Canada Is Falling Behind In NHL Expansion Once More, Thanks To Canadians Again

With the virtual admission of Seattle to the NHL, the usual stories about Quebec and other Canadian cities being ignored again are of course being trotted out by the press and the Internet. There is nothing new about this. It is the usual story of Canadian NHL expansion.

Before going forward, here’s the usual dreary recap: In 1967, the two Canadian franchises did not want to share Canadian television money and the Canadian market with another Canadian franchise so Vancouver had to wait until 1970 to get its franchise. In the late 1970s, Canadian owner Harold Ballard of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens owner Molson Breweries, and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Kings opposed merging with the WHA, thus keeping Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Quebec out of the NHL. A boycott of Molson beer in the province of Quebec was finally instituted to overcome the Canadiens’ opposition and the three cities finally got admitted to the NHL in 1980. In the early 1990s a draw: Hamilton, which had built a suitable NHL arena and had hosted the Canada Cup, which was the front-runner for a new NHL franchise, lost when its bidder questioned the NHL’s expansion terms; but the NHL gave the Hamilton franchise to Ottawa instead. In the later 1990s disaster: No Canadian businessman would either build new arenas in Winnipeg and Quebec or purchase the financially desperate teams so that both cities lost their NHL franchises. Only the above-mentioned Ottawa, Calgary, and a returned Winnipeg got into the NHL without any problems.

In today’s NHL, with the admission of Las Vegas and Seattle, and the possible entry of Houston, the Canadian villains are now named Peladeau and the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs plus the Buffalo Sabres. It is still the same old thing. Peladeau made inappropriate, public, racist remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, remarks that were probably offensive to not only Molson, but to many other NHL Board members and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who had no problem turning down a Peladeau bid, probably long before a single shovel began to build the new Quebec Videotron arena. In southern Ontario, the owners of Toronto and Buffalo still have refused to set a reasonable compensation fee so there is no Hamilton or any other new southern Ontario NHL franchise. Behind the two Canadian front runners are second Montreal and in the long term, Saskatoon.

In the face of this continued Canadian self destructiveness, Bettman has no choice but to continue to award new NHL expansion franchises to deserving American cities and live with the Canadian myth that the NHL is anti-Canadian. At the recent NHL Centennial meetings in Montreal, Molson was often seen in the company of Commissioner Bettman. Peladeau (Unlike Winnipeg owners Dave Thomson and Mark Chipman, who while trying to get the Jets back to Winnipeg, were often seen in the Commissioner’s company) was as usual, nowhere in sight. Right now he is the single deterrent to returning the Nordiques to Quebec City. Even Molson hinted he would have not have any objections to Quebec getting its team again. What he won’t tolerate is Peladeau at the Board table. He has to be completely out of the picture before Quebec will claim its Nordiques again.

As stated in another article on this blog, Canada falls behind in NHL expansion because of spiritual reasons. The markets are there and the arenas are there (except for second Montreal). So the next three logical Canadian NHL franchises which could be started as early as tomorrow, sure undoubted money-makers, continue to languish indefinitely while the American franchises grow. The score is now United States 25, Canada 7. The NHL is moving towards becoming a 40 team league. Because of Canada’s greediness, its elitism and racism, no new Canadian franchises are possible. When this final spurt of expansion is finished, will the score be United States 33, Canada 7?

 

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Sam Happi’s NHL Draft Notebook

This is the first edition of what should become a weekly thing, where I share my notes from the last week.  Over the course of a week, I watch a game or two featuring 2018 NHL Draft eligible prospects, and I’ll share my notes from those games, as well as the latest prospect news and analysis here.

Joe Veleno

Veleno was traded from Saint John to Drummondville in the QMJHL Friday.  Veleno will hope to rebound with his new team after a tough first couple months that has seen him falling on draft boards.  He has started to regain his footing after a tough start, and is now at 31 points in 31 games on the year, exactly a point per game.  Veleno is -10 this season.  He’ll look to heat up with Drummondville as he tries to make up lost ground.

WJC

Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes and Rasmus Kupari headline the 2018 eligible draft talent that are expected to make WJC teams.  Adam Boqvist was the most surprising draft eligible snub.  Boqvist, ranked 3rd, was not named to Sweden’s preliminary WJC roster.  Oliver Wahlstrom and Jesper Kotkaniemi were also surprisingly left off WJC rosters.

Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov has returned from his hand injury and will play on Saturday against Oshawa, a game that will be shown on Sportsnet in Canada as a part of their CHL Saturday Showcase series.  Viewers with Sportsnet as a part of their television plans will be able to see Svechnikov multiple times this season, as the Barrie Colts are frequently involved in the Saturday Showcase on the channel.

Noah Dobson

Dobson continues to rise on draft boards, as his calm, puckmoving game continues to impress scouts.  Could be the Cale Makar of 2018, a dark horse top 5 pick.

Jack McBain

McBain has seen himself fall after a poor start to the season where he has had 38 points in 31 games in the OJHL, a Junior A league.  Those numbers appear to be good, but a potential first round pick should really stand out in a 2nd-tier junior league, and McBain has not done so this season.

Forget The Legal Technicalities: SEATTLE Has An NHL TEAM!

Officially all the NHL is doing is allowing a Seattle ownership group to make an ownership bid to which they will make the usual standard investigations about how appropriate it is, subject to league approval. Forget about them, they are just a formality. Seattle now has an NHL team, exactly a century after they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. It’s over; unless something incredible happens, the NHL is not going to refund $650 million back to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. Seattle will begin play in the 2020-21 season.

The NHL had been eying Seattle for the past several years. Seattle is an obvious NHL expansion city, one of the better ones (I had it listed in my group of top 10 cities for NHL expansion), with deep roots in hockey in Canada, competing for the Stanley Cup in even its pre-NHL period and for decades in the CHL, competing for Canada’s top junior trophy, the Memorial Cup. In fact the only surprise is why it took 100 years to join the NHL. And if Las Vegas with its doubtful market is proving to be an overwhelming success because of excellent ownership, the same conditions should make the new Seattle team an undoubted, sure winner.

The new Seattle team will play in a $600 million renovated, Key Arena, a sports facility that opened in 1962 and is therefore 55 years old (more on the repercussions of this decision later). Aping Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley, Bruckheimer and Bonderman will conduct their own preliminary season ticket drive to see who will put their money where their mouths are.

Perhaps even more important than Seattle’s admission to the NHL is its repercussions for the future. The news of Seattle joining the NHL has direct repercussions on Phoenix, Vancouver, Hartford, Calgary, NHL realignment, renovated arenas, the NBA, and future NHL expansion. All these topics probably need full, fleshed-out articles, but I’ll go over them briefly now.

Vancouver

This is the easiest one to document. Edmonton and Calgary were always each other’s best rivals with Vancouver their number two choice. Vancouver will now have its own best NHL rival all to itself, joining the Seattle Sounders-Vancouver Whitecaps MLS rivalry. Seattle will also have rivalries with Edmonton, Calgary, all the California teams, and possibly Las Vegas.

Phoenix

With the current troubles about where the Arizona Coyotes will play in the future, there were rumors that Seattle and Portland were cities that the current Coyote ownership was negotiating with for possible relocation. The granting of an NHL franchise to Seattle obviously rules out the Coyotes moving there. Baring a miracle about building a new downtown Phoenix arena, funded by taxpayers, where will the Coyotes play? Houston, Portland, Quebec, and Hartford are still in the running.

The NBA

Originally it was supposed to be a new NBA franchise owner of a returned Supersonics building a brand new arena with an NHL expansion team as a tenant. But now the NHL has beaten the NBA to the punch. Where does this leave a returned Supersonics?

Calgary, Hartford And Renovated Arenas

As noted above, by virtually granting a team to Seattle, the NHL is saying that they approve the renovation of an old, 55 year old arena. Yet at the same time, the NHL is telling the Calgary Flames ownership to play hardball with Calgary taxpayers and city officials about building a new arena to succeed the 34 year old Saddledome, one of the NHL’s better arenas with over 19,000 seats (see below about the Seattle renovation). Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? The Flames ownership won’t say since they want a new arena that they don’t have to pay for. But surely a cheaper renovation of the existing building is much better for taxpayers and city officials than building a costly, perhaps unnecessary new arena. If the NHL is going to a accept a renovated arena in Seattle, how can they turn down a cheaper Calgary renovation?

For Hartford, the admission of Seattle in a renovated old arena should mean that the NHL will also approve the $250 million renovation Hartford and Connecticut plan to spend to get the Whalers back. The XL Center is only 41 years old so if the NHL can accept the Key Arena, they should also accept the XL Center. The new renovation will give the XL Center over 19,000 seats (again see below about the Seattle renovation).

More importantly, if this proposed Seattle renovation is done, the renovated Key Arena’s seating capacity will make it the third smallest arena in the NHL (2nd smallest if the New York Islanders get a new arena), ahead of only Winnipeg and New York. For the money they plan to spend ($600 million), would it not be better to tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new one with enlarged seating instead?

NHL Realignment

Probably this is only a temporary stopping point in NHL expansion (The NHL has an unofficial commitment to return both Quebec and Hartford to the league plus they want an NHL team in Houston). Probably they want to expand to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams. But by expanding to 32 teams in balanced conferences, the NHL now has the opportunity to realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences, each with 4 divisions of 4 teams each. Once the Seattle franchise is formally approved, expect the NHL to follow it up with an announcement of realignment. Whether there will be other new expansion teams added before this announcement is made remains to be seen.

Future NHL Expansion

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his NHL owners have more than the obvious reason to welcome Seattle into the NHL and probably this is the most important one. The last NHL expansion to Las Vegas was a bust. Probably what the NHL wanted was an expansion of four teams, Quebec and three western cities so the NHL could not only expand but realign as well. Before the expansion was even announced, the press and the Internet were saying that there were four “done deals” already; Quebec, Las Vegas, second Toronto, and Seattle. But of 16 possible bids, only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City continued on to the end (The Quebec bid was “suspended” by the NHL probably because the NHL does not like the potential owner who made racist statements about an NHL Board owner, is an active pro-separatist of Quebec independence, and is generally untrustworthy), probably because the investment world would not accept a $500 million expansion fee. It was a humiliating failure, probably the first time a “big 4″ league expansion had no competition between rival cities. I even speculated that the NHL would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner Bill Foley, and then set a lower expansion fee that the investment world could accept if the league wanted to expand in the future.

But the breach in the wall by Bruckheimer and Bonderman means that Gary Bettman’s brazen gamble paid off. Not only did they accept a $500 million expansion fee, they upped it to $650 million. Bettman has every reason to kiss their rumps. He and his NHL Board are not going to turn down Seattle now, even if the proposed season ticket drive doesn’t get a single client and the new renovated arena is the second smallest in the NHL. Now the investment world will have to accept a higher NHL expansion fee even when the value of any NHL team is not listed in the top 20 sports franchises in North America. Right behind Bettman, the commissioners of the NBA, MLB, and the NFL have lined up to bestow hugs and kisses on Bruckheimer and Bonderman. If the fourth ranked NHL can get expansion fees like this, imagine what their leagues can get when they announce expansion. MLB has already projected Montreal and Portland as its next teams and a realignment into a brand new structure with 32 teams. The NBA also wants to realign once it gets to 32 teams.

So Seattle is in and don’t think this is the end of NHL expansion. Houston, Quebec, and Hartford are waiting and there are probably more potential teams sitting on the fence. A 40 team NHL, here we come.

 

Gap Between Dahlin, Svechnikov and Others Not as Large as Commonly Thought

    Scouts rave about the two top 2018 NHL Draft prospects, Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, and for good reason. The two players are exceptionally talented, and that is necessary if you want to go high on any draft, none the less the 2018 draft, which is one of the deepest in years.

    The group of players set to be selected in June 2018 beats out nearly all of the draft classes since 2010 in terms of skill and total potential, and it comes right after a draft class weaker than most. The 2017 draft broke the 2 year streak of having a franchise player available to be selected. In 2015, Connor McDavid, who is more than just a franchise player, he’s a generational talent, and Jack Eichel were selected. A year later, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine were picked first and second overall. The best that 2017 had to offer was Nico Hischier, who beat out fellow top prospect Nolan Patrick for the honour of being taken with the first overall pick, which was held by the New Jersey Devils. Both players possess elite potential, as do fellow top 5 draftees Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson. After that top 5, the draft had little to offer, as Kailer Yamamoto, Casey Middelstadt and Timothy Lilgegren appear to be the only ones with a legitimate chance at carving out a career near those as the guys who went top 5. If the 2017 and 2018 draft classes were merged and one single draft was conducted, I believe that both Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick wouldn’t have gone top 5. The 2018 draft is just that much better. Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Adam Boqvist, Filip Zadina and Brady Tkackuk would be selected, in that order, with the top 5 picks.    Dahlin and Svechikov, the studs leading the 2018 draft pack, are often mentioned in a different breath than the other top prospects in this draft, most notably the players rounding out the top 4-Adam Boqvist and Filip Zadina. Those are the top players available, the big step back in talent doesn’t come after Dahlin and Svechnikov, it comes after the top 4, after Dahlin, Svechnikov, Boqvist and Zadina. There is a smaller step back from Svechnikov and Boqvist, but it isn’t as close as it is made out to be. Dahlin and Svechnikov are the top tier of prospects, Boqvist and Zadina make up the second tier, and then it goes down from there.

Prospect Tiers in the Top 10:
1: Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov (#1-2)

2: Adam Boqvist, Filip Zadina (#3-4)

3: Brady Tkackuk, Quinn Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom (#5-7)

4: Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Rasmus Kupari (#8-10)

I might expand on prospect tiers in a later post, they are helpful to see where the gaps in talent in the draft are. The biggest gap in talent are in between prospect tiers 2 and 3 (Zadina and Tkachuk). The gap isn’t huge, in fact, it’s small, but the others are smaller, so that where the big gap is, it isn’t after the top 2, but behind the top 4.

The NHL’s Disappointing Teams Thus Far In ThE 2017/18 Season

After a quarter of the 2017 NHL season completed this post we’ll cover the NHL’s disappointing teams thus far. Although records and standings do not show everything this article is based on teams that went out and overpaid for players and still teams are struggling.                                                                                                                                                           1  Edmonton Despite having one of the highest paid players in Connor Mc David and Leon Draisaitl the Oilers haven’t improved that much from last year. At Christmas time the Oilers find themselves at the bottom of the Pacific division with a record of 11-14. The Oilers do have two quality goalies in Laurent Brossoit and Cam Talbot. If the Oilers are to make any kind of have any hope at all rotating the goalies may not be a bad idea.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Ottawa. Even though it’s still early the Senators have to be one of the leagues biggest disappointments so far. The Senators find themselves in 7th place in the Atlantic  Division. Considering they have one of the games best defenseman it was Ottawa who eliminated the Bruins last year in round one of the playoffs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3 Chicago; This is a team loaded with talent and find themselves in 6th place in the Western Division. They have one of the games most explosive players in  Johnathan Toews. The Hawks have been getting solid contributions from 5’7” Alex Debrincat. Debrincat is one of the teams fastest and slickest puck handlers. Overall the Hawks rank 10th in the league in goals scored,5th in the league in goals against and a dismal 29th ranking on the power play.  Considering they’re one of the leagues richest teams at 1.5 billion they should be playing better than 6th place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      4. New York Rangers, This argument can go either way. Currently, the Rangers are in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division. Also, the Rangers have one of the top three goalies in the game in Henrik Lundqvist. Not to mention overpaying for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk this past summer. But so far Shattenkirk has lived up to his billing scoring 5 goals and 15 assists in 27 games. Another problem the Rangers had has  Lundqvist started fourteen straight games before coming down with an illness. Backup Ondrej Pavelec had the biggest game of his career making 41 saves in a recent 4-3 win. Despite being 4 points out of first look for the Rangers to play more consistent as the season goes on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Even though the season is still young anything can happen. The teams who can stay healthy and enough depth will be the ones who go deep in the playoffs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Foley Sets The Bar For Future Expansion Owners

Whether the new expansion franchise Las Vegas Golden Knights win any more games this year or not, owner Bill Foley has set the bar for future owners of NHL expansion franchises to reach. Las Vegas would not be on my top ten list for NHL expansion franchises. Nor would it make my next group of cities that were not the best choices for an NHL franchise but were worth taking a chance on. In fact I would be inclined to rank Las Vegas as a poor choice for an NHL team, on the level with Phoenix.

But Foley has shown beyond doubt that good ownership can make up for a doubtful market. He was doing the right things long before Las Vegas was officially granted an NHL franchise. The NHL had long been eying Las Vegas as a potential franchise, the first professional league to try an untested market, but without Foley, it is doubtful that the league would have placed a team there during the last expansion. First he was taking surveys to see if there was enough interest to consider if an NHL team was feasible. When he was convinced that there was enough potential to take the matter further, he convinced the doubtful NHL to believe his sincerity by taking formal pledges for tickets from fans prepared to put their money where their mouths were to show the league that there was money already on the table. He along with Quebec were the only cities to accept the NHL’s $500 million expansion fee without a quibble.

But his competence did not stop there. He wanted to build a winning team and so far the Golden Knights have far exceeded anybody’s imagination. First he hired a competent general manager, George McPhee, who shared Foley’s vision that under the NHL expansion draft terms that had been set up, a winning team or at least a better than average starting expansion team could be built. The NHL had set better-than-usual expansion terms, but you have to have competent ownership and management to know what you are doing. Vegas not only has a winning record but there is a good chance that they could make the playoffs, something unprecedented in every expansion since 1970.

Foley and McPhee next hired a competent coach, Gerard Gallant, who was unaccountably fired by the Florida Panthers last season despite having a winning record at the time. Gallant immediately became a leading candidate for a coaching position this year and Las Vegas was happy to give him a chance. The success of the Golden Knights on the ice in no small way is due to Gallant’s coaching.

Success on the ice has led to success at the gate. The Golden Knights are enjoying sold-out standing room only crowds. Where once one doubted if the new arena would be filled, now one wonders whether it was built with enough seating capacity. Whether this is because the Knights are an entertainment novelty this season remains to be seen, but everybody loves a winner or at least a team that is playing to its total capabilities and it is hoped the Knights have made a deep and lasting impact among the Las Vegas sports fans. Bill Foley worked hard to make that happen and his pattern should be followed by future NHL expansion team owners (likely Houston next).

The expansion team that took the shortest time to become a true Stanley Cup contender was the New York Islanders, in only their third season, after setting a then record for a bad first season by an expansion team. Thanks to the more generous expansion terms and competent ownership and management, the Golden Knights are already closer to that status. If they make the playoffs and do well, it will be icing on the cake for Bill Foley.

 

Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 11: Where Is The American Media Coverage?

If you have Windows 10 as your operating system on your computer like I do, you can click on an icon and a panel of options comes up, one called current news. Since Windows is an American product, this news panel understandably has an American slant. You can choose news items from several fields including current national American news, world news, good news, financial news, American opinion, entertainment, sports, etc.

Since the current NHL season started two months ago, the number of sports articles I have seen about hockey can be counted on one hand. There have been articles on the current NFL season and controversies, the MLB playoffs, basketball, NCAA sports, the return of Tiger Woods to the golf tour, but hockey articles on this pro-American media platform are like spotting pandas outside of zoos. Over the time period when I’ve had Windows 10, sports items about hockey are few and far between. As far as media coverage is concerned, hockey is the poor brother of the “big 4″ sports.

There are more American teams in the NHL than ever before (24) and there are more Americans playing hockey than ever before, but as far as the American media is concerned, promoting hockey with coverage does not bring in the big bucks. It is like a vicious circle. Hockey doesn’t sell so it gets less coverage unless something truly startling occurs. Because it gets less coverage, nobody knows what happens which in turn prompts less interest in the sport which in turn means less coverage which in turn…

It doesn’t help that Americans are a parochial people, not interested unless stirred up by what Americans do. The vast majority of players in the NHL are Canadian or European and the fact that nearly one quarter of the league are Canadian franchises instantly downgrades the NHL in the eyes of the American public. Occasionally the American media takes note of what happens outside its borders; Lowell Thomas publicizing Lawrence of Arabia, the American media taking notice of the Beatles late in 1963. But mostly the attitude is if it is not American, it is not interesting.

When Gary Bettman was hired as NHL Commissioner, his job was clearly laid out by the NHL Board: Make hockey more popular in the United States. He has succeeded in a limited sense. As noted above, there are more American teams, there are more Americans playing hockey, and there is finally a better American television contract. But in terms of comparison among the “big 4″ sports, hockey runs a poor fourth.

As noted in part 4 of this series, there are alternative policies that could be pursued instead of groping vainly for American recognition; pursue a more pro-Canadian policy or become more Europeanized. Perhaps one day they will try the second option if hockey continues to grow slowly in the United States. But the pro-Canadian policy in hockey fanatical Canada will probably never be tried because of the opposition by – you guessed it – Canadians. From the very first expansion back in 1967, opposition to NHL growth in elitist, selfish Canada has been led by Canadians, particularly at the NHL Board level who refuse to share so much as a crumb of the Canadian market and Canadian hockey television money with anybody else. They blocked Vancouver from joining the league in 1967, opposed the WHA merger, refuse to set a reasonable compensation package for Toronto and Buffalo so that Hamilton or some other southern Ontario city can have another NHL franchise, etc. Only Calgary, Ottawa, and a returned Winnipeg managed to get into the NHL without any bother and fuss.

Many times I have written that Canadians have created a myth to console themselves, that the American NHL owners, led by Bettman are “anti-Canadian”. And of course the Canadian owners never refute this myth which neatly gets them off the hook for any responsibility about lack of new Canadian NHL growth. Bettman probably would like to see more Canadian franchises but as written about in my other articles, neither he nor his predecessors have ever reined in the Canadian NHL owners for the good of the game.

So right now the NHL pursues a pro-American policy which means 4th rate media coverage. Good luck if you manage to find the rare NHL sports article on that Windows 10 panel. Or even rarer, an article about any other hockey development outside of the NHL. If you want to know about what goes on in hockey, design your own hockey Internet searches. The American media will not help you.