The NHL Is Committed To Becoming A 40 Team League

If as reported last year, Hartford either suitably renovates the XL Center or replaces it with a new NHL-ready one, it will seal the commitment of the NHL to becoming a 40 team league. There will be no turning back. Unlike the NFL which prefers to strip cities of their franchises instead of expanding beyond the current symmetrical 32-team league (see St. Louis-Los Angeles), the NHL is determined to reach the next symmetrical number of 40 teams. That will mean realignment into the same structure as the NFL, 2 conferences with 4 divisions, only there will be 5 teams to a division, not 4.

Of course the NHL could also shift weak franchises, but considering how it fought tooth and nail to keep the Arizona Coyotes out of Hamilton, moving teams is probably the last option to be considered. Besides if it is able to get away with its $500 million entry fee, there’s at least $4.5 billion to be made in expansion fees from 9 new teams.

The current situation for NHL expansion is like the situation that existed in Europe when World War 1 broke out: Once one country went to war, that triggered the others to come in. In the NHL’s case, there are commitments that will trigger expansion to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams in a revised NFL-like structure. Symbolically, a new Hartford arena and a suitable owner will have the same effect on NHL expansion that the murder of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo had on European politics in 1914. To see what will happen, it is necessary to examine the things the NHL is currently committed to. Note that shifting franchises can blunt expansion, but as stated above, that is not a preferred option of the NHL.

1. Commitment #1: Restore Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford

In 2010, Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s and offered them terms for readmission: great fan-base (which all three cities have); suitable owner; and a proper NHL arena (No mention of a $500 million entry fee). This was the first open sign that the NHL was interested in expansion since the last expansion in 2000 and if all three cities came back that would increase the number of teams to 33, one more than the symmetrical 32 limit. Instead Winnipeg came back by the franchise shift of Atlanta. Quebec is trying to come back but is stuck at the ownership level (The owner of the Quebecor bidder is unsuitable to the NHL).

But the admission of Quebec or Hartford by expansion instead of by franchise shift is awkward because they are eastern cities and that infringes with the NHL’s next two commitments:

2. Commitment #2: The NHL wants balanced conferences
3. Commitment #3: The NHL does not want to shift an eastern team back to the west

The NHL wants a balanced league with an equal number of happy franchise owners in each conference. But Detroit and Columbus were not happy being in the Western Conference because of travel expenses and time infringements and were shifted east. Now Quebec and Hartford whom the NHL is unofficially committed to want back into the league tilting the imbalance between the conferences even further. Adding Quebec and Hartford by expansion makes an 18 team Eastern Conference meaning that 3 more western cities have to be added to balance things. And neither Detroit, Columbus, nor any other eastern team wants to be shifted west for the reasons listed above unless it was a temporary measure that would be resolved within a year or two.

By adding Quebec and/or Hartford to the league by expansion, the NHL is now either a 32-33 team league and the resolution of the balance problem means that league is automatically committed to expanding to either 34 or 36 teams to restore conference balance. This automatically triggers commitment #4:

4. Commitment #4: Once the league reaches 32 teams or better, realign into a NFL-like structure

Although this has never been stated and is therefore unofficial, realigning the league into the NFL structure listed above makes the most sense. It is an easier structure for fans (and everyone) to understand and follow; divisions with 4 or 5 teams in them instead of large unwieldy conferences. The playoff structure will become more understandable and easier to follow as well. And realigning the NHL into this pattern allows the league to easily expand to 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division).

Now that the NHL is either 34 or 36 teams, it makes sense to continue expanding to fulfill commitment #5:

5. Commitment #5: Balance up the new divisions

It makes no sense to have some of the new divisions with 5 teams and other divisions with 4. Assuming that the NHL now has 36 teams, four more teams, two eastern, and two western will be added making the league a symmetrical 40 teams. Don’t worry about lack of markets. There are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada so all four major professional sports leagues are only a fraction of what they could be. And some extremely large metropolitan areas might end up with more than one team, like New York and Los Angeles currently are in the NHL.

Just for fun, here are some of the possible contenders for an NHL franchise. (This is my opinion. There are lots more potential bidders. This is who I think will make the most sense as new NHL members.)

East: Quebec, Hartford, Hamilton, second Toronto, second Montreal, Providence, Baltimore, Birmingham, Louisville, third southern Ontario, shifted Nashville, and Memphis

West: Seattle, Saskatoon, Spokane, Victoria, Portland, San Francisco, Houston, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City and second Chicago

There are plenty of contenders but the NHL scared most of them away with that $500 million entry fee. But with NHL’s unofficial commitment to becoming a 40 team league, the door is wide open for 9 new teams.

What Form Will The Next NHL Expansion Take?

More NHL expansion is on its way. The question is when and what form will it take. The NHL was not happy with the way the last expansion went. What they wanted was Quebec City and three western cities to balance up the conferences and realign the league. Instead they got an expansion with no competition between cities, maybe a first for a North American “big 4″ expansion process (There were 11 bids during the previous NHL expansion). Only fanatical Quebec and Las Vegas went all the way and the Quebec bid was unsuitable right from the start because the owner of the bidder, Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau, made unacceptable racist remarks about one of the NHL governors, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson.

So the NHL only ended up with Las Vegas and one $500 million expansion fee. Now they have 31 teams which not only fails to balance up the conferences, but prevents league realignment into an NFL type structure of 2 conferences, each with 4 divisions containing at least 4 teams each. This kind of structure will make it possible to expand easily to the next symmetrical number of 40 (5 teams to a division) and even to 48 teams (6 teams to a division). Since there are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in Canada and the United States, there are lots of potential sites to expand to and lots of money to be made.

Obviously the NHL needs expansion to completely balance the conferences and make realignment possible. Much of the timing and type of expansion depends on the Quebec situation. Commissioner Gary Bettman encouraged Quebec to build the new Videotron arena and consorted with both the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier. Probably privately he told them that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner but to keep building an arena while behind the scenes he searched for a new owner.

But maybe this search has proved tougher than expected. Since the search for a suitable owner for a Quebec City team is being done behind the scenes, it is difficult to know what exactly is going on and if any progress is being made. Are there suitable rich French Canadian owners available and if not will Quebec accept ownership from anglophone Quebecers, Americans, or investors from “English Canada”? Will Peladeau retract his remarks, publicly apologize to Molson and then be considered an acceptable owner by the NHL Board? The NHL is prepared to live without Quebec indefinitely and they will not tolerate an unsuitable owner.

The other problem that the NHL and Bettman face is that their greedy $500 million expansion fee is not what the business and investment world consider to be a fair market price for an NHL expansion team. Of 16 potential bids during the recent expansion, only Quebec and Las Vegas were prepared to go all the way. Does the NHL set a new, lower expansion fee that will attract more bidders, which would probably mean eating humble pie and refunding some of the expansion money to Las Vegas, or do they stick to their $500 million guns? That could mean a long wait between expansions, leaving the league unbalanced and not realigned.

Because everything concerning NHL expansion is currently uncertain and in flux there are several possibilities for expansion. Here are the choices.

1. Gary Bettman finds a suitable owner for Quebec

Right now this is Bettman’s preferred choice. This means that the NHL can grab another $500 million expansion fee and realign immediately. It would fulfill Bettman’s promise to Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford that he made in 2010, that if they met certain conditions, they could rejoin the NHL. It means that additional expansion to balance up the league can be postponed temporarily in hopes the value of an NHL franchise will rise in the business world or at least give potential investors more time to reconsider and accept a $500 million expansion fee. And also for the NHL, if Quebec could be admitted for 2017, it would be a fitting gift for Canada which is celebrating its 150th anniversary and for the NHL itself which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, by restoring Quebec, a founding member of the NHL, to the league.

The problem with this option is that when the league realigns, probably either Detroit or Columbus will have to shifted back to the western conference which neither team wants. That means that two more western expansion cities will be required and while expansion can be postponed temporarily, the new situation cannot be tolerated for a long time, meaning that further expansion will not be announced right away but soon. That might bring the question of the expansion fee and a possible refund to Las Vegas and Quebec to the fore again.

2. Gary Bettman does not find an owner for Quebec City and the NHL only expands by one western team. Quebec remains on the outside looking in or Bettman permits a weak Eastern Conference team to be shifted to Quebec.

This option allows the NHL to realign and be balanced. The favored choice was Seattle but they blew their chances by failing to resolve the arena issue. The greedy expansion fee also scared off other acceptable cities like Portland, Houston, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City. The advantage of this option is that there only needs to be one western team to make a bid. Whether the NHL gets another $500 million expansion fee or has to revise that fee and make a refund to Las Vegas would have to be determined. The disadvantage is that Quebec City is still waiting on the outside looking in which is an embarrassment to the NHL and to Bettman personally because of his promise and his encouragement to important Quebec politicians to spend nearly $400 million tax dollars on a new arena. But the NHL is perfectly willing to wait until a suitable Quebec owner appears.

In the franchise shift situation, Quebec gets an existing Eastern Conference team. The advantage is that a weak, poorly attended team becomes an instant strong one. The disadvantage is that shifting an American team to Canada is another blow to the status of the NHL in the United States. Unlike the NFL, the NHL is reluctant to shift franchises unless they have to, as was the case in Atlanta.

3. Gary Bettman finds or does not find an owner for Quebec City and the NHL expands by one eastern team and two western teams.

This is probably what Bettman and the NHL wanted in the first place. They had their eyes on a $2 billion expansion fee profit. The NHL will accept an eastern city, though not necessarily Quebec, plus the two necessary western cities for both realignment and conference balance. It will also definitely set the NHL as the first “big 4″ league to be on its way to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams. It is a virtual commitment to add 6 more expansion teams in North America within the next two decades if not sooner. Other candidates besides Quebec for eastern expansion are said to be Hamilton or Toronto in southern Ontario and the NHL would definitely take Hartford back if it would resolve its ownership and arena issues. There could also be surprise bids from cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, or another southern American city.

Expanding by three cities would almost certainly bring the question of the amount of expansion fee to prominence again. There is a good chance that the NHL would have to refund some money back to Las Vegas and to revise its fee to meet true market value. It might solve the Quebec problem… or it might not.

Though not announced more NHL expansion is not far from the minds of the NHL Commissioner and the Board of Governors. The NHL cannot remain unbalanced and not realigned. Those two factors alone make NHL expansion virtually a firm commitment.

Is Gary Bettman Waiting For Another Team To Collapse For Quebec?

There is no current news about a Quebec expansion team but that does not mean nothing significant is happening. First a brief recap.

Forget the nonsense of the official NHL story that the Quebecor bid was turned down because of conference imbalance and a low Canadian dollar. The real reason Quebec still does not have the Nordiques back is because the owner of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau made a lot of enemies on the NHL Board, first because he is a known supporter of the separatist provincial party, Parti Quebecois, and more specifically he publicly insulted a member of the Board, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson about his suitability in owning the team because he is an anglophone Quebecer. Peladeau never retracted his remarks or apologized to Molson and that made it easy for Gary Bettman and the NHL to turn down Quebecor’s bid long before construction started on the new Videotron arena. The recent election of Molson to the NHL Executive Committee confirms that Bettman and the Board were backing him to the hilt. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on its Board and acted accordingly.

That did not solve the problem of Quebec. In 2010 Gary Bettman offered terms of readmission to all three ex-NHL cities that lost their franchises, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford. He publicly consorted with the Quebec Provincial Premier, the Quebec City mayor and other important businessmen and government officials and kept encouraging them to spend nearly $400 million taxpayer dollars on a new arena. Probably privately he told the premier and the mayor that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner but to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem.

Videotron

Finding a suitable owner meant that Gary Bettman would work behind the scenes as much as possible so it is difficult to know what is going on. I have speculated that the resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche may be part of an attempt to put a suitable ownership group together.

Part of the problem is that there may not be enough rich French Canadians who want to own an NHL franchise. Another solution would be to accept outside help but Americans, investors from “English Canada” might fear an elected Parti Quebecois provincial government and have stayed away from investing in Quebec.

There is another possible solution. Like the Atlanta crisis a few years ago, Bettman and the Board may know about certain members of the Board who find their current cities unsuitable and would welcome a move to Quebec which is the coming city in Canada, soon, maybe within a decade to have over 1 million residents.

Quebec

There would be no problem in attracting sell-out crowds, attracting corporate sponsors, and selling Quebec Nordiques merchandise for a Quebec team. The market includes all of eastern Quebec province and the four Maritime provinces. Take away the racial and political problems, Quebec with a new arena is a marvelous investment opportunity, one of the better NHL franchises, a sure winner. Adding the city would restore the Quebec-Montreal rivalry, once the best in the NHL, allow Bettman to keep his promise, and get many of his Canadian critics off his back.

The only real drawback to Quebec getting an established NHL franchise instead of an expansion team is that the NHL would have to forgo that $500 million expansion fee. But in compensation, a current weak franchise would become an instant strong one. And the NHL could still get its $500 million by expanding to another western city instead which would allow the league to realign as well.

So if Quebec is to get its team by a franchise shift instead of expansion, who are the candidates? One of the most obvious ones, Arizona will not be moved because it will cause further conference imbalance. If the Coyotes move, they will be moved to a western city.

So the shifted franchise will come from the Eastern Conference. Based on current NHL attendance, the top choices can all said to be the “usuals”

1. Carolina Hurricanes

They have the worst attendance in the NHL and the owner, Peter Karmanos is known to want to sell. Currently the Hurricanes are drawing approximately 60% arena capacity, by far the worst in the NHL. The reasons for not moving the team are that the Hurricanes have won the Stanley Cup so there is some kind of tradition. And the reason for poor attendance might be because the Hurricanes have not iced a contending team for a long time. But if they added a star player and contended again, would the fans come back? Still they are considered the number one target.

2. New York Islanders

They have been treated like poor cousins of the New York Rangers for years. Despite the heritage of winning four Stanley Cups in a row, a feat that has only been accomplished twice before, the Islanders have been treated shabbily since their glory days. Nothing was done to replace their outmoded arena with a new, larger, modern one. Currently the Islanders play in probably the worst arena in the NHL, the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn which is far from their original fan base, is the second smallest arena in the league, and has lots of obstructive view seats. A few years ago, a large delegation of Quebec fans came down en masse and bought a large quantity of unsold Islander tickets to show the NHL they were in earnest to get the Nordiques back. The Islanders are a target all right. But moving this franchise would be a tremendous blow and loss of status to the NHL in the United States because of the Islanders history and heritage. And it is said that yet another new arena might be built in Queens. That would be the preferred solution for the NHL.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

It is one thing to move the Hurricanes and Islanders but there would be no problem in moving the inglorious Blue Jackets who have only made the playoffs twice in 16 years and have never won a playoff round. The Blue Jackets try to get fans from a cursed hockey area in the United States, Ohio-Indiana which I have labeled the “Death Valley” of American hockey. Nobody can explain why in an area so close to the Canadian border and between such hockey loving cities like Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the east and Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit in the west, hockey is so unpopular. In these two states are buried the dead bodies of the Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, Cleveland Crusaders, and Cleveland Barons, all from the 1970s. As mentioned in an earlier article, the NHL can never forget the horrible attendance of the ghost of the Cleveland Barons. That is why when NHL expansion is talked about, these cities are never mentioned. Columbus is simply the most successful team ever to inhabit these states. But they average just over 15,000 fans per game which is only 82% arena capacity. If the wonderful turnaround of the current season still does not attract fans, maybe the owners will conclude that it is time to move to Quebec where they will be appreciated.

4. Florida Panthers

Florida ranks with inglorious Columbus. They made the Stanley Cup Final once, two decades ago. Since then they seldom make the playoffs. Gary Bettman had great difficulty finding new owners for the team a few years ago. The new ownership has made the team playoff contenders but they still only get 85% arena capacity for their games. Leaving the reluctant Miami market for Quebec is a real option for the Panthers.

5. New Jersey Devils

The Devils are the other poor relations of the New York Rangers. Like the Islanders they have a winning heritage with three Stanley Cups, but mostly they are a hockey after-thought after the Rangers and Islanders. They average 14.5 thousand fans which is 88% capacity. But moving the team is ugly for the NHL because of their past success and heritage. Perhaps moving to another part of New Jersey, away from the New York area where they can find fans that will really identify with the team is the best solution.

Is this the real plan of Gary Bettman and the NHL Board? Do the same thing as in the Atlanta crisis? Wait until the current season ends and then shift an existing franchise to Canada. That would be a suitable gift for Canada’s Sesquicentennial.

Sad Fall Of The Islanders

Of course it is unofficial but the New York Islanders may be the first Eastern Conference team to be eliminated from playoff contention. Unless they go on an unexpected long winning streak, the Islanders are playing for a top draft choice next year.

It is a bitter outcome for a franchise that finally won a playoff round (against Florida) for the first time in eons of years. At the end of last season after the playoff victory, it seemed that if ownership and management made the right moves, the Islanders would finally enter the ranks as true Stanley Cup contenders. Instead the Islanders lost talent and now find themselves near the bottom of the whole league.

It would be tempting to place the blame on the players, coaching, management, and even the ownership. Unfortunately the Islanders problems run deeper than that. The very environment in which the Islanders dwell bears a heavy share of the blame.

This situation is even more sad when one remembers the glorious history of the Islanders. They joined the league in 1972 and immediately set the then record for worst expansion team in NHL history. But the Islanders hired Al Arbour as coach and in only their third NHL season, the Islanders became the fastest expansion team (still a record) to become a true Stanley Cup contender.

There followed a steady path to the top when Islander ownership and management, headed by General Manager Bill Torrey seldom made an error. First Denis Potvin was drafted, then Bryan Trottier, and Mike Bossy followed. Smart trades filled in the holes. In 1980 the Islanders finally won the Stanley Cup and began four invincible years as champion. Only two previous Montreal Canadiens teams have managed to win four Stanley Cups in a row or better. It took the mighty Edmonton Oilers led by Wayne Gretzky, in their third attempt to stop the Islanders streak. No other American expansion team has done so well. No other NHL team has come close to the Islanders streak since.

But once the glory years ended the Islanders tumbled to the bottom of the league and have mostly stayed there ever since. They seldom had star players on their roster. The current star, John Tavares is probably the Islanders best player since the dynasty.

The two main reasons for this state of affairs are probably the arena and the environment. Once the glory years were over, the Islanders reverted to being the poor cousins of the New York Rangers. They would be joined in this status by the New Jersey Devils across the river. Ironically since joining the league, both teams have done better than the original Manhattan resident Rangers. Both the Islanders and Devils more than merit better status among New York hockey fans than the New York Rangers but they retain the shabby status of being a hockey after-thought to this day. Is the greater New York area of 19 million residents big enough for three NHL teams? All things point to the answer, “no”.

After the glory years, the Islanders more than merited a new, modern, larger arena, but nothing would be done. The Islander tradition, heritage and success would be belittled and forgotten. In 2014, the Islanders moved to the new Barclay arena in Brooklyn which incredibly is even smaller than their old arena which was the second smallest in the NHL, ahead of only Winnipeg. Even more ridiculous is that over 1000 seats are considered “obstructive view”. No wonder attendance this year is so low.

A sports arena is part of a franchise’s team. A too-small arena that cannot generate enough revenue means that ownership and management cannot sign enough star players to build a credible team. If they cannot do that, the franchise will never be able to become a champion and might as well not be in the league. It is shabby treatment for a team with such a glorious heritage.

Incredibly the Islanders still cannot sell out the Barclay’s arena. Currently they have the second worst attendance in the NHL, ahead of only Carolina. They average 12.5 thousand fans a game, which is only 80% capacity of the arena. There is talk of building yet another new arena in Queens. Would that end the image of the Islanders being the poor relation of the Rangers?

In any sports situation where things are going sour, there is usually an answer to the situation. Get rid of the players, fire the coach, replace the incompetent general manager and upper management, make the cancerous owner sell. But many of the Islander problems may be beyond the capacity of even the ownership. Do the New York fans even want the Islanders and Devils (who have the sixth worst attendance record)?

If the New York fans do not want these teams, there are plenty of cities who do, most notably Quebec. One year a large delegation of Quebec fans journeyed down en-masse and bought a large quantity of unsold Islander tickets to show their determination to get back in the NHL. But a new Quebec team would have a Nordiques logo, not an Islander one. Other cities that may be in the hunt for an NHL franchise are Hamilton, Seattle (if it can solve its arena and ownership problem), Portland, Saskatoon, Milwaukee, and possibly Houston, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City.

But after the glorious history of the Islanders it would be a black mark on the NHL if the team left New York. Not to see the Long Island logo in the NHL any more would be a terrible blow to the league. It is one thing for inglorious Atlanta to go to Winnipeg. It is quite another for a team with such a history and heritage to leave. It would be a terrible blow to the status of the NHL in the United States which has been trying since Commissioner Gary Bettman’s appointment to prove to everyone (particularly to American television networks in order to get a rich contract) that the NHL is a “big 4″ American professional sports league.

True that since the dynasty years, the Islanders have iced bad teams, but New York fans have stuck with the Rangers who at times have done far worse. Since the Islanders and Devils have joined the NHL, the score in Stanley Cups reads Islanders 4, Devils 3, Rangers 1. Why the Islanders and Devils are unpopular after such successes is one of the NHL’s mysteries.

As noted above, trading players, firing coaches and management, and getting rid of incompetent owners seem to be easy solutions compared to the situation the Islanders are in. The previous sentence I wrote implies an obvious answer to franchise problems. But the Islander problem is even worse. For them there is no immediate, obvious answer. Is a new, modern, larger, more convenient arena the solution? For the second-status New York Islanders, it had better be.

Hartford Should Go All The Way

It might finally happen. The first tangible steps to getting the Hartford Whalers back in the NHL. In December, there was a proposal to renovate the 41 year old XL center to a more than adequate NHL 19,000 seats which would cost $250 million.

Is this really worth it? The two initial questions to be asked are would Hartford get back in the NHL and should Hartford build a new arena instead.

With a proper arena, Hartford would have no problem getting back in the NHL BUT they have to have a credible owner lined up. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg and offered them reasonable terms to get back into the NHL: a credible owner, a proper arena, and a great fan base.

Winnipeg came back by buying the unwanted Atlanta Thrasher franchise and Quebec built a new arena and is now knocking at the door. (Quebec’s problem is that the potential bidder made inappropriate racist remarks about a member of the NHL Board and the league finds him unsuitable. Gary Bettman may be currently looking for a new owner behind the scenes.) The door remains open for Hartford as well. There is no problem with a fan base and market. Hartford shares the entire New England market with Boston including the large city of Providence. Hartford also has great rivalries with the Boston Bruins, Montreal, a returned Quebec, the New York City area teams and possibly with Buffalo and Ottawa as well.

The key question is about cost and what you are getting. Are you willing to spend $250 million on a facility for minor league teams? $250 million sounds like major league money so if it is the NHL you really want, you had better start solving the ownership problem right now. And the main deterrent to that solution is that Gary Bettman and the NHL dumped an unexpected $500 million entry fee on potential bidders that scared off 14 applicants leaving only fanatical Quebec and Las Vegas left. Obviously most of the business world considers a $500 million fee to be too excessive for an NHL franchise. Whoever wants to own a returned Whalers had better be exceedingly rich and believe in the team and the market.

Furthermore, city officials and Hartford businesses see the renovation as a means of reviving business and the downtown core. How much are minor league teams going to draw fans downtown? If the future of the city is tied up with this renovation which seems to be implied, it is major league hockey that is required so it is imperative to get the ownership issue solved and in place before any construction is started or else you will have a mess like Quebec currently has.

Hartford

That brings up the next issue, renovation or new arena. It has been estimated that it would cost about $500 million for a new Hartford arena but is this true? Unfortunately greed, corruption and unexpected factors play too great a part in the construction of new stadiums and arenas. Edmonton’s new arena cost $480 million; the new Las Vegas arena is $375 million and the Videotron in Quebec cost $370 million, a variation of over $110 million.

And renovation is the same way. To put matters in perspective, when Jim Balsille tried to buy the Arizona Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, the Hamilton city council planned to vote $50 million to raise an NHL acceptable 17,000 seat arena to a more than adequate 18,500 facility. Why does it cost 5 times as much to renovate the XL Center than it does to upgrade an arena in Hamilton? Why is the cost of a new Hartford arena $130 million more than a similar arena in Quebec? Before any plan is approved, responsible Hartford public officials had better get answers.

There is one final major question, who do you want it for. Building a new arena automatically puts Hartford not only in line for an NHL team but an NBA basketball team as well. Do you want both major league hockey and basketball? Having two tenants to share the cost and draw fans to the downtown area might make a big difference than just one team.

So what route should Hartford go? If the cost of a new arena can be kept at the level of Quebec and Las Vegas or cheaper, I would vote to spend an additional $120 million on a completely new building which will be more attractive in drawing fans and hopefully last longer than the XL Center. Compared to Hamilton, the cost of renovating a 41 year old building is ridiculous but it is better than nothing. And go for both the NHL and NBA, not minor league teams. Get the ownership and arena issues solved and Hartford will have at least the Whalers back soon. The NHL wants them.

NHL 2016-17 Season Second Quarter Report

It is now approximately half way through the NHL season and the second quarter of the current campaign was quite different from the first. In the first quarter, the pattern was mostly Win 3 Lose 1, 2-2, 1-2, 2-1, etc. In the second quarter what occurred was the dramatic long winning streak. Three teams, Columbus, Minnesota, and Philadelphia hit double digit figures, with Columbus nearly setting a new NHL record. Several teams soared into playoff positions or at least made themselves contenders again.

Among the teams that experienced significant long winning streaks were:

East: Columbus, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto

West: Minnesota, San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver

Here are other things to note during this period:

Still the teams to beat

Defending champion Pittsburgh in the east and 3 time champion Chicago in the west are still the teams to bet on despite the obvious improvement of many other teams. They are the safe choices for bettors.

Out of the picture

Colorado and Arizona are the first teams to be completely out of the playoffs (unless they start playing like the streaking teams listed above). They are now contending with Las Vegas for a high draft choice next year.

Show me

Despite the impressive winning streaks, Minnesota and Washington still have to prove themselves. They have done this before in the regular season. Now they have to play like this in the playoffs. Neither of them has even reached the conference final and Minnesota has yet to beat a true contender in a playoff round. Smile and pat them on the back for what they have done this quarter but the true test comes at the end of the season.

Winner of the second big trade

When Edmonton traded Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson the results were almost even in the first quarter. But the second quarter has declared a clear winner. New Jersey dropped out of a playoff position while Edmonton still has a good record and is in the middle of the playoff pack.

Nightmare quarter

Besides Arizona and Colorado, New Jersey had a second quarter as horrendous as their first quarter was good. They were playing excellent hockey at the beginning and were solid playoff contenders when Hall was briefly injured, came back, and then the team played horrible hockey and dropped out of a playoff position. The defense, usually the strength of the Devils is now one of the worst in the league. The playoffs are still within reach, but unless they turn things around, that chance could disappear in the third quarter.

Disguises:

1. Injured with a bag over his head

It was bad enough when Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin decided to go hunting for culprits who failed to respond when star goaltender Carey Price got injured last year. It was even worse when Bergevin decided that the main culprit was P. K. Subban, singled him out, and traded him to Nashville for Shea Weber. It is sickening when Weber is thriving in Montreal, Bergevin being hailed as a genius for his astute trade, while Subban struggles on the ice and gets injured. It is horrible when Nashville which was now supposed to be a true Stanley Cup contender may not even make the playoffs while Montreal is near the top of its conference. Poor Subban has nowhere to hide. As of now he can be blamed for the downfall of Montreal last year and Nashville this year. He could not have had a more horrible spell cast upon him. If you see someone walking down a Nashville street with a paper bag covering his head, you know who it is.

2. Playing with a bag over his head

Taylor Hall, now of the New Jersey Devils got injured frequently and could not play defense which made him expendable by Edmonton. This year he got injured off and on, he is a -7, and the Devils whose strength was usually defense are now -29, the worst in the Eastern Conference. They have dropped out of a playoff position while Hall’s old team, the Oilers, are now in the middle of the playoff pack in the west including a recent defeat of the Devils on their own ice. Adam Larrson, whom the Oilers got from the Devils is an even 0. Interestingly, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, another number one NHL draft pick for the Oilers is even worse than Hall at a horrible -12, the worst on the team, proving that almost all the number one draft picks whom the Oilers have drafted over the past decade cannot play or even be taught how to play defense and have been like liabilities instead of assets.

3. Watching with bags over their heads

All those expert predictors at NHL.com who said before the season started that Subban was the final piece of the puzzle for Nashville and predicted that the Predators would end up in the Stanley Cup Final.

Executive nightmare

Poor Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman believed his team was a legitimate Stanley Cup contender (so did I) so he signed all his top stars to contracts to win right now. Then Mr. Brittle, Steve Stamkos got injured again, the team has failed to rally in the same manner the Montreal Canadiens failed to rally last year when Carey Price got injured and now there is a real chance that Tampa Bay may not make the playoffs.

So what, nothing came of it

Florida Panthers became the first team to fire their coach, Gerard Gallant, despite having a winning record. General Manager Tom Rowe took over and the team is neither better nor worse than when they were under Gallant. The only benefit to Florida is that Gallant’s salary is off the books. He is now a leading contender to be hired as a coach next year.

Hanging in

Ottawa Senators may have lost their best player, goaltender Craig Anderson because he is at home caring for his wife who has cancer. But the Senators are still hanging on to a playoff position.

Frustrated by circumstances beyond his control

John Tavares of the New York Islanders helped his team to finally win a playoff round for the first time in eons last year. The Islanders seemed poised to join the top eastern teams as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender if they made the right moves during the off season. But the Islanders play in the smallest, worst arena, the Barclay Center, in the league, the only one that actually has obstructed view seats for hockey spectators. Unlike the glory years, the Islanders now lose talent during the off season instead of the acquiring it and cannot afford to build a legitimate contender around Tavares. Ominously, the Islanders played the two worst teams in the league back to back, the Avalanche and the Coyotes and lost both games. The playoffs are still within reach but the Islanders may be the first eastern team to drop out of playoff contention.

Dream trade for the Tampa Bay Lightning

Swapping “Mr. Brittle” Steve Stamkos for Tavares.

Major stumblebum disappointments

Boston, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Dallas were all expected to be better than they are. They are not playing bad hockey but are fumbling along with one-step-forward-two steps back, two-steps-forward-one step-back, etc. records. Meanwhile the streakers have zoomed by them or are in position to legitimately challenge for a playoff position. These teams need to go on win streaks themselves or they may not make the playoffs, something nobody believed when the season started.

Show some support

Last time I checked, Columbus had the sixth worst attendance in the league, with just over 15,000 patrons per game or 82% capacity. The win streak brought about this “improvement” because before it they were the fourth worst in the league with only 75%. Come on fans, show some support for this team. If you can’t support a winner, Quebec (and a few other cities) want a team badly and are waiting…

Poor role model

That wonderful dessert team, Arizona Coyotes whom the NHL fought to the death to keep in Phoenix and out of Hamilton, Ontario is already out of playoff contention, has the second worst record in the NHL, and as usual has one of the worst attendance records in the league. Now comes news that in suburban Glendale where the Coyotes play, the city council wants to be rid of the Coyotes and have an arena without a tenant and that the Coyotes may move across the city to suburban Tempe into a yet to  be built new arena. This is a wonderful example for the NHL’s newest dessert team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Keep a stiff upper lip Bill Foley and Gary Bettman.

Still waiting…

All quiet on the Quebec City front.

Final Appraisal Of 2017 World Junior Championship: A Bit More Honesty

Thanks to the press conference just before the medal round games, hosted by IIHF Hockey President Rene Fasel, Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney and Hockey Canada COO Scott Smith, there was a bit of honesty that was missing during the recently revived World Cup of Hockey where NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director talked about international hockey’s dreams but not about its significant problems to make those dreams a reality. Among the significant problems which the Triumvirate at least touched on:

1. High ticket prices.

The Triumvirate admitted to high prices but claims all the money is spent on investing in hockey for children.

2. Hockey means more to Canada than anywhere else.

Where are the next two WJHC going to be held? In Buffalo right next to the Canadian border and British Columbia.

3. The best training for young hockey players in the world is Canada and the CHL.

When asked about returning the tournament to Europe Fasel admitted that European boys would rather play in Canada “than to play at home where junior hockey isn’t so popular”. He might have added for the CHL to admit more Europeans so that they could get better training, get better experience playing more frequently against Canada’s best juniors, and to be better prepared to enter the NHL.

4. Competitive Balance.

Fasel admitted that Latvia was not as competitive as it should be (including the usual 10-2 drubbing by Canada) but remained optimistic. Next year Belarus will be given an opportunity to try and make a dent in the “traditional big 7″.

The above admissions were at least partial honesty. But what was NOT said was even more significant.

1. High ticket prices.

Exactly how is this money being spent? Where does it go? It isn’t correcting the competitive imbalance between the “big 7″ and the rest of the world.

2. Hockey means more to Canada than anywhere else.

European boys would rather play in Canada “than to play at home where junior hockey isn’t so popular”. That says it all. That is an admission that competitive hockey is not being developed properly elsewhere. That is an admission that European hockey will always lag behind Canada and hinders the growth of international hockey. Time for a serious overhaul. What are you going to do about it?

3. The best training for young hockey players in the world is Canada and the CHL.

Here are a couple of statistics we would like to know. How many members of the victorious American team play in the CHL? How many members of the European teams play there? If you have to send your best young players to your arch-enemy Canada to get proper training, your own development programs are not doing the job.

4. Competitive Balance

It has been four decades since Canada-USSR in 1972 and the “big 7″ remain the “big 7″ and not the big 10 or better. Europeans want to increase the number of teams 12, (that would be better) but you can’t do that until you do something about the quality of hockey at the “B level” and below. Significantly there were no concrete plans announced by the Triumvirate to improve the quality of hockey outside of the “big 7″ just like there were none announced by Bettman and Fehr during the World Cup. Increasing the quality of play so that there is a “big 10″ or better would be a real revolution in international hockey but nobody seems to have a clue about what to do or be bothered to find a way to do it. And as long as that non-action will be around, the growth of hockey will be retarded.

Here are some of the other significant results of this year’s WJHC:

1.  Shocking fall of the champions

Finland which won two of the last three WJHC nearly got regulated. The main problem was they could not score goals. Perhaps too many of their top juniors have now graduated to the NHL (symbolized by Patrik Laine joining Winnipeg) for their system to replenish. But Finland felt it so deeply that they did the almost unprecedented thing and fired their head coach before the last round-robin game which they subsequently won. One hopes for a comeback next year.

2. Doesn’t belong

Latvia was non-competitive during the entire tournament, a black mark not so much about the Latvian boys who were trying their best but about four decades of doing nothing to improve the quality of hockey outside of the traditional big 7. Next year Belarus gets a chance to show if they can escape this ignominy.

3. 7A and 7B

Switzerland and Denmark showed some competitiveness but in the end were eliminated in the first playoff round. If the powers that be would do something to help these two countries get over the hump permanently, future tournaments would have a “big 9″ instead of a “big 7″ where Switzerland and Denmark would have a real chance to win a medal if not the entire tournament. In the entire 40 years of the WJHC, the ONLY non-big 7 medal was a measly bronze by Switzerland in 1998. Congratulations on spreading the growth of hockey.

4. Divided you fall

Maybe the Czechs and the Slovaks are happier having their own countries but since they decided to split, they have done virtually nothing at the junior hockey level. Slovakia collected a bronze medal in 2015. The last time either of these countries amounted to anything significant was 2001 when the Czech Republic won the tournament.

5. At the junior level at least, the gap is closing on Canada

Unlike the top level of competition during the Sidney Crosby era, (16 straight Canadian wins since 2010) especially during the recent World Cup in which the national teams of the other big 7 countries played horrible hockey and hybrid Team Europe made the finals, at the junior level, some of the countries played competitive hockey. The United States won the tournament (In contrast to the World Cup where they could not win a game.) and Russia and Sweden iced competitive teams. Canada has only won this tournament once since 2010. One expects a comeback by Finland. One would love to believe the Czechs and the Slovaks will finally get their acts together after nearly 20 years of mediocrity. One wistfully would like to believe that the powers that be will do something to get Switzerland and Denmark over the hump so that they can really compete.

6. Get rid of shoot-outs in the medal rounds

Shoot-outs in hockey like penalty kicks in soccer are a sucky way to end dramatic competition. At least in the Final game, play like they do during the NHL playoffs, extra periods until somebody scores. Congratulations to the United States on winning the tournament but it would have been better if they had won the last game by other means.

The final summary of this year’s tournament is that except for the victory of the United States and the fall of Finland, it was more of the same. The Triumvirate at least talked about some of the problems in international hockey but significantly declined to offer any solutions. What they did not say was more significant than what they did say. When that changes, international hockey will change for the better.