Arizona Coyotes/NFL? Bad Morals And Bad Business

It should be win-win and instead it is lose-lose. The surreal thing about the Arizona Coyotes trying to get a $225 million subsidy from the Arizona legislature is why there is even such a subsidy bill proposed and considered. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman pleading for a bill which I suspect if he was an Arizona taxpayer, he wouldn’t even give the time of day for.

Phoenix taxpayers, specifically Glendale are already deeply in debt on an NHL arena – built specifically for the Coyotes at taxpayer expense – 13 years ago. That’s right, the Arizona Coyotes current arena, costing several hundred million dollars is no good after only 13 years. Planned obsolescence on a massive scale. Now Bettman has officially told everybody that the Coyotes are finished in Glendale, that building that arena was a mistake.

And he is right. In fact NO arena or stadium should be built with taxpayer money in any city. If an expensive facility should be placed on the junk heap after only such a short time, it has the word “sucker” written all over it. And those who did the suckering, in this case the NHL, should not get another penny for anything. Why even such a subsidy bill is before the Arizona legislature is the real mystery. And all this for a team that has only had one good NHL season in its entire existence.

There are too many other such tales. Montreal building a $1 billion dollar stadium for the Olympics in 1976 which later nobody claimed they liked to watch either a football or baseball game in. The Toronto Argonauts pulling out of the SkyDome/Rogers Field which fans claim is inappropriate and too far away to watch a football game. The wonderful Barclay’s Center, the home of the New York Islanders that has obstructed seats for watching hockey. Ottawa claiming that its Kanata home is too far away to attract fans.

Meanwhile Phoenix does not have enough taxpayer dollars to fund children’s schools. Glad to know that they have their priorities right. Perhaps Bettman and the Coyotes owners and management should send their children to Phoenix for their education.

Leagues

Adding to this wonderful story is the NFL stripping three of its “traditional” cities of their teams in the past two years, two of them, not because of bad support or bad facilities, but because their markets are not as big as Los Angeles. The NFL could have given Los Angeles two expansion teams and Las Vegas one, but instead caused pain to loyal, devoted fans in its existing markets with the shrug of its soldiers and not a blink of the eye. And it’s comforting to know that Buffalo, Minnesota, and Jacksonville as well as the three victims were listed unofficially on many websites as potential teams to be moved too. If “something better” comes up, their days could be numbered as well.

So much for fan loyalty. So much for local, regional, and state perks granted to North American professional sports owners. So much for subsidized facilities built at taxpayer expense. So much for the support of local corporate sponsorships. So much for extensive, local media coverage. Meanwhile during the Obama administration, 45 million Americans (and uncounted Canadians) have been unofficially been labeled “poor”. And much of the funding for these sports palaces and perks comes from these “poor” people’s tax dollars.

It is hard to know who is crazier, government officials who approve these grants of money or the fans themselves who want these “bread and circuses/sports drugs” at all cost. In fact the only sane people are the owners themselves. They know they can get the money and they go for it.

At least in Phoenix it is being reported that the subsidy bill has little chance to be enacted. That there are too many pressing concerns besides professional sports franchises. That even politicians are getting tired of being suckered by rich sports franchise owners. That there is one 13 year old sports facility built that is already too many. That too much has already been given to a franchise with only one decent season in its history.

That will leave the NHL in a real quandary. They have publicly stated that there is no future in Glendale and now there are no other places to play anywhere else in Phoenix. And they can’t move the Coyotes east to hockey starved Quebec, Hamilton, or Hartford because that will make the league conferences even more unbalanced. Seattle whom they favor the most is out of the picture because it can’t resolve its arena problem. Las Vegas has already got its expansion team to the tune of $500 million. So will Houston, Portland, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, even Saskatoon come to the rescue? The NHL has already had to subsidize the Coyotes for several years. The only thing that is a pleasure in all this is for once the people who have already got too much are taking the hit and not the taxpayers.

(By the way, happy April Fools Day)

Pierre Karl Peladeau: Mr. Inconsistent

If only Pierre Karl Peladeau had been true to Quebec Nordiques fans… As every die-hard Nordique fan who is longing to get the team back knows, the NHL loves the newly built Videotron arena, is more than happy with the Quebec City fan base and market which stretches half way to Montreal and all the way into the four Maritime provinces. But the NHL Board cannot stand prospective owner Peladeau.

He was a suspect owner in many of the NHL owners’ eyes before he ever applied either to buy the Montreal Canadiens or restart the Quebec Nordiques because of his support for the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois. Then when his company lost the Canadiens to Molson Breweries, he made an inappropriate remark about the new owner of the Canadiens, Geoff Molson and failed to reconcile with him. The situation called for tact, patience, and building bridges. Instead Peladeau merely confirmed the Board’s worst fears about him and made Commissioner Gary Bettman’s rejection of his Quebec Nordiques bid automatic.

Looking back, there is a significant difference between the recovery of the Winnipeg Jets and the attempted recovery of the Quebec Nordiques at the ownership factor. In the period before the Jets came back, Commissioner Bettman and maybe some of the NHL Board members were in constant touch with prospective owners Mark Chipman and Dave Thomson. The NHL had no qualms transferring the Atlanta Thrashers to their ownership and back to Winnipeg. It was obvious that the Board members liked Thomson and Chipman who was subsequently elected to the NHL Executive Committee.

But it was very different during the period up to the last expansion when the Videotron was built. Bettman was seen several times with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier, but not Peladeau. When any announcement is made from Quebecor about the Nordiques situation, it comes from Board member, ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Peladeau, who would be the principle governor on the NHL Board if the Quebecor bid was accepted seems to have no direct personal contact with anyone connected with the NHL, understandable given his relationship with Geoff Molson. He is someone to be avoided and not spoken about.

But even if Peladeau did not make any remarks about Molson and took his Canadiens defeat with good grace, the NHL would be wise to avoid him. He is simply too inconsistent to be trusted by the NHL, Quebec Nordiques fans, or even the most committed Quebec separatist. His actions belong in the realm of absurdity. There is no logic behind obstructing the business activities of a colleague of a business rival, then make insensitive racial remarks about him in public, remarks that probably offended not only Molson, but other members of the NHL Board, and then seek to become a business partner on that same Board whom he has offended.

But it is not only in business that Peladeau is absurd, his political actions are completely incongruent. Here is a man claiming to be a supporter of a political party dedicated to restricting minority rights in Quebec and taking the province out of Canada. So what does this “separatist” do? He invests in Canada by buying the Sun Media Chain. Now he has employees of all kinds of nationalities right across Canada helping to make profits for his company. He is responsible for their welfare. Now he probably has to speak in English every day.

And if the Parti Quebecois whom he claims he supports does succeed in making Quebec a sovereign state, what will happen to the economy of the rest of Canada and the status of his enlarged company? His profits could take a nose-dive along with his rich life-style. This “separatist” has every reason to oppose the goals of the Parti Quebecois. His company’s future health is tied up in the prosperity of a united Canada and any action like restricting minority rights in Quebec still further, stirring up more separatist turmoil, or even planning another referendum is going to affect the prosperity of Canada and his profits.

So why would the NHL want such an inconsistent owner on its Board? They want someone they can believe in and trust. Why would any Quebec Nordiques fan want him as an owner? Why would any separatist voter support an investor/candidate who has made such a large financial commitment to Canada?

Who is Pierre Karl Peladeau? A separatist? A Quebec nationalist? A Canadian investor and businessman? Nobody knows and probably it is wise, like the NHL not to try and find out.

NHL Goes Back To Europe…But Don’t Pull An NFL

There was some good news and bad news when the NHL announced that it would play some regular season games in Europe once more, this time in Stockholm, Sweden. It will be the first regular season NHL games in Europe since 2011. The NHL is billing this as a revival of the “NHL Global Series” and will feature two games between the Ottawa Senators and the Colorado Avalanche in November.

The good news is that NHL is playing games in Europe once more. This will give the fans over there a chance to see the best players in the world playing in front of them again. There are several Swedish players on Ottawa and Colorado so there will be some native players to cheer for. It is also a great way to improve the morale of the non-North American NHL players, who now compose a significant 26% of the total NHL rosters. The NHL is also proclaiming that these games will be part of its Centennial Celebration.

It is also a good way to prepare the ground for future NHL expansion to Europe. While that is still a long-term goal, perhaps even a very-long-term goal, it is still a feasible future concept, not some dead, dormant idea that cannot be realized. With future improvements in transportation, travel to other continents may not be so difficult and teams in Europe and Asia competing for the Stanley Cup may occur at some later date. This is certainly a progressive, not backwards idea.

Besides the Stanley Cup is already an international trophy. European players on the winning team have been taking it to Europe every year and displaying it proudly over there just like their North American teammates do in Canada and the United States. Having teams based in Europe and Asia will just complete the picture.

The bad news is the team match-up. Ottawa is a good choice, but Colorado is worst team in the NHL this year and is vying with Las Vegas for the number one draft choice. While there are some good players on Colorado, some Swedish natives as noted above, and the idea of next year’s number 1 or 2 draft choice playing two games in Sweden is good, the NHL should not give Europe “garbage games” that are a poor draw in North America. Please NHL, do not ape the NFL.

That arrogant league has just sanctioned another “traditional” franchise city to lose its team – this time the San Diego Chargers, again to Los Angeles, just like it did last year to St. Louis, not because of poor fan support, not because of a bad stadium, but because Los Angeles is the second largest market in the United States and the NFL wants to peddle itself in larger, “more important” markets than “small city” St. Louis and San Diego. (What’s next? The Las Vegas Raiders? It’s a distinct possibility.) So much for loyal fan support, local corporate sponsorship, extensive local media coverage, and local government perks that were given to the NFL owners.

It is even more disgracefully arrogant when it is remembered that Los Angeles merely yawned when the Raiders and Rams left in 1995 and could not care less whether the NFL came back or not. Los Angeles was content to live for two decades without the NFL. In L.A., the movie star, not the sports figure is king and queen. Los Angeles certainly did not react the way the stricken cities of Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Oakland and St. Louis did when they lost their teams. Nor does the NHL, NBA and MLB sanction the stripping of franchises from cities on the scale the NFL does.

But the NFL’s arrogance does not stop there. They despise foreigners and make no secret of it. When the Buffalo Bills played some of their games in Toronto, ticket prices were set so high that even the most fanatical Toronto fans, longing for an NFL team of their own, had to wince and think twice about buying a ticket. Games did not come close to selling out. Still worse are the games that are played in London, England. Usually, the NFL selects the games between teams at the bottom of the heap, that are the worst draw, which they know will not sell out in North America and ships them off to football-starved London. Last year there were open calls of derision by the British NFL fans at the sheer gall and arrogance of it.

Hopefully that will not happen with this renewed “NHL Global Series”. The NHL has far more at stake in Europe than the arrogant NFL. The NHL has a significant number of European players, scouts, and management in its league and there is no need to offend them. Give the Europeans decent games to watch which will encourage fan support and pay off in the future. Hockey has to grow around the world and arrogance and stupidity by North American professional sports leagues will not help.

Chemistry Gone From The Los Angeles Kings

It’s over. With the St. Louis Blues victory over the Colorado Avalanche last night, the Western Conference playoff teams have been determined. It will be combinations of Chicago, Minnesota, San Jose, Edmonton, Anaheim, Calgary, St. Louis, and Nashville. Realistically the Los Angeles Kings, the only team currently out of a playoff spot that has any remaining hope of making the post-season will not make up the eight point difference that stands between them and St. Louis and Nashville with only ten games left. Los Angeles is not going to suddenly right the ship and go on the long winning streak necessary, nor are the teams they are trying to catch going into a prolonged slump.

It is quite a fall for the Kings who were Stanley Cup champions only three years ago in 2014, after winning their first Cup in 2012. Somehow the winning chemistry has been lost and the Kings will be out in the cold despite almost being handed a playoff position on a silver platter during this final quarter of the season. What is revealing is that at the trade deadline, the Kings added goaltender Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning and then Jerome Iginla from the Colorado Avalanche, while the St. Louis Blues obligingly traded their best defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington and the Kings fell while the Blues rose.

Only a year ago, Los Angeles and Chicago were trading Stanley Cups, each winning on alternative years. Last year it was supposed to be Los Angeles turn to win but one of the teams favored to win it all was instead eliminated in the very first round in only five games by the supposedly over-the-hill San Jose Sharks. The Kings had brought in Vincent Lecavalier and Milan Lucic to bring them back to the top but the chemistry obviously did not click.

This year, Lecavalier retired and Lucic was allowed to go to Edmonton, but the Kings have been mediocre at best. Star goaltender, Jonathan Quick got injured but backup Peter Budaj did a credible job until he was traded for Bishop who has not been what Los Angeles expected. It was a strange trade anyway with the Kings just getting back Quick after a serious injury and who would obviously be doing most of the goaltending. The Kings needed help elsewhere and the aging Iginla, well past his prime was not enough. It has to admitted that huge sums of money have been wasted where they could have been spent more wisely.

Still it is a mystery why the Kings, once so formidable have fallen so far so fast. Jonathan Quick is still here and so is star defenseman Drew Doughty. Up front there is still Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar and coach Darryl Sutter is still behind the bench. The goal differential is a bad -6 but that does not tell the story. The Kings are actually a good defensive team but they are not scoring goals. It would have been better to have made a trade for forwards and defensemen who would have boosted the attack, not Ben Bishop. A top forward or an attacking defenseman are the obvious choices in this year’s draft.

It is still possible for the Kings to make the playoffs but it is highly unlikely. The forwards who were making a difference with Kopitar and Carter have been allowed to leave and the wrong players have taken their place. The Los Angeles attack has to be rebuilt. The winning chemistry that brought two recent Stanley Cups has vanished. The Kings, so recently one the envied teams in the NHL are in a real muddle.

What Can ZoneNordiques Do?

In a recent article, I wrote about how a pressure/lobby group can help facilitate either a new North America professional sports franchise or a returned former beloved team. In this article, I will focus on the Quebec City lobby group, ZoneNordiques which has special problems with getting their team back that other lobby groups might not have.

The two main obstacles that other cities seeking a new NHL franchise do not have and which are the main reasons that Quebec does not have its team back already are elitism and racism. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman listed three conditions that all would-be NHL franchises must have: Fan-base, arena, and ownership. Quebec City has a fanatical fan-base and the new Videotron arena is so good, the NHL granted Quebec a World Cup exhibition game.

The problem is ownership which is tainted with racism and elitism. The would-be new owner of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau has made some enemies on the NHL Board of Governors, both for his politics (he is a supporter of the provincial separatist political party, Parti Quebecois), and for making an inappropriate racial remark about one of the governors, Geoff Molson and also obstructing the business of one of Molson’s colleagues. He has made no attempt to reconcile with Molson, and the NHL, though it likes Quebec as a franchise and wants that $500 million entry fee, wants no part of him. The NHL is prepared to wait indefinitely until a suitable owner appears so the result has been a stalemate.

It has been my contention that Gary Bettman has been working behind the scenes trying to find a suitable owner for a new Quebec team, and because there is virtually no news, it is difficult to know if anything is going on and if any progress is being made. It can also be speculated that Bettman may know that one of the Board of Governors either wants to sell or move his franchise and that Bettman is waiting for the current season to end and make the same kind of ownership manoeuver that he made to restore the Winnipeg Jets.

So what can the official Quebec lobby group, ZoneNordiques do? They are the most fanatical of all the Quebec Nordiques fans and like the previous “Manitoba Mythbusters” of the Winnipeg situation, want the team back the most.

As far as the ownership problem is concerned, assuming that Quebec will get an expansion franchise and not a relocated team, there are two possible solutions. First find a stereotype owner from inside the Province of Quebec. It goes without saying that this person will have enough money. Most likely he/she will be French Canadian, be tolerant and non-political, know the Quebec local, provincial and possibly even the Maritime markets, someone who wants to avoid unacceptable controversies like racism, be discreet and patient in public, and will put the Nordiques and the NHL first in all matters. ZoneNordiques can help Bettman and the NHL locate such people. Both in 1995 and now in 2016-17, no rich French Canadian investor from Quebec has come forward to rescue the Nordiques. It has been Peladeau or nobody.

At one time I speculated that Mario Lemieux might sell his Pittsburgh Penguin shares and then front a Quebec City ownership group. I wondered if the resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche with General Manager ex-Nordique Joe Sakic’s blessing had something to do with resolving the ownership problem. So far, nothing has cracked the wall of silence. And that makes me wonder if such rich French Canadian Quebec residents even exist. ZoneNordiques members can do an investigation into this matter. They would know the who’s who of the Province of Quebec better than anybody. And if no such people exist, Gary Bettman, the NHL, and all Nordiques fans are wasting their time. Because if there are no people who fit the NHL stereotype owner, then Quebec City must accept the only other option: Outside ownership either by expansion or relocation.

This is nothing new in professional sports. Both Ottawa and Winnipeg in the NHL are owned by Torontonians, and when the Toronto Blue Jays of MLB were created in 1977, much of the financing came from Montreal. A new Quebec City owner could be either an anglophone Quebecer like Molson or Charles Bronfman of the Montreal Expos or a complete outsider from either “English Canada” or the United States who cannot speak a word of French.

Are Quebec Nordiques fans prepared to accept this? And it starts with ZoneNordiques. They have to debate this issue either on their website or amongst themselves first. Why? Because if the most fanatical Quebec Nordiques fans cannot accept an outsider who cannot speak French as an owner of the team, then NOBODY can. And if it is discovered that the ethnic and language background of a potential owner is more important than getting the Nordiques back, perhaps it is better that Quebec does not get a team. In every professional sports league in North America. teams are composed of multi-racial players with different religions who play in cosmopolitan cities. The NHL cannot tolerate an owner with even a sniff of racism. Can you imagine the uproar that would occur if an NFL, MLB, or NBA owner made an inappropriate remark about black people? Morale would be deteriorate, the league would get a bad image, and possibly there would even be lawsuits.

The NHL (and the CFL, NFL, NBA, and MLB) is not going to place a franchise in a city where it is going to get involved in unnecessary, inappropriate political, racial, ethnic, language, and religious controversies. They will not come to a city where an outside owner is going to be subjected to these kind of pressures. Hopefully ZoneNordiques will be in favor of outside ownership if that comes to pass and is the only way to get the Nordiques back. And if that happens, there is plenty that they can do.

They have to prepare the rest of their followers and the provincial Quebec public to accept such a situation. If there are troublemaking fans who want to stir up inappropriate controversies, then they have to be dealt with. If members of the French Canadian press throughout the province want to make language, ethnic background, and religion an issue, then they have to be told to lay off. And politicians who want to restrict minority rights still further and make owning and operating a Quebec City team more difficult through retaliatory legislation should be warned that it is unpopular and will be politically punished.

This issue is not just confined to the Nordiques. As noted above, none of the other professional sports leagues will place a franchise in Quebec City if inappropriate controversies ensue. Nor will the Olympics and other top international sports events come. Quebec will not get a Worlds Fair or international conventions if it gets a bad image. ZoneNordiques can help in this matter. They can displace any bad myths that have arisen. They can show Bettman, the NHL Board of Governors, and any potential investors that Quebec is a tolerant place to invest in and live. They can dispel any fears that outside investors might have about restarting the Nordiques again. Right now the ownership issue is in a stalemate. ZoneNordiques can help tip the scales in their favor and get their dream back like the Manitoba Mythbusters did.

PRESSURE GROUPS CAN HELP GET A NEW NHL FRANCHISE

One of the smartest things that occurred when Winnipeg and Quebec lost their franchises in the 1990s, was that their most fanatical fans banded together to form lobbying, pressure groups dedicated to getting their NHL franchises back. In Winnipeg they called themselves the Manitoba Mythbusters and in Quebec they called themselves ZoneNordiques. Both started their own websites to keep their loyal followings informed about what was going to make the day when the Jets and Nordiques would rise again, a glorious reality.

The Mythbusters and ZoneNordiques carefully play up every positive statement and action by NHL officials, potential investors, media commentators, NHL and ex-NHL players and just about anyone who says anything positive about the local market that could help reclaim their team. They vigilantly watch and wait for every sign of new NHL expansion so that their city can join in the bidding process. They try to rally public support whenever possible to demonstrate to the NHL that they are in earnest about getting their team back.

Winnipeg has already seen its dream come true. First, they saw their new arena which was supposed to be the home of the AHL Manitoba Moose be proclaimed acceptable by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. I used to feud with the Mythbusters on another blog about the size of their new arena which is the smallest in the NHL. Though I am in favor of a returned Jets, and Nordiques (and Whalers too), I believed (and still believe) that the arena does not have enough seats. I don’t want to see Winnipeg lose the Jets again because of arena problems, but the NHL is accepting their arena and I have had to eat my words. We’ll see in coming seasons if the size of the Winnipeg arena becomes a factor and if Winnipeg will have to build a new, larger one.

I have no problem with new Quebec Videotron that seats near the current NHL median of 18,500. Nor does the NHL. They showed how much they liked the Videotron by allowing Quebec to host an exhibition game in last year’s revived World Cup.

When Atlanta was ready to fold, Winnipeg was ready. They had already recruited Mark Chipman and Canada’s richest man, Dave Thomson to be the Jets new owners. The NHL liked their ownership too and had no qualms about turning the Thrashers into the Jets. But the same cannot be said of Quebec’s prospective owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau who has made bad enemies on the NHL Board. He has been deemed unsuitable by the NHL Board which turned down his application quickly without a second thought leaving the Quebec bid in limbo until a suitable owner is found.

ZoneNordiques want to see their dream come true too. They probably were instrumental in solving the first two conditions that Commissioner Bettman demanded in 2010, fan-base and arena. 80,000 fans signed a petition asking the Nordiques to be returned and they in turn indicated that they would not object if taxpayer money was used to build a new arena. It was probably a proud and hopeful day for ZoneNordiques when the Videotron was finally completed. Only the ownership factor has yet to be solved.

But they should take heart from the Mythbusters who never gave up and got through every obstacle until their dream came true. It cannot be said that the Manitoba Mythbusters were the key element in bringing back the Winnipeg Jets. But without their existence Winnipeg might still be without an NHL team. ZoneNordiques are in the same situation. If a suitable NHL owner can be found – perhaps located with their help – they too might have their ultimate day of joy.

As The Coyotes Play… #2

Welcome back to your favorite NHL soaper, “As The Coyotes Play”. In our last episode, we left the Coyotes howling that their new love Tempe, Arizona, an eastern suburb of Phoenix slapped their faces just as hard as Glendale, a western suburb of Phoenix, did when they told them that the marriage was over. The Coyotes were left wondering where to go and what do. We saw NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman trying to reassure Las Vegas Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley and himself that what is happening will not happen to every dessert team, that there will be a happily ever after ending in Phoenix.

Now in our first segment we see the Coyotes get hope back in their eyes when they are told that the Arizona legislature is considering passing a bill to allow funding for a new downtown Phoenix arena. We see the parched tongues of the Coyotes start to drool that there may at last be water in the dessert heat. But the bill is still in the debating stage. We don’t know how much the legislature and the Phoenix and Arizona public love the Coyotes. It will show in future weeks. Time for our first commercial break.

When we return, we see NHL Commissioner Bettman tearfully pleading to the Arizona legislature to pass this bill. He speaks eloquently that he believes in an NHL Phoenix franchise and reiterates how the league is committed to Phoenix. Then he earnestly points out all the job-creations that will occur, all the revenue that will be raised if a new arena is constructed. He angrily repudiates that Glendale hussy, who never made a profit the whole time she shared the Coyotes bed and boldly states that he is finished with her for good.

Then one of the Coyotes Arizona owners, Andrew Barroway arises and repeats with more emphasis the Commissioner’s words. He stresses the advantages of job creation and revenue raising should a new arena in the Phoenix valley be built in a suitable location. He again denounces false, philandering Glendale for her inability to make any money in all the years of their marriage. Returning to her bed is out of the question forever. Time for another commercial break.

When we return we see the Arizona Coyotes General Manager, John Chayka sobbing bitterly because the Coyotes may leave Phoenix. He tells the touching story of NHL first overall draft choice Auston Matthews, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Local hero Matthews current brave knightly deeds could not have occurred if the NHL had not come to Phoenix. To leave the dessert would be a betrayal of Matthews and all the NHL has accomplished to build hockey in Arizona. The children in the Phoenix area that have taken up hockey as their favorite sport would suffer an irreparable loss.

But Bettman and Barroway reappear and solemnly warn the legislature that the Coyotes will consider “all the options” if something suitable cannot be worked out. But they never state what these other options are. Can that mean that there are other lovely eyes out there that want the love-starved Coyotes? One thing if that is true, it will be a western girl like Portland, Seattle, and Houston, not some faraway eastern lass like Hamilton, Quebec and Hartford.

So how will the Arizona legislature answer? How many more years will the Coyotes have to spend in the detested Glendale bed? Will the Coyotes yet live in the dessert heat or become a piece of nostalgia? We leave you in cliff hanging suspense until the next episode of “As The Coyotes Play…”

Hartford Trying To Take Another Step Back To The NHL

As reported in January, Hartford is taking the first tangible steps to make a returned Whalers move from nostalgia and dreams back to having an NHL franchise again by proposing to upgrade the 41 year old XL Center by a $250 million renovation with seating increased to a more than adequate 19,000. When I heard about it, I wondered if it would not be better to build a brand new modern arena, provided the cost could kept at the Quebec Videotron level, of under $400 million. Costs for a new arena have been set as high as over $500 million but if Quebec can build a cheaper arena, why can’t Hartford?

Whatever, whether it is a new arena or a renovated old one, what is important is that a returned Hartford Whalers is no longer dormant but has the possibility of reality. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three NHL cities that lost their teams in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and outlined three reasonable conditions for returning to the league: Great fan-base (which all three cities have), a proper NHL-size arena, and acceptable ownership (no mention of a $500 million entry fee). The tour produced immediate results in Winnipeg and Quebec. Winnipeg is already back in the NHL and Quebec built the Videotron arena, but is stuck at the ownership factor.

But no response came from Hartford. The then mayor declared his support for a new arena and a returned Whalers as part of a large downtown reclamation project but no action occurred until last year’s proposal for a renovated XL Center.

Now Hartford has taken another tangible step to try and get back into the NHL, but not by expansion but relocation. The target is their closest neighbor, the New York Islanders, a franchise with known arena problems.

islanders

Currently the Islanders play in probably the worst arena in the NHL, the Barclay’s Center which has poor ice, the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL, and is the only NHL arena with obstructed seats for hockey. Their fans have shown how much they like the arena by giving the team the second worst attendance in the current season. The Islanders are under contract to play there for two more years but already there is talk of either moving back to their old, newly renovated home on Long Island or building a brand new, larger, modern arena in Queens.

Recently, the Governor of Connecticut and the Hartford mayor signed a letter addressed to the Islanders ownership and management proposing that the team be moved to Hartford when either renovations are completed or a new arena built. They point out that 3.1 million potential fans live within an hour’s drive of the arena and that the team would now be located much closer to its farm team in Bridgeport. And they project that a renovated arena would turn a $2.1 million annual profit.

There has been no response to the letter by the Islanders. The only talk is about being committed to the Barclay’s Center for the immediate future, and the possibility of the Queens arena being built.

From the NHL’s viewpoint, there are three advantages to shifting the Islanders to Hartford. First it honors Bettman’s 2010 promise of bringing back the three lost franchises if they meet his conditions. The second is that the Islanders move out of a bad arena into a better one. The third is that by relocating instead of expanding, the NHL would only have to add one more western expansion team to balance up the conferences and realign into an NFL type structure. And a returned Hartford would be able to renew its rivalries with the New York area teams, the Rangers and Devils, any Quebec based teams, plus possibly Buffalo, Ottawa, and Toronto and above all the Boston Bruins.

The difficulty with shifting the Islanders to Hartford is their heritage and history. Does the NHL want the only American NHL franchise to win four consecutive Stanley Cups, a feat only accomplished twice before by Montreal, and the American expansion franchise currently tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for most Stanley Cup victories by an expansion team since 1967 to disappear? Losing a 45 year old franchise with such a glorious history like the Islanders would be damaging to the league’s image and prestige. It was one thing to shift inglorious, unwanted, Atlanta to Winnipeg. It would be much tougher for the Islanders to leave.

Probably the NHL secretly would prefer the Queens arena proposal and hope everything works out. It is doubtful that the Islanders will remain in the Barclay’s Center when their contract expires. But perhaps the governor and mayor have targeted the wrong Eastern Conference franchise. It would be much easier shifting inglorious Florida or Columbus, two other teams with serious attendance problems.

Also with Bettman making proposals to bring back the three lost franchises plus expanding to Las Vegas, it shows that the NHL is willing to expand past the symmetrical 32 team barrier to the next symmetrical number of 40 (2 conferences with 4 divisions each, with 5 teams to a division). And offering Hartford an expansion team instead allows the league to collect another $500 million expansion fee.

But whether if by arena renovation, or new construction, expansion or relocation, the important thing is that the Hartford Whalers are now being talked about as becoming a reality again, instead of memories and nostalgia. The important thing is that significant public officials as well as their old fans want the Whalers back. Perhaps the next tangible step will be when a suitable rich investor who believes in a returned Hartford Whalers steps forward to make that dream come true.

Young Stars Are In The Right Cities

The NHL’s four newest young stars who have entered the league during the last two years, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine have all landed in the right cities. They all managed to be drafted by teams in cities where hockey is loved and they will be the focus of attention. Last year Edmonton made McDavid the number one pick while Buffalo followed up with Eichel. This year, Toronto chose Matthews first and Winnipeg selected Laine. All teams are happy with the result.

Indeed in Buffalo and Winnipeg, where the Sabres have to compete with the mediocre Bills of the NFL and the Jets are sports rivals with the also-ran Blue Bombers of the CFL, it can be said that Eichel and Laine are their cities current best professional sports athletes. McDavid shares the Edmonton market with the Eskimos of the CFL who won the Grey Cup one year ago and were contenders again last year. Matthews is coming into an environment where the Maple Leafs share the market with the contending Blue Jays of MLB and the equally contending Raptors of the NBA.

For Eichel, who hails from Massachusetts, Laine from Finland, and McDavid from Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto, there is no adjustment in these hockey loving centers. But there must be some adjustment for Matthews who was born in California and lived most of his life in Arizona where hockey is an also-ran sport to come into Toronto where attention on the star players of the Maple Leafs is a constant factor. All four will be involved in their new communities during the off season, whether they like it or not.

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All four have different pressures on them. Eichel may well become the best Buffalo Sabre ever, challenging Gilbert Perreault. It is his job to lead the Sabres back to respectability to become a regular playoff team again.

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Ultimate victory has eluded Buffalo since 1965 when Jack Kemp led the Bills to the AFL Championship. There was no Super Bowl in those days. Since then Buffalo has endured two losses by the Sabres in the Stanley Cup Final and four consecutive frustrating defeats in the Super Bowl by the Bills. Whoever gives Buffalo a championship in the modern sports era will be head and shoulders above the rest.

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Laine is already being compared to Winnipeg Jet Finnish legend Temmu Selanne. In its two incarnations in NHL, the Winnipeg Jets have never even made the Western Conference Final.

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If Laine can take them even that far he will be acclaimed the greatest NHL Jet ever ahead of Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk. (I’m not counting the WHA days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, and Ulf Nilsson.)

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Matthews can be almost be said to be a Maple Leaf Messiah. The Maple Leafs have not had a player of his stature since Matts Sundin. He comes to a team that is currently tied with the St. Louis Blues for the longest streak without winning the Stanley Cup, 50 years. The team has not even been to the Stanley Cup Final during this period.

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The Leafs have had to endure two long periods of bad management and ownership under Harold Ballard and the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. Their fans are famished with waiting to have a contending team again, let alone a championship. Matthews is being asked to do what the best four Maple Leafs during these famine years, Sundin, Doug Gilmour, Darryl Sittler, and Bjore Salming could not do, take the Leafs all the way to the Stanley Cup. There are a lot of ghosts hanging over him.

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For Connor McDavid, there is a different kind of pressure. He is supposed to be Sidney Crosby’s heir, the best player in Canada who is head and shoulders above everybody else, Canadian and foreign, during his peak playing days. This list of players is almost continuous back to the days of Maurice Richard and everyone who is on it (Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Crosby) has won at least one Stanley Cup. And there is the additional ghost of Gretzky being the best Oiler ever.

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If McDavid wanted a challenge, he probably got the ultimate one. Right now he has to be not only the best current Oiler, but better than Eichel, Matthews, and Laine, and everyone else in the league except Crosby. Good luck kid, you’re going to need it.

While it is great for these young stars to be in true hockey environments, it is probably not what the NHL wanted. They can always sell hockey tickets in Toronto, Buffalo, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. Secretly the NHL would probably be happier if these young stars turned around attendance in Carolina, Arizona, Columbus, and Florida.

But they are where they are and as noted above, they all have sufficient pressure on them without having to sell tickets and save the existence of franchises. Hopefully they will thrive in real hockey environments. And it will be fascinating to watch how this four-way rivalry plays out in the future.

Analyzing The Few NHL Trades

There were not many NHL trades this time around. Reading why, most general managers blame the salary cap and the admission of Las Vegas and its expansion draft. I will not analyze every trade but some of the more significant ones.

1. Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington by St. Louis

This was the big blockbuster trade. I have read that Alexander Ovechkin had been pressuring General Manager Brian MacLellan to do something significant and he obliged but Ovechkin may be signing his own death warrant and that of coach Barry Trotz in Washington if this does not work. Ovechkin has never been able to lift ANY of his teams (no matter who coaches them), Washington or Russia to the championship level in significant tournaments. The latest flop was Russia making the semi-finals in the World Cup where Canada fired 47 shots at overworked, heroic goaltender Sergi Bobrovsky.

Washington has yet to make the Eastern Conference Final during the Ovechkin era, never mind winning the Stanley Cup. Last year they added T J Oshie and ran away with the President’s Trophy but still flopped in the playoffs. Now they have added Shattenkirk but is it enough? There are formidable opponents who know how to win it all, Pittsburgh and Chicago lurking, plus the danger of any improved teams. It was a bold and brave trade for MacLellan to make, a firm commitment that Washington wants to be a champion. The heat is off MacLellan. He has done his best at the trade deadline. But now the heat is really on Ovechkin and Trotz. If there were few excuses last year, there are none now. Washington MUST win at least two playoff rounds. And if they do not, it may be time to recognize that Ovechkin is not what he has been billed to be, keep Shattenkirk, and the next blockbuster Washington trade will involve him.

As for St. Louis, it seemed that last year they had finally made the breakthrough that Washington had failed to do by making the Western Conference Final. Now all they needed to do was add one or two more significant players to get them over the final hump. Instead they lost significant talent in the off season, fired coach Ken Hitchcock, and have now traded Shattenkirk in the prime of his career. They have gone back to where they were, in a rebuilding situation. Obviously they did not have much faith in the team they built last year that did so well. How committed are they to building a championship team?

2. Johnny Oduya from Dallas to Chicago

If the pattern remains true, Chicago wins the Stanley Cup every other year. Chicago is currently on a five game winning streak including a decisive victory over defending champion Pittsburgh. By reacquiring Oduya from Dallas, one of the most disappointing teams this season, Chicago has added significant depth to its defense and has served notice that it intends win the Stanley Cup again this season. Despite Minnesota’s improvement, Chicago is still the team to beat in the Western Conference.

It is not much of a trade for Dallas, which still has to pay part of Oduya’s salary and only gets small financial relief. It is an admission that the team has to be rebuilt and that more changes will be coming in the off season.

3. Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles

A swap of goaltenders, Ben Bishop for Peter Budaj. I rate this as a clear win for Tampa Bay and secondarily for Budaj. Tampa Bay has Andrei Vasilevskiy whom the Lightning believes will be their goaltender of the future and now Budaj who had done an admirable job filling in for Jonathan Quick. Bishop was a number one goaltender but had an unfortunate knack of getting injured at key moments when Tampa Bay needed him most. And when Steve Stamkos got injured earlier this year, the team failed to rally and Bishop’s goaltending has proved to be insufficient to keep Tampa Bay in a playoff spot. Now they have got rid of his large salary and are giving Budaj a chance to battle Vasilevkiy to become Tampa Bay’s number one goaltender.

It is hard to see what Los Angeles gains by this trade. They have got Jonathan Quick back and will undoubtably use him for most of the games during the rest of the season and probably all the playoff games if they make it. Why do you want to pay a large salary to a number one goaltender like Bishop to sit on the bench? The Kings must think that Quick is brittle and will get injured again so they needed some insurance. Right now they are battling the St. Louis Blues for the last playoff spot. But the Blues did Los Angeles far more of a favor by trading Kevin Shattenkirk and admitting they were in rebuilding mode than Los Angeles did by getting Bishop. All this to get the last playoff position in the Western Conference. If teams have money to throw around, Los Angeles is doing it.

4. Jerome Iginla from Colorado to Los Angeles

Again I have to give Colorado the edge over Los Angeles. Iginla is a great player but he is 39 and well past his prime. In the long term Colorado is happy to be rid of his large salary. This is merely a short term deal for Los Angeles to get that last playoff position based on the logic that Iginla played so well for coach Darryl Sutter when they were together in Calgary. He can probably help Los Angeles make the playoffs but again it comes across like a deal made by a franchise with money to burn. For both the Bishop and Iginla deals, Los Angeles had better make the playoffs and get its money back in playoff revenue or else they have wasted a lot of money for nothing.

 
In other trades:

Detroit after being successful for so long began dumping salaries to clear the way to build a new successful era. So did Dallas and New Jersey. Toronto and Columbus added some experienced players to help them either make a playoff run or cope with the pressures of the playoffs. Florida still believes they can make the playoffs by acquiring Thomas Vanek. So does Boston which got Drew Stafford from Winnipeg. The Flyers got Valtteri Filppula from Tampa Bay. Something has to give between Toronto, Florida, Philadelphia, and Boston. Add in Ottawa, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay who are all battling for the last three playoff spots and some of these teams are going to be disappointed with the trades they made. But now these are the final rosters that are going to be competing for the playoffs. The outcome and the verdict begins this evening.