Embarrassments Starting To Pile Up On Gary Bettman’s Plate

So far 2017 has been a mixed bag of goodies for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. There are some good things he can take credit for. The NHL Centennial celebrations are going well. Edmonton has opened a stunning new arena that Bettman has vowed to reward with an All Star Game and an NHL Draft. This fall, Detroit will open another one. And it looks like Ottawa, especially after its success in the current NHL playoffs will get its new downtown arena approved. And (only a partial success, the NHL wanted more expansion teams) the NHL will get its 31st team, Las Vegas competing this fall. Internationally, bringing back the World Cup was at least a partial success and the NHL has recently announced it will play games in Europe again.

But behind the scenes there are major problems starting to pile up that must be far from being stored and filed away in the back of Bettman’s mind. Some are long term and can be postponed for a while but like the Atlanta situation a few years ago, some are coming to a head and have to be resolved sooner or later. In no particular order, here are some of the worst.

1.    Quebec City

Gary Bettman made a tour of the cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, in 2010, and offered them reasonable terms for readmission to the NHL: A great fan base (No problem in all three cities), a proper NHL arena, and acceptable ownership (No mention of a $500 million entrance fee). Winnipeg was used to resolve the Atlanta mess. But now Quebec has tried to comply with Bettman’s terms and has built an arena at taxpayers’ expense that the NHL loves just as much as the Edmonton one. They expect to be paid off and Bettman was openly consorting with both the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec provincial premier while it was being built.

The problem is the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau is an unacceptable owner to the NHL (I’ve written lots of articles on this blog explaining why), leaving Bettman the problem of finding an acceptable owner behind the scenes for Quebec City. So far there has been no announcement of any resolution to this problem and the longer it drags on, the more embarrassing for everyone it gets. Right now the Quebec situation has been shelved under the term “indefinite suspension”, but it has to be resolved with Quebec getting back into the NHL somehow as soon as possible.

2.    Arizona Coyotes

Bettman has fought tooth and nail to keep a team in Phoenix but it may be time to throw in the towel. Glendale has publicly declared that they do not want the Coyotes any more and has stated that an empty arena is preferable to having them play there. In response, Bettman stated that the Coyotes have no future in Glendale and need yet another new arena in the area to play in. A potential new arena in Tempe was cancelled. The Coyotes have turned to the Arizona State Legislature for assistance but it is doubtful that a financial bill will pass. There has been rumors that the Coyotes have been talking to Portland and Seattle (two much better hockey cities) about relocation. A more sensible solution would be to move the team to Quebec and then expand the NHL right away by two western cities. The NHL does not want to move any western team east because it would create more league conference imbalance but the solution I have suggested is probably the best way to resolve both the Quebec and Arizona problems.

3.    The Fate Of The New York Islanders

The Islanders play in the worst arena in the NHL with obstructed seats and bad ice, that they can’t sell out and need a new arena to survive. There is no way that the Islanders want to remain in the Barclay’s Center or return to a smaller seating Nassau Coliseum. Hartford, which is finally making an effort to get back to the NHL wants to turn the Islanders into a returned Whalers, but it would embarrassing for the NHL for a team with such a glorious history as the Islanders to disappear. The best hope for the Islanders would be constructing a new larger arena solely for them. A couple of places have been cited but nothing concrete has been committed to.

4.    South Korea

Bettman and the NHL Board recently closed the door on “unglamorous” Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics. But now has come unexpected, unbelievable news. From virtually out of nowhere, South Korea has improved its national hockey team to be good enough to be promoted to the top echelon of the World Championships. How good is this team? Next year South Korea will be competing against the very top “traditional big 7″ teams in a major international tournament for the very first time. Most likely they will just get their feet wet, lose every game, be demoted, and thanked for an historical break-through try. But if unexpectedly they do ANYTHING at that tournament that is going to be extremely embarrassing for Bettman and the NHL.

Pulling out of the Olympics in South Korea has really put Bettman and the NHL between a rock and a hard place now that South Korean hockey has improved. What if the unknown South Koreans are good enough to beat the any of the “big 7″ teams, especially Canada and the United States, are good enough after 45 years of stagnation to expand the “big 7″ at last into a “big 8″? Bettman who has brought back the World Cup after over a decade of dormancy and wants to expand and improve international hockey can hardly reject South Korea on one hand and then not be pleased at South Korea’s progress. South Korea has the potential to be a major new market not only for international hockey, but for the NHL itself. If the South Koreans are that good, Bettman will be forced to invite them to send a team to the 2020 World Cup. Pulling out of Pyeongchang so quickly has damaged the NHL’s entry into a major new hockey market.

5.    Improving International Hockey Quality

Sticking with international hockey problems for the moment, Bettman and the NHL have to finally start facing up to the problem of improving the quality of international hockey honestly. In fairness to Bettman, he is not to blame. This problem has been around long before the USSR challenged Canada in 1972. Bettman himself recognized this problem by creating hybrids “Team Europe” and “Team North America” for his revived World Cup instead of inviting any “B-Level” countries. In the 45 years since 1972, the “big 7″ have not grown into a “big 8″ or more. Specifically, improving international hockey quality should mean getting the large group of countries stuck at the “B-level” of play (There are about a dozen of them. I’ve listed them in other articles. Now South Korea has joined them.) finally over the hump so that they can compete equally with the “big 7″ teams and be able to win major international tournaments like the Olympics, the World Championships, and the World Cup.

Back in 1972, after the Canada-USSR match, there were boasts that hockey would “become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer”. But hockey can hardly match soccer’s global reach and status if it is stuck at a narrow base of 7 countries. If Bettman wants his World Cup to start getting the status of soccer’s World Cup, the “big 7″ have to be expanded, hopefully at least to a “big 16″. Another practical reason to do this is that the NHL probably wants to expand to 40 teams within the next two decades. Each time there is expansion, the critics complain that the league gets “watered down”. But if the quality of play in the “B-level” countries were improved, there would be a huge new glut of talent to draw from. And improving the quality of play in these markets will probably increase attendance and interest in hockey bringing in more money for both international hockey and the NHL.

6.    Hamilton/Southern Ontario

Quebec is not the only Canadian problem for Bettman and the NHL. When he was hired, Bettman was probably told by the Canadian franchise owners of the NHL to preserve their monopoly in Canada. They have welcomed back Winnipeg and are willing to accept Quebec City with proper ownership. But for the new 10 franchises that the NHL wants to create in the next two decades, at least one of them HAS to be a new southern Ontario team, either in Hamilton, second Toronto, London, Kitchener, or Oshawa. Bettman must start convincing the Canadian NHL owners to accept a new southern Ontario franchise and to set an acceptable compensation package for Buffalo and Toronto like Los Angeles and New York have done in the past.

7.    Balancing The Conferences/Realignment

If the NHL reaches 32 teams, they can realign into an NFL structure; 2 Conferences with 4 Divisions that have 4 teams. This is also an ideal structure to expand the league to the next symmetrical numbers of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division). But one of the problems is WHERE these teams are located. Right now Quebec wants back into the league and Hartford is making noises about returning too. This will tilt the conference imbalance still further. The recent NHL expansion was a failure. The NHL probably wanted an expansion of four teams; Quebec and three western teams, making the league a balanced 34 team league of two equal 17 team conferences, set in the NFL structure listed above and a commitment to becoming a 40 team league. Instead the NHL only got Las Vegas, Quebec is still out of the league and the NHL has not been able to realign. And no eastern team wants to be shifted west unless it was for a short, temporary period. This problem has to be resolved as soon as possible.

8.    Future NHL Expansion

If Bettman and the NHL can be placed between a rock and a hard place by South Korea, they are already in one because of NHL expansion. As noted above, the recent NHL expansion was a failure. It was probably the first time in the history of North American “big 4″ sports that there was no competition between rival cities for a new franchise and the NHL had to settle for what it could get. Of 16 potential bidders, all dropped out except for fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City, probably because the $500 million expansion fee is considered too much for an NHL team by the business world. In contrast, there were 11 bids for an expansion team, including three from Houston alone back in 2000 when the expansion fee was $80 million.

How is the NHL going to expand if nobody wants to bid? And the league cannot solve its realignment/conference balance problems unless the league expands. One solution is to hold out, let time pass until the business world accepts a $500 million expansion fee. But how long will that be? The other loss of face solution is to refund some of the money to Bill Foley and then set a lower expansion fee that the business world will accept. Obviously the second solution is going to churn the stomachs of Bettman and the NHL governors but if they want to realign and expand quickly, it may be the only solution.

 

Quebec, Hartford And Winnipeg Were ALWAYS Great NHL Franchises

Right now NHL expansion (or readmission) to Quebec and Hartford is sitting on the back burner in NHL priorities but sooner or later they have to take center stage as front-running issues. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of all three cities including Winnipeg in 2010 and offered all three cities a chance at readmission on reasonable terms; a great fan base, acceptable NHL ownership, and a proper NHL size arena (No mention of a $500 million entry fee then). Winnipeg is already back in, Quebec has built an acceptable arena but is stuck at the ownership issue, and now Hartford proposes to renovate its old XL Center and turn the New York Islanders into the Hartford Whalers.

There are issues about all three cities that I have written about on this blog and others over the years: I wonder if it is better to build a brand new arena in Hartford instead of renovating a 41 year old building and I doubt if the NHL will countenance the disappearance of the New York Islanders who have such a glorious history. I write about the unsuitable Pierre Karl Peladeau who is unpredictable, has made enemies on the NHL Board, and the social and political problems of bringing back the Nordiques to Quebec City. And I still don’t like the small size of the Winnipeg arena.

Quebec

But before I continue writing diatribes about all these issues on this blog, it is well to remember why I write about and care about them anyway. That is what this article is about, not about negatives, but positives. Since I started writing on blogs during the previous decade, I have always supported the return of the NHL to Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford. Why? Because I BELIEVE in those cities because they more than meet what may be the most crucial of Bettman’s three terms, great fan base. All three cities lost their teams in the 1990s, not because they were not getting fan support, but because of ownership and arena issues.

winnipeg

You don’t have to worry about selling tickets and NHL sports merchandise in Quebec, Winnipeg and Hartford or educating fans about the nature of the game of hockey, like you might in Las Vegas or some similar city which has been the choice of NHL expansion and relocation all too often during Bettman’s term as Commissioner. All three cities have deep roots in hockey and once enjoyed great rivalries with many of the current NHL teams. Bringing them back with acceptable owners and proper arenas is a no-brainer decision. Gary Bettman, he of Canadian “anti-Canadian” myth who in fact is anything but anti-Canadian, knows that too. He believes in Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford just as much as I do. He would not have made that tour, made expressions of regret at the loss of these cities, and then offer reasonable terms for them if he did not think they could be viable NHL franchises again. And all three cities would not be the bottom-ranked NHL franchises in value but would claim respectable places – Quebec in particular – in the NHL franchise hierarchy.

whalers

The Quebec and Hartford issues have to be solved soon. Bettman’s tour and pronouncements are an unofficial commitment by the NHL to bring back these teams, if they meet certain conditions. And as I have written in several articles on this blog, the NHL is probably unofficially committed to becoming a 40 team league with a realigned NFL structure. The only thing that is awkward about readmitting Hartford and Quebec at this time is that they are both eastern cities and the NHL wants to balance its conferences. But certainly there is a place for both cities somewhere in the next ten city NHL expansion.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about future NHL expansion. Last June, I wrote an article that is probably the most popular ever written on this blog listing the 10 North American cities I believe SHOULD get an NHL franchise. Almost every day since then, I have watched its readership grow, even to this day. Obviously NHL expansion is a popular topic with most fans. Unfortunately I don’t know where exactly these readers come from. Certainly Quebec City fans have played a prominent role and there may even be interest from other countries besides Canada and the United States.

When I made my choices I assumed that all the cities would meet Bettman’s terms of good ownership and proper arena. But my choices were based on his third factor, fan base. All my choices have deep roots in hockey; there would be no need to introduce the game to them, and there would be no problem selling tickets and sports merchandise, attracting local media attention, and getting corporate sponsors. The NHL has chosen Las Vegas to be one of its ten new franchises so my idealized future 40 team league will not be the same as theirs. (Now that Las Vegas has joined, I hope they do well and not become another Phoenix.)

Just for the record I’ll re-list them now. (There is the possibility that the NHL will grow to 48 teams, the next symmetrical number, so all 10 can still get in.) There are 5 top Canadian cities: Quebec, second southern Ontario probably Hamilton, second Montreal, third southern Ontario (London, Kitchener, Oshawa, and second Toronto), and Saskatoon. And my 5 top American cities are Seattle, Portland, Hartford, Milwaukee, and Spokane.

And beyond this for North America, there are a few more American cities, not the sure winners listed above, but ones where there could be a reasonable chance for success that I would take a risk on: Kansas City, Houston, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Memphis, and Baltimore. And ANY Canadian city if it gets big and rich enough would be an automatic choice. In the long term-very long term are cities like Sherbrooke, Abbotsford, Regina, Halifax, Moncton, Victoria, St. John, etc.

And if I live long enough and maintain good health, I hope to be writing about an NHL branch in Europe too. Cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bratislava, Prague, Helsinki, and Stockholm are as much no-brainer choices for the NHL as Quebec, Winnipeg and Hartford. But right now, it is time to wish Las Vegas all the best, add another western city, realign, and then get Hartford and Quebec City into the NHL as soon as possible.

 

Las Vegas Admission Did Not Solve The NHL’s Expansion Problems

While everyone should be extending a warm welcome to the NHL’s newest franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights and wishing them well, let’s not forget that the admission of just Las Vegas represents a serious failure for the NHL. This is not the expansion that the NHL wanted. It is only the expansion the NHL could get.

Before the announcement of expansion last year, there was wild speculation about what would happen. There were newspaper stories and websites all over the Internet that even before expansion was formally announced, Las Vegas, Quebec City, second Toronto, and Seattle were “done deals”. Clearly the NHL expected to move beyond the symmetrical 32 team barrier to which the NFL is committed to and begin expanding to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams.

This implies that not only was expansion on the table, but probably realignment into an NFL structure of 2 conferences with 4 divisions with 4 then 5 teams in each division. Realignment into an NFL structure not only makes things easier for the fans to understand, it also makes it easy to expand the league to 40 teams (5 to a division) and then to 48 teams (6 to a division).

Before the official announcement of the terms of the expansion, there were all kinds of rumors and expectations. Cities were said to be awaiting NHL expansion for years since the last one in 2000 when Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Columbus were added. During that expansion there were 11 bids submitted including 3 from Houston (who somehow failed to land a team). It was expected to be the same this time.

In 2010, Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford and offered them terms for readmission, the first sign that the NHL wanted to expand and was probably committed to realignment and becoming a 40 team league. Winnipeg came back by the franchise shift from Atlanta but Bettman was confident that both Quebec and Hartford would seriously consider getting readmitted to the NHL. There was also frustrated Hamilton, fresh from its Phoenix Coyotes misadventure or the second Toronto “done deal”. There was Las Vegas and the other “done deal” Seattle whom the NHL had serious discussions with. There were the failed bidders of 2000, Houston and Oklahoma City. Kansas City had built the Sprint Center in hopes of getting a team. Portland, another hockey hotbed and perhaps the equally good Milwaukee might be induced to submit a bid. And there was the possibility of any surprise bids from other cities. So the NHL announced expansion in rosy expectation.

But the excessive terms, particularly the $500 million expansion fee ruined the NHL’s plans. The terms attracted more public denunciations from investors than bidders. 16 potential applicants were said to be interested, but only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec stayed to the end. Probably the NHL had wanted an expansion of 4 teams; Quebec and three western cities to made realignment possible, consummate their unofficial commitment to Quebec, and balance up the conferences.

To make matters worse, the Quebec bid was submitted by Pierre Karl Peladeau, who had made many enemies on the NHL Board. The NHL loved the Quebec fan base and the new arena, the Videotron, but could not abide Peladeau, who made public racist statements about one of the NHL Board members, supports a Quebec separatist political party, and is just too untrustworthy to be admitted as an NHL partner. The Quebec bid has been “suspended” indefinitely until Gary Bettman can find a suitable franchise owner.

So the NHL only got Las Vegas in the end, probably the worst expansion in “big 4″ North American sports league history. This may be the only expansion where there was no competition by rival cities for a sports franchise. The NHL is still unbalanced, nor can it realign into an NFL structure. In the end, the Las Vegas expansion is only a baby step.

Still worse is that the Arizona Coyotes are now potentially without a home in the immediate future. A sensible solution would be to shift the team to Quebec but that will only unbalance the league further. And now Hartford, so long dormant has announced plans to upgrade the XL Center and made an open attempt to lure the New York Islanders who have arena problems of their own. The NHL wants Hartford back but does it want to lose the Islanders and their glorious history? And if Hartford is granted an expansion franchise instead, that only makes the conferences more unbalanced.

But the biggest problem is that the business and investor world has said that an NHL franchise currently is not worth a $500 million expansion fee. So what do Gary Bettman and the NHL Board do now? Refund some of the expansion fee money back to Bill Foley and Las Vegas and then announce a new expansion with a smaller admission fee, more in tune with the market value of an NHL franchise, or do they keep their $500 million fee, announce more expansion and wait in vain for bids that may never come?

 

At the awards banquet, Bettman claimed that the NHL is no longer interested in expansion. Obviously they have to revise their strategy. Both options could result in an embarrassing loss of face for the NHL. Refund money back to Bill Foley and set a cheaper expansion fee means a climb down. And holding to a $500 million expansion fee resulted in only two bids by fanatics with no competition between rival cities. That’s humiliating enough. What if expansion were announced and NOBODY bid?

But a 31 team NHL is no more suitable than a 30 team league and this holds true for both the NBA and MLB as well. All three leagues have to get to at least 32 teams and realign into an NFL structure for future development. And in the NHL’s case there is pressure on them to bring back both Quebec and Hartford and balance the conferences. For added spice, there is also the ugly Arizona Coyote situation that could mean a franchise shift.

The admission of Las Vegas is not the end of the NHL expansion but only a transitory phase, further complicated by the situations in Quebec, New York, and Phoenix. The dust has definitely not settled. The admission of Las Vegas is only the end of a bad expansion episode. The real drama has yet to occur.

 

Sports Facilities Casualty List

In the wake of Calgary’s ultimatum of possibly leaving if the 31 year old Saddledome arena is not replaced in the immediate future, it is good to remind these dwellers in the unreal world of professional sports and especially the taxpayers and (usually) their spineless governments who are called upon to provide most, if not all the funds for new sports facilities, which in many cases do not fulfill the dreams they are supposed to bring about, that in many instances, a huge waste results. Here is a partial list in both hockey and other North American sports of the terrible waste of capital and other resources to build the wrong sports facilities.

Wrong Design

1. Montreal Olympic Stadium

The Olympics and their arrogance always want the grandest spectacle possible that usually lasts for the three weeks the games last. Especially to see on the first day, a group of athletes clad in their official attire walk behind two people, one carrying a sign with the country’s name on it and another carrying a pole with a piece of cloth on it which is deemed the symbolic flag of its country. For such a spectacle, the cost of the 1976 stadium was over $1 billion dollars. But after the games were over, most Montrealers decided they did not like watching the CFL Alouettes and the MLB Expos play in that facility. Today the Alouettes play somewhere else, the Expos are gone and probably won’t return until a new baseball stadium is built for them.

2. Toronto Skydome

It was overdue that Toronto get a new stadium in the 1980s. Both the Toronto Argonauts and the Toronto Blue Jays had dreams of playing in some better place. There was talk of getting an NFL team and the Olympics. And a few extra perks like a retractable roof were icing on the cake. If you are going to build something like that, you might as well go all the way. Fair enough. But for heaven’s sake, you choose the right design and build it right. In certain sections of the SkyDome upper deck, nobody can see if a fielder has caught a ball if it is hit to that part of the ballpark. You have to wait for the replay on the big screen to know. Then Toronto Argonaut fans decided they did not like watching football in the stadium any more than the Montreal fans did in theirs. Today the Argonauts play somewhere else. And plans for an NFL team and the Olympics went into the can when it was found out that the Skydome only seats about 50,000 people. A stadium that was built for over half a billion dollars is now only worth about $25 million.

3. Barclay’s Center

The New York Islanders play in the worst arena in the NHL. The arena has the second smallest seating capacity ahead of only Winnipeg. There is bad ice and still worse, 1,000 obstructive view seats for hockey. The Islanders despite having a competitive team cannot sell out the arena. Recently, Hartford sent them an open letter inviting them to move to a renovated XL Center where they would become the new Whalers. The very existence of the franchise in New York is at stake if they cannot find a suitable new arena.

Betrayed Dreams

1. Copps Coliseum, Hamilton

In the mid-1980s, Hamilton built a new arena in anticipation of NHL expansion. Everyone liked it and Hamilton played host to most of the games of the 1987 Canada Cup. The NHL announced plans to grow the league through the 1990s to becoming 30 or more teams. But during the first expansion in which Hamilton was a front runner, the potential bidder, Tim Donut did not like the NHL’s terms and wanted to renegotiate them. The NHL like all North American sports leagues refused to make any concessions and the new Hamilton team became a returned Ottawa Senators. Hamilton’s arena still makes money but did not fulfill the purpose for which it was built. The NHL continues to cold-shoulder Hamilton, thanks mostly to Toronto and Buffalo who want extensive compensation from a new Hamilton franchise. The Hamilton city council has offered to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena. The market is there, the arena is there but one of the two best Canadian markets without an NHL team still has no franchise.

2. Videotron, Quebec City

In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued three factors for the readmission of Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford which had lost their NHL teams two decades ago. They had to have a sufficient fan base, a proper NHL arena, and a suitable owner (No mention of a $500 million entry fee). Quebec always had the fan base, now they have the arena, but the NHL cannot abide the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau who made many enemies on the NHL Board by his separatist politics, his obstructionist business practices, his inappropriate racial remarks about an NHL Board member, and his general untrustworthiness and unpredictability. No other suitable Quebec City owner has yet appeared, so an arena that the NHL loves, that has a fanatical hockey fan base, has no professional hockey tenant.

3. Sprint Center, Kansas City

This arena which opened in 2007 was built to get both an NHL franchise and an NBA team. But no investors for either a hockey or basketball team trusts the Kansas City market. The NHL has played exhibition games there which were either half full or a sellout depending upon who played. Other cities are considered well ahead of Kansas City for NHL and NBA expansion. The Sprint Center makes money like its counterpart in Hamilton but still does not have a professional sports team tenant that was supposed to be the main reason for it being built.

League Treachery And Arrogance

1. Dome Stadium, St. Louis

St. Louis opened a 70,000 seat domed stadium in 1995 to lure the NFL back to the city. There is nothing wrong with this facility and the Rams got good attendance. But St. Louis is not as big a market as Los Angeles, the second largest market in the United States. So when Los Angeles, which had snubbed the NFL for two decades finally decided to build a suitable stadium, the NFL immediately cooked up phony excuses and shifted the Rams back to where they came from. The Rams were soon followed by the San Diego Chargers and then Oakland was moved to Las Vegas. Both the Raiders and Chargers played in older stadiums which the arrogant NFL long hated and was only waiting for a “better deal” to come along to move the teams. Of course the NFL only had to expand the league and no city would have lost its team but that was never a considered policy of the most arrogant and ruthless sports league in North America which allows franchise shifts, sometimes on only the mere whim of a prissy billionaire owner. That extensive casualty list includes both Los Angeles teams, Oakland (twice), St. Louis (twice), Cleveland, Houston,  San Diego, and Baltimore. It is also important to note that there were websites listing Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Buffalo as well as the three victim cities as other potential casualties. So much for fan loyalty, tradition, and local investment.

Wrong Location And Bad Product

1. Gila River Arena, Phoenix

13 years ago, the then Phoenix Coyotes were glad to move into this new arena, built especially for them in Glendale, Arizona. Today both Glendale and the NHL have publicly declared they are finished with each other after only 13 years. Each side claims that the arena is too far away from downtown Phoenix and Glendale further asserts that nobody is going to support a team that in truth has only produced one contending team for the Stanley Cup in its entire existence. Suburban Tempe turned down a chance to build a new arena. A bill to provide more public funding for yet another arena has come to nothing. An arena, only 13 years old now has no professional league tenant with the blessing of its community.

 

So Calgary and its taxpayers are fully justified in taking their time and closely examining any deal for any new sports facility including the joint NHL-CFL Calgary Next mega-project. In the fickle world of North American professional sports, the entire project could blow up in their faces leaving an immense bill to be paid that could be financially crippling. You only get one shot with these immense sports projects so you better take your time and get it right.

As for the Flames and their threats of moving, they should be showing cooperation, not unbridled arrogance. They are only saying what they are saying because of the fanatical devotion of their fans. As mentioned in a previous article, nobody is talking about leaving or tearing down the Empire State Building even though it is 86 years old. There are no complaints about old Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in baseball. Just what IS wrong with the Saddledome? What does it lack? It has never been completely spelled out. There were no complaints by the Flames 31 years ago.

This is just a power play, more of the arrogance from the unreal, greedy world of North American professional sports. Go ahead and leave Flames, if that is what you want. But Calgary without the Flames would not only be heartbreaking for their fans, but an embarrassment for the NHL. What does the league want, another Phoenix situation? There should be more answers and explanations on the table that are owed to the Calgary taxpayers. They are not a bottomless pit. Since when are arenas and stadiums “owed” to sports franchise owners? And since when does the public have to deal with blackmailers? If the Flames were to move, Calgary would be better off without such owners and its league.

 

All Eyes on the Blackhawks This Summer

toews

The team that has won 3 Stanley Cups in the past 7 years and were predicted by many to win the cup this year, got swept in the first round by the eighth seed, Nashville Predators. Shocking, disappointing, disbelief, these are just a few of the words that can describe the 109-point Blackhawks.  General Manager Stan Bowman was “frustrated and angry” by being swept and considered this year a “complete failure.” I think the people of Chicago and the hockey world would have to agree with Stan Bowman. Bowman also said how there will be changes coming to the Chicago Blackhawks.

This summer will definitely be an interesting one. With the expansion draft, and all the trade rumors, the Blackhawks are a team to keep your eye on. The Hawks look like they’ll be going with the 7-3-1 choice for the draft. The 7 being- Kane, Toews, Hossa, Anisimov, Panik, Hartman, and Jurco, the 3 being- Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson, and the 1 being- Crawford. This makes the most sense but it leaves some guys unprotected.

The Blackhawks who are right there at the salary cap, are in many rumors to making moves to clear up the cap space and even willing to trade one of their core players. One of the rumors is that they have a deal in place with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, to take Defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk, and forward Marcus Kruger. The deal would take $3 million dollars off the cap from Marcus Kruger’s contract but even with that, the Hawks would be very close to the cap.

More Rumors:

  1. Trading Brent Seabrook: Seabrook has been a backbone of the Chicago defense alongside Duncan Keith for many years including all 3 of their Stanley Cup championships. Sadly, his play is slowing down. He hasn’t been as productive as he has been in the past and with a $6.8 million dollar cap hit, the Hawks have been looking to move him. While his contract would be hard to move, they could get a decent return for him and teams would be getting a solid top 4 defensive defenseman that can eat up minutes.
  2. Trading Niklas Hjalmarsson: This one was very surprising to many people and it would be if it was completed. Hjalmarsson, 30, is one of the top defenseman at blocking shots in the league and holds down the fort of the penalty kill for the Hawks. But he has a $4.1 Million dollar cap hit and with the Hawks looking for anything to clear up cap space, this deal might be happening. Hjalmarsson can bring back more than Seabrook if traded and has even been linked to a deal involving Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens.
  3. Trading Artemi Panarin: No! Not the Bread Man! Sorry Hawks fans but yes Artemi Panarin is a potential trade piece. Fan favorite and a proven goal-scorer since joining the Hawks, it would be a tough pill to swallow if he was traded. But again the Blackhawks want to clear up cap space and he has a $6 million dollar cap hit. This rumor hasn’t been as big but he is a core player and Bowman has been looking to move one and Panarin would get the Hawks a very very good return.

Along with all of the NHL, keep a close eye on the Chicago Blackhawks because they seem like they will for sure make a splash in the news this offseason.

2016-17 NHL Final Stanley Cup Playoff Report

 

Well we’ve come to the end of another entertaining NHL season and from my point of view there is no surprise about the final outcome. There is no surprise that the Pittsburgh Penguins successfully defended their championship. Before the playoffs started, I said in my predictions for the first round that Pittsburgh was the team to beat in the east and Chicago was the team to beat in the west. So my east prediction was ho hum and the west an electric shock. But what did the whole thing mean? This article tries to make sense of what happened in the NHL from April to June. Before I get down to business I must take a moment to congratulate myself and pat myself on the back. I finished 12-3 for the playoff rounds, predicted Pittsburgh was the team to beat in the east. If Chicago had played up to expectations, I might have done even better. So before recapping, I’ll put away my wizard’s hat until next year…

No Surprise

The only surprise about the Penguins repeating as champion was how strong and how good this team is. They won without their best defenseman, Kris Letang playing a single playoff game. They won with their best goaltender Matt Murray missing three quarters of the playoffs. And they won with their best player Sidney Crosby missing one game with a concussion. Baring injury or the unexpected, the Penguins can win a few more in row. By a country mile, they are already the team to beat for next year.

Biggest Disappointment

The early exit of the Chicago Blackhawks to a team they never lost to before in the very first round, in the minimum four games, including two shutouts on home ice had to be the biggest upset and shock of the whole playoffs. It is true that the core of this team that has won 3 Stanley Cups since 2010 is starting to age, but much better was definitely expected. What really hurt this team is that all the new players who are expected to lead the way in the future showed absolutely nothing, a bad omen for the future of this team. A team that I expected to be Pittsburgh’s main challenger has now got lots of doubts hanging over its head.

Biggest Surprise

Under talented Ottawa upsetting the New York Rangers and then nearly pulling off an equal upset of Nashville’s elimination of Chicago by taking Pittsburgh to a 7 game semi-final.

Honorable mention: St. Louis which lost a lot of top talent in the off season and then by trades winning a playoff round and then putting up a good struggle against Nashville.

Feet Kisser

That guy everybody saw in the Pittsburgh dressing room after the Stanley Cup victory who was on the floor kissing every Penguin toe he could get his lips around was really General Manager Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens. Bergevin stood to lose his life either by lynching or by honorable suicide before the mob got to him because he made P. K. Subban the scapegoat for Montreal missing the playoffs the year before and traded him to Nashville. If the Predators had won and Subban won the Conn Smythe Trophy which nearly happened, his worst nightmare would have come true. Kissing a few Penguin toes are small tokens of gratitude for sparing him the fate of what could have happened if Nashville won the Stanley Cup. He still isn’t off the hook. Montreal fans will still remember the trade next year. For now at least, his life is spared.

Best Playoff Series

Gutsy under talented Ottawa taking powerful Pittsburgh to a Game 7, double overtime thriller. If Pittsburgh’s other more talented opponents had put out the same effort, they might have pulled off an upset.

Most Unfortunate Series

Columbus, which has always had attendance problems and has never won a playoff round, had to play the one team, Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, that they probably had no chance of beating. Columbus gave their fans the finest regular season in their history, but any attendance gains certainly got discouraged by the usual first round defeat. Columbus fans needed to see progress that could be measured by a playoff victory over anybody. Sure it was champion Pittsburgh, but hockey patrons are still going to stay away from the box office and say, “Same old Blue Jackets…”

Best Opponent Wasn’t There

The playoff series during the Crosby-Malkin era between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay was tied 1-1. Last year, with Pittsburgh even healthier than this year and Tampa Bay missing star forward Steve Stamkos for every game except the last one, the Lightning took Pittsburgh to a 7 game semi-final. This year, Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman signed all his star players, clearly expecting to win the Stanley Cup. But again Stamkos got injured early in the season and the Lightning never recovered and missed the playoffs. With this year’s Chicago debacle, Tampa Bay may be the only team with the talent when it is completely healthy to really challenge Pittsburgh in the immediate future. Pittsburgh has never beaten Tampa Bay when it has had a healthy Stamkos for a full playoff series. With a healthy team, expect the Lightning to be back in the playoffs next year.

The Usual Stanley Cup For Wheel Spinners…

Once again the eastern champion Washington Captials met the western champion Minnesota Wild for the Stanley Cup of wheel spinning, a regular occurrence for the past half-decade. Inglorious Minnesota was put out easily in the first round by underdog St. Louis with the extra spice of the Blues being coached by ex-Wild coach, Mike Yeo. The main culprit is Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher who has never added any significant talent to his roster since he signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Poor Yeo had to stomach this do-nothing improvement by Fletcher until he was inevitably fired. Minnesota’s easy exit to underdog St. Louis, coached by Yeo, is the lowest playoff blow yet.

In Washington’s case, you cannot blame the General Manager Brian MacLellan who signed T. J. Oshie last year and Kevin Shattenkirk this year. The real culprits are a group of players led by Alexander Ovechkin who consistently fail to rise to the occasion in the NHL playoffs and in Ovechkin’s case, internationally as well with Russia. Pittsburgh played without its best defenseman Kris Letang, had to use the erratic Marc Andre Fleury as its goaltender, lost Sidney Crosby for one game with a concussion, and still beat the Capitals who had all the advantages. Pittsburgh won three games in Washington, its home away from home. Ovechkin, by his own admission was playing poorly and was demoted to the third line in despair by coach Barry Trotz, who like all other Washington and Russian coaches, cannot make a winner out of him. The so-called Crosby-Ovechkin “rivalry” is a dud. The score in playoff meetings is Pittsburgh 3 Washington 0. There are 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Conn Smythe Trophies, 2 Olympic Gold Medals, and a World Cup championship for Crosby to none for Ovechkin. For the first time I’m reading articles about Washington finally trading the underachieving Ovechkin who has never risen to the occasion. The Capitals can also probably trade the equally uninspiring Brooks Orpik, Nicklas Backstrom, goaltender Braden Holtby, and new guy Shattenkirk who was supposed to put Washington over the top as well.

Compare this with under talented Ottawa who chased Fleury from the nets and then took Pittsburgh with their best goaltender Matt Murray to double overtime in the 7th game in Pittsburgh instead of being shut out in the 7th game on home ice in Washington by backup goaltender Fleury.

Consolation Prizes

  1. Nashville

The Predators biggest victory of the playoffs may have been off the ice. Before this playoff run, nobody really has called Nashville a hockey town. But like the agonizing Tennessee Titan Super Bowl loss, the Predators caught the imagination of most of the city. In previous years, there has been talk of Nashville losing money and even about its survival. Hopefully now, being a Predator fan will be fully ingrained in this city in the future. There is already talk of awarding Nashville an outdoor stadium game sometime soon. If the Predators keep icing competitive teams, they will increase their following, and a once hockey-ignorant city will become as knowledgeable as the best of NHL cities.

  1. New York Rangers

On the very day of their defeat by Ottawa, the Rangers were awarded next year’s outdoor Winter Classic game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Welcome Back Strangers

Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Columbus Blue Jackets who have seldom made the playoffs recently finally made it back to the post season. Edmonton won a playoff round, Toronto played credibly against Washington and the unfortunate Columbus had to play the best team in the playoffs in the first round. Hopefully they will be able to build on what they accomplished this year.

Are You A Stanley Cup Goaltender?

Carey Price can win the big one internationally when he plays for Canada but cannot win more than one playoff round for Montreal. This year he was put out in the first round by the equally puzzling Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Ironically in the World Cup, Price defeated his old teammate, Jaroslav Halak of Team Europe who took the Canadiens farther in the Stanley Cup playoffs than Price has ever done.

Also on this list is the horrible Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. Going to head-to-head against erratic backup goaltender Marc Andre Fleury of Pittsburgh, he actually turned in Fleury-like playoff performances of 3 goals on 19 shots and 3 goals on 14 shots. Like his other teammates who I have noted above, he never rises to the occasion when he is needed most.

The Flip Flop Man

Lundqvist beats tough Montreal, then loses to under talented Ottawa and then beats tough Canada in the World Championship Final. Jekyll-turned Hyde-turned Jekyll.

Who Can Beat Pittsburgh Next Year?

Nobody.

Actually assuming the correct additions, subtractions, injuries, trades and draft choices take place the teams with the best chances seem to be…

  1. Tampa Bay

This assumes that Steve Stamkos finally doesn’t get himself injured, Tampa makes a good draft choice and/or an astute trade and the new goaltending tandem replacing Ben Bishop works out.

  1. Ottawa

Under talented Ottawa drafts and trades for more talent at forward who play with the same inspired enthusiasm and dedication as this year’s team did in the playoffs.

  1. Anaheim

The Ducks continue to improve under their old Stanley Cup winning coach Randy Carlyle. The add more talent by a good draft and astute trades to finally being able to beat Nashville and make the Stanley Cup Finals. And goaltender John Gibson who showed promise this year continues to develop.

Pittsburgh Team Is Just Too Good

The Penguins played without their best defenseman Kris Letang all through the playoffs. And Pittsburgh still won. The Penguins played without their best goaltender, Matt Murray for nearly three quarters of the playoffs. And Pittsburgh still won. They played without Sidney Crosby, the best player in the NHL for one game when he had a concussion. And Pittsburgh still won. They are that good.

Recently the NHL listed its top teams of all time. This team belongs on that list somewhere. The one-two combination of Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin plus Matt Murray in the nets has no counterpart in the current NHL. Murray has been the missing piece of the puzzle. The goaltender who finally gave the Penguins consistent championship playoff goaltending after years of being in the wilderness with the erratic Marc Andre Fleury. He shut out the Nashville Predators in the last two games of the final. Since he became their regular goaltender, it’s been two Stanley Cups and counting.

And more. There was Chris Kunitz, who played the game of his life just when his team needed him the most, the double overtime, 7th game thriller against gutsy Ottawa. There was Phil Kessel chipping in. A new star emerged who came up big in the playoffs, Jake Guentzel. Unlike the new Chicago players who were a distinct fizzle when their veteran stars struggled, Guentzel gives the Penguins hope for the future.

Pittsburgh is now the most successful American expansion franchise ever. They have now won 5 Stanley Cups, one more than the New York Islanders. I still prefer the Islanders as the greatest American expansion franchise because they won four Cups in a row, a much more difficult feat to accomplish that has only been done twice before, by Montreal. But this current Penguins team has given me the impression that they have possibility of matching that feat, if not exceeding it.

Pittsburgh now joins Edmonton as the expansion team that has won the most Stanley Cups since expansion began in 1967, with five. Ironic for a franchise that started out so poorly. Pittsburgh was the worst of the six teams that joined the NHL in 1967. They had the worst team in those years, the poorest attendance and people wondered if the team would survive. Eventually the team would climb to mediocrity, but do nothing noteworthy. By the mid-1980s, Pittsburgh had sunk to the bottom again.

Then Canada came to the rescue. Starting with Maurice Richard in the 1940s, Canada has produced an unbroken golden chain of players who are head and shoulders above all others in the NHL and the world for their generation. Each has won at least one Stanley Cup. In the mid-1980s, with Wayne Gretzky at his peak in Edmonton, fans wondered who his successor would be. In 1984 with the Penguins reaching rock bottom with the number one draft choice, Pittsburgh got him when they drafted Mario Lemieux.

The Penguins tried something unique, something unprecedented in NHL history. With the advent of Europeans in the NHL, Pittsburgh tried a combination of the top Canadian with a star European, Jaromir Jagr. That combination was enough to win Pittsburgh its first two Stanley Cups, back to back. When Pittsburgh got lucky again and was able to draft Lemieux’s successor, Sidney Crosby, they repeated the same formula when they drafted Evgeni Malkin.

Great fortune was predicted for this team. It’s taken a while, probably longer than expected, but the Crosby-Malkin duo has now passed the Lemieux-Jagr combination. It’s three Cups and still counting. With Murray in the nets giving the Penguins championship playoff goaltending, the team is finally matching the expectations that the Crosby-Malkin combination portended. Not only have the Penguins matched the best expansion team, the Oilers, they have passed the long time New York Rangers on the Stanley Cup list and look ready to match the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks.

In Pittsburgh, championship used to mean the Steelers. The Pirates occasionally put together a championship team in baseball. But now the late arriving Penguins are just one win behind the Steelers in championships. When you say greatest team in Pittsburgh, you have to mention them now. Not bad for a franchise that many people at the beginning of its history wondered if it would go out of business.