loss to the Predators made it seem that the Ducks were just spinning their wheels under Boudreau instead of progressing. When management compared his coaching record with Anaheim with his coaching record in Washington, his fate was sealed.

Boudreau is as much a coaching mystery as any in sport. No one can really explain why one coach succeeds while another fails, why one team of players has the chemistry to win championships and another does not, why some players can rise to the occasion and others cannot. In this irrational category fall hexes and jinxes. Most of my predictions for these two rounds were based on the “show me” theory, that until you proved that you could get over whatever “hump” there was in the past, you should not be trusted to win. Based on this theory, so far the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been almost a complete revolution, and have made me look bad as a soothsayer. The Ducks defeat – when I had predicted victory – was a part of that revolution. But Bruce Boudreau failing to win in the playoffs was the same old story.

Already there is talk that the Calgary Flames will hire Boudreau to replace the fired Bob Hartley. But based on Boudreau’s coaching record, it will probably be better if the Flames find a new man who has been waiting for his chance to make his mark as a coach in the NHL. Boudreau could probably get the Flames into the playoffs, year after year, but if he could not get the more talented Capitals and Ducks deep into the playoffs, it is doubtful he can do much with the Flames. More likely Boudreau will resurface in the NHL as an assistant coach under a more successful headman. Maybe Boudreau will get another chance some day and maybe he will learn whatever failings he had as a head coach kept him from a championship though that seldom happens in coaching history. But for now it is a time to analyze why the Predators were able to rise to the occasion, why the Ducks went to sleep, and why Boudreau was part of the equation.

Detroit’s Glory Years Have Ended

The first team to be eliminated in this year’s playoffs as I predicted was the Detroit Redwings. Their quick elimination should make plain to its management that the glory years are finally over. Of the once dynastic Redwings, only Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg remain and that is not enough. That the Redwings are still respectable enough to make the playoffs is a tribute to the team character and the foresight of its management, but the loss to Tampa Bay should prove to almost everyone that while this is a respectable team, it is no longer a contender for the Stanley Cup. Detroit was also one of two teams to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential.

However this article is not one to condemn or point out obvious shortcomings but as a salute, a look-back to what Detroit has accomplished during its second golden era. Four Stanley Cups have been added to Detroit’s total, now tying them for second with Toronto on the all-time Stanley Cup list behind only Montreal. For a long time Detroit was stuck on seven victories until Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom came along. Yzerman, Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, and Sergie Fedorov are already in the Hall Of Fame. There may be more coming.

To really understand what Detroit has accomplished, one has to go back to 1970 when Gordie Howe retired from the team. That finally ended the first golden era that started back in the early 1950s when Detroit was the powerhouse of the NHL with Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Sid Abel leading the way. After 1970, Detroit plunged into what probably was the darkest period of its history beginning with “Darkness With Harkness”. It was not until 1983 when Detroit, with new owner Mike Ilitch, drafted Steve Yzerman that any hope for the franchise loomed, after a decade of being one of the principal laughingstocks of the NHL.

Slowly the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together… Yzerman, Lidstrom, Shanahan, Fedorov, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and many others. What distinguished this group from its glorious predecessor of the 1950s was the contribution by non-Canadians. After 1989 when the Iron Curtain finally fell and Russians and other East Europeans were at last allowed to play in the NHL without any political impediments, Detroit took full advantage of the situation to recruit many of its future stars to put its talent over the top. Much of the credit has to go to two General Managers, Jim Devellano, and Ken Holland, who have kept this team respectable if not a contender after a decade and a half of misery. Detroit has made the playoffs for 24 straight years, and the streak still continues, despite this year’s early exit.

However one cannot overlook the meaning of this year’s early elimination. The Detroit glory years are over and it is now time to rebuild. Detroit now needs younger players to create a third golden era. Zetterberg and Datsyuk still have a role to play. They can teach the next group of Redwing superstars the meaning of what it is to be a Redwing, a champion, and instill in the younger players the spirit of victory. They can “pass the torch” as the Montreal Canadiens like to phrase it. But that is the future. For now, writers and hockey fans can give the remaining members of the second Redwing golden era a well-earned salute.

New Fans are Always Welcome

By now, you might have heard the story of the person who randomly stumbled on Game Seven of the Blackhawks/Blues series and was interested enough to become a fan of the sport. He’s Tony X, who gained popularity throughout the hockey world with tweet after tweet coverage from his house – all after he was trying to find the Cardinals game.

Now, listen. I’m all for new fans. But this is the playoffs. This is when the casual viewer tunes into for the first time and might get hooked to watch the rest of the Cup final and go back to baseball and preparation for football season. But hey… If this means that there’s going to be new fans popping in, that’s fine. It’s better if they get a glimpse of the best of the best: Game Seven. If there was ever a series to get caught up in, it was St. Louis and Chicago.

Putting a specific series aside, this is what makes me happy to be a hockey fan. Seeing the reaction of someone who has never seen a hockey game before and like it is incredible. You might not get the same reaction during a regular season game, which seems completely understandable. But draw them into the heat of the playoffs, and you get Tony’s story.

Fans come in from all directions. I, personally, went to a few Whalers games when I was in grade school, then really started getting into it when I looked in the newspaper and saw an advertisement for an American Hockey League game. Saw the local team win, and sixty minutes of game later, I was ready to go see another game. If it wasn’t for a local team, I wouldn’t be a fan of the sport.

In my opinion, new hockey fans are always welcome. It doesn’t matter how they get into the sport. NHL, AHL, ECHL. College? Fine. Whatever the case may be, really. If the passion is there, then embrace it. Doesn’t matter how old you are or if you just casually flipped to it because there wasn’t anything on and you needed background noise. Just as long as you don’t return your fan card. I’m not a fan of people who are going to “boycott” hockey.

Welcome to the hockey family, Tony X.

And if you’re listening… I’ve been to a few baseball games. I can’t sit still to watch enough of a game. (I’m still a fan, but I don’t tune in as often as I did in the past.)