What Was Significant For Hockey In 2017?

There were a lot of long term and potential long term significant developments for hockey that occurred in 2017. This is probably my last article for the year so it is a good way of finishing it off by summarizing it. In no particular order, here are what I think were the most important developments in hockey of 2017.

THE GOOD

1.     The NHL Balances Its Conferences And Can Realign

By admitting Seattle, the NHL has reached 32 teams, just like the NFL and can now realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences, with 4 divisions of 4 teams. Once Seattle is formally approved by the NHL, expect some kind of realignment by the NHL to follow. The only remaining question is whether any more expansion cities will be admitted to league before it realigns. All indications are that NHL is not prepared to halt at 32 teams but is aiming for the next symmetrical number of 40.

2.     Jerry Bruckheimer And David Bonderman Save Gary Bettman’s NHL Expansion Bacon

The last NHL expansion involving Las Vegas was a failure. Probably what the NHL was aiming for was Quebec City and three western teams. Instead they only could get Las Vegas and the main reason was probably that the investment world would not accept a $500 million expansion fee. There was a distinct possibility that the NHL would have to postpone further expansion and realignment indefinitely unless they refunded some money back to Las Vegas owner Bill Foley and set a lower, more realistic expansion fee. But Bruckheimer and Bonderman broke through the investment standoff and even sweetened things by paying $650 million for a Seattle franchise. Now the NHL can expand to 40 teams and pick up a lot of cash along the way.

3.     Seattle Gets An NHL Team

It’s a mere formality now. There will be the formal investigation, legal problems sorted out, a similar Bill Foley season ticket drive, but the NHL is not going to refund $650 million even if not a single person in Seattle buys a potential season ticket. Seattle is in the NHL, exactly 100 years after they won the Stanley Cup. The only two questions are why it took them so long and will their name be the Metropolitans again.

4.     The Saving Of The New York Islanders

Hard on the heels of Seattle getting a team, the NHL got just as good news when the New York Islanders finally solved their arena problems after nearly 30 years. A new 18,000 seat arena will be built at Belmont and the Islanders can now build a competitive team at last, starting with the resigning of John Tavares.

5.     Crosby/Malkin/Pittsburgh Legend Continues To Grow

Sidney Crosby continues to behave like his illustrious forebears on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, which is the link, starting with Maurice Richard in the 1940s of the best Canadian hockey player of his generation being head and shoulders above everybody else. It has been a continuous, overlapping chain since Richard and includes Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux. All have won at least one Stanley Cup. Crosby now has three and added another Conn Smythe Trophy as well. Crosby has been part of a pioneering experiment by Pittsburgh which no other NHL team in history has tried. That has been to take Canada’s best player and pair him with a top, maybe the best European player, to win Stanley Cups. The twosome of Crosby-Malkin, Lemieux-Jagr has now won five Stanley Cups. The Penguin legend has also grown. The first 25 years were not noteworthy and at times the franchise itself seemed in peril. But during the last 25 years, the Penguins have now tied the Pittsburgh Pirates for championships and are poised to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers for best Pittsburgh major league team ever.

6.     Emergence Of Connor McDavid As Crosby’s Successor

Connor McDavid has emerged as the successor of Sidney Crosby as Canada’s best player. McDavid won the scoring championship last year ahead of Crosby, a portent of future greatness. He has big skates to fill. Not only does he have to succeed Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, he has to succeed Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton. Gretzky, now part of the Oilers organization again is acting as his mentor. The big question is can Edmonton build a championship team around McDavid.

7.     NHL Plays Regular Season Games In Europe Again

Things could not have gone better for the NHL when Ottawa and Colorado played two sold out games in Stockholm. Unlike the NFL, the NHL sent two decent teams for the fans. Bettman wants to develop international hockey and play more games in Europe, a target for potential NHL expansion in the future. The Senator-Avalanche games were a welcome return.

8.     Emergence of South Korean Hockey

The other positive, significant development in international hockey was the emergence of South Korea from nowhere. The South Koreans have been promoted at both the junior and regular levels of international hockey. Awarded the Winter Olympics of 2018, the South Koreans have attempted to develop their international hockey program, and their men’s team is now at least as good as the usual “B Level” teams who have been around since before 1972. The South Koreans will make their debut against the traditional “Big 7″ countries in next year’s World Championships. Nobody knows how good this team is. Will they be demoted, or will they do something significant and finally turn the “Big 7″ into a “Big 8″?

9.     Hartford Getting Back Into The NHL

Everybody knows about Quebec, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Winnipeg trying to get back into the NHL but Hartford finally emerged from inertia to have a chance at returning to the NHL in the near future. First they announced they would spend $250 million to renovate the XL Center into an arena that will seat more than 19,000. The mayor of Hartford and the governor of Connecticut then sent a letter to the New York Islanders inviting them to become the Hartford Whalers if they could not build a new arena. That has now come to nothing. But Hartford got good news when the NHL admitted Seattle because it meant that a renovated Seattle arena was acceptable instead of building a new one. There should be no reason for the NHL to reject a renovated XL Center. If Hartford can find a suitable owner to front an expansion bid, they should be back in the NHL soon.

10.     NHL Not Acting Like The NFL

Perhaps just as important as what the NHL did is what they did not do. The NHL seems committed to expanding to 40 teams or more, a process that hurts nobody. And they respect and reward the contributions of their international players by trying to develop the game abroad and returning games between contending teams to Europe. In contrast, to get teams back in Los Angeles, their potential second largest market, which had snubbed them for 20 years, the NFL cruelly stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their teams despite a loyal following, instead of expanding their league. They followed that up by stripping Oakland of the Raiders and packing them off to Las Vegas. The NFL also shows its contempt for foreigners by sending games between bottom of the barrel teams that have no chance of selling out in the United States off to London. This obvious show of disdain has brought protests from British fans of the NFL. The NHL, the NBA, and MLB will do well to avoid the NFL’s path.

11.     Success Of The Las Vegas Golden Knights

The NHL offered generous terms for the Knights to get started, but you also need good ownership and management to take advantage of it. Las Vegas has actually created a team with a good coach that might make the playoffs in its very first year. Winning has made the team a hit. It shows that good ownership and management can make a doubtful market a success.

12.     NHL Centennial Celebrations

The NHL celebrated its 100th anniversary successfully. They got many veteran players involved, held a successful road show, added a new franchise, had fan competitions about best all time NHL moments and best uniforms, and held a cumulative outdoor game in Ottawa between the Senators and Canadiens. The only quibble I have is that they did not award returned franchises to Quebec and Hamilton to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday (See below).

THE BAD

1.     Continued Quebec City Frustration

In 2010, Commissioner Bettman toured Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, the three cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s and offered them terms for readmission. These terms, which also apply to every future NHL expansion team are excellent fan base (which all three cities have); a proper NHL arena; and a suitable NHL owner (No mention of any expansion fee). Winnipeg is already back and Quebec and Hartford are making attempts to return too. The Quebec market stretches from half way to Montreal eastward and includes all four Maritime provinces, several million people, and the released Canadian Census says that metropolitan Quebec itself is now over 800,000. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena which it rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal preseason games.

So the problem is at the ownership factor because the NHL does not find Pierre Karl Peladeau, an active Quebec political separatist, who made public, racist comments about one of the Board members, Geoff Molson, owner of the Montreal Canadiens, remarks that probably offended not only Molson but other members of the Board and Commissioner Bettman, and who is considered generally untrustworthy, acceptable. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on its Board of Directors. Recent new and potential owners Chipman and Thomson (Winnipeg), Foley (Las Vegas), Fertitta (Houston), Molson himself (Montreal), and now Bruckheimer and Bonderman (Seattle), have all been seen in Bettman’s company but never Peladeau. The NHL, including Commissioner Bettman and Geoff Molson want a Quebec City team, but not with Peladeau involved. So far the NHL has not been able to find a suitable alternative bid from another bidder so Quebec, one of the two best markets in Canada without an NHL team, remains in suspension, “deferred” until a suitable owner appears.

2.     Arizona Coyotes Soap Opera

If the NHL managed to resolve the New York Islanders arena problem, they are miles away in Phoenix which refuses to spend public money to build a new arena for a “professional” franchise that has only iced one competitive team in its entire history. Both suburban Glendale public officials and Bettman and the Arizona ownership have publicly said they are finished with each other. Bettman stood before the Arizona Legislature to plead for public funding for a new arena but instead of being able to show competent management and ownership, he was presented with a team so bad that it was out of playoff contention after only ten games in the current season. Try and get the money now. The success of the Las Vegas Golden Knights in another desert city shows how bad the Coyotes have been. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns ownership publicly insulted the Coyotes by renovating their arena to make it more basketball friendly instead of going into partnership with them to build a new arena. Quebec, Houston, Hartford, Portland and elsewhere, here we come.

3.     Calgary Flames Blackmail

The citizens and officials of Calgary are rightly concerned about spending public tax dollars on vague projects like “Calgary Next” where the final price tag is not known for sure. Actually the current Calgary Saddledome arena is one of the better ones in the NHL with over 19,000 seats. It is only 34 years old, not even close to the renovated 41 year old XL Center in Hartford or to the 55 year old Key Arena in Seattle. Just what is wrong with the Saddledome, the Flames ownership won’t say. Since the NHL is willing to accept renovated arenas, a cheaper Saddledome renovation could probably be negotiated. But instead of talking, the Flames ownership which wants a free new arena it doesn’t have to pay for, took its cue from the NFL and made threats about relocating. Since when are professional sports franchises owners “owed” new arenas and stadiums from the public? According to the Flames ownership logic, the 86 year old Empire State Building should have been torn down and replaced decades ago.

4.     The NHL Pulling Out Of the Pyeongchang Olympics

South Korea also figures in one of the two worst things about international hockey in 2017. Pyeongchang is not glamorous enough for the snobs in the United States and Canada so Gary Bettman pulled the NHL out of the 2018 Olympics but said that they might return for the next one in Beijing, China which is in exactly the same time zone as Pyeongchang. But the South Koreans may get the last laugh if they do anything significant at next year’s World Championships where they will compete against top competition for the first time. If South Korea turns out to be the long-sought eighth member of the “Big 7″, that will be a huge embarrassment for Bettman and the NHL which will have snubbed a potential new NHL market of 50 million people. It will also mean that the NHL will have snubbed the only country that has managed to raise its game from the “B Level” to the “A Level”. What a wonderful way to grow international hockey.

5.     Still No Plan For Raising The Quality Of International Hockey

The other major international hockey problem has been around since before 1972 when NHL professionals first played against international competition, the USSR national team. Back then there were boasts that hockey would soon be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But the “Big 7″ of hockey in 1972 are still the “Big 7″ of hockey in 2017. In 45 years, there has been no expansion of hockey’s base, a resounding failure. There are approximately 50 countries that play hockey including over a dozen countries (now joined by South Korea) at the “B Level” of play. Bettman unofficially recognized this problem at the revived World Cup when he created Team Europe and Team North America. He did not want any boring mismatches between “Big 7″ teams and “B Level” countries. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. His World Cup of hockey will never gain the stature of the World Cup of soccer until hockey’s base is broadened. Thousands of potential talented hockey careers, maybe as good as Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr have been lost. Bettman has proposed several good plans for growing international hockey but nothing about resolving the competition problem. But until this problem is finally faced up to and dealt with honestly, the man with the best intentions will see his international plans limited and the growth of international hockey stunted.

6.     Racism and Elitism Continue To Thwart NHL Growth In Canada

It was the 150th birthday of Canada and nothing would have been better for the NHL to join in the celebrations and also of its own centennial than to restore two Canadian franchises, Quebec City, and Hamilton. For Quebec City, since the NHL cannot find acceptable, local, French Canadian owners, the obvious solution is to get outside investors like Anglophone Quebecers, investors from “English Canada”, and investors from the United States. This is a common practice, since both Winnipeg and Ottawa are owned by Torontonians. Here Quebec City history comes back to haunt them. Remembering the discriminatory language legislation which caused thousands of Anglophone Quebecers to flee Quebec and the continuing efforts by racist political parties like the Parti Quebecois to take Quebec out of Canada, no outside investor wants to take a chance on reviving the Quebec Nordiques. They are too afraid that the racists though a Parti Quebecois government will pass legislation making it impossible for outsiders to operate a professional sports team in the province of Quebec. This hampers not only the chance of Quebec getting the Nordiques back, but chances to get a CFL team, the Winter Olympics, a World’s Fair, and tourist dollars via international conventions. Indeed it is possible to argue that if outside investors were not frightened by political and economic consequences, Quebec City which was a great NHL franchise, one of the better ones in the league, a sure money-maker with a proper arena, would not have lost the Nordiques in 1995 and would have built the Videotron long ago without any taxpayer money being used.

The other ugly Canadian trait is elitism which has been around since the days of New France where everybody knew his place in society, the British version held by the Canadian Loyalists, both of which cumulated in the Rebellions of 1837. Elitism has not gone away since then. For me personally, in almost every job I would have in Canada, there would be somebody picking on somebody else because they were deemed not good enough for them. The ugliest incident in recent years was the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons and other “undesirables” because of the non-stop torments of those who considered her not “one of them”.

For the NHL, elitism means Canadian franchise NHL owners not willing to share the national market with other Canadians. Specifically right now it means owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres not setting reasonable compensation terms so that Hamilton or another southern Ontario market can join the NHL. It will hold true for Quebec City, a second Montreal team, a third southern Ontario team, and Saskatoon. All through NHL history, Canadians and Canadian franchise owners have frustrated or postponed new Canadian teams from joining the league. Villains include Stafford Smythe, Harold Ballard, Jack Kent Cooke, Molson Breweries, and lately Pierre Karl Peladeau. Canadians make up a myth that American Gary Bettman and the American NHL owners are “anti-Canadian” which is not true at all. Actually the only valid criticism of Bettman, John Ziegler, and Clarence Campbell is that they have refused to rein in the Canadian franchise owners for the good of the game in Canada.

7.     NHL Still Being Hurt By A Corrupt Health Care Industry

From my own personal experience, I know that coronary heart disease (heart attacks, blood clots and strokes, etc.) and gall stones, both officially labeled “incurable diseases” by official international medical authorities are curable. I would probably be dead nine years ago until I took a remedy for heart disease that had been classified as “alternative medicine” by the official health care industry. I have also been told by reliable sources that hay fever and other allergies can be cured by Shiatsu Massage. On this blog in many articles I described how the corrupt health care industry indirectly, significantly decided the Stanley Cup winner of 2016. Too many people are making too much money from suffering and death to allow new “cures” to be recognized. Since the NHL ties itself to “official medicine”, it is reluctant to try new successful things that are not recognized. Each November, the NHL proclaims is “Cancer Awareness Month” but who knows if any other effective cancer treatments have been blocked by the health care industry? Still worse, nobody questions what is going on. Alternative medicine is growing. Sooner or later the truth will come out.

8.     The NHL’s Poor Treatment Of Older Players

Old but productive players like Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan, and Jerome Iginla have been poorly treated since the end of last season. Doan was forced to retire, Iginla is out of hockey, and Jagr is reduced to third line status in Calgary. All were productive, particularly Jagr last year. The only reason for the poor treatment was that these players are older now. It is true they are not what they were, but that does not mean that they cannot have major roles on an NHL team any more. With modern conditioning and medical improvements, the playing days, particularly of top players have been extended. Where 35 was probably the average age to retire, years ago, today it is reasonable to expect 40+ as a retirement age which will only grow longer as more medical and conditioning techniques improve. These three players are merely the start of a coming trend. The NHL continues to ignore it.

 

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Competition At The World Junior Hockey Championships Says It All About International Hockey

The 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, New York are simply more of the same. There are 10 national teams participating and they accurately tell the state of international hockey not only at the junior level but at the top level that fans will see at the World Championships, the World Cup, and at the Olympics.

It is all based on quality of play. First there are the usual “big 7″ countries, Canada, USA, Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Finland. Then there are the 2 “1A” countries, Switzerland and Denmark. Since before 1972, the date of the Canada-USSR match when NHL professionals first started play in international competitions, only these two countries have made any progress in quality of play. Right now their level of play is probably somewhere midway between the “big 7″ teams and the huge glut of “B Level” teams they have emerged from. Despite their improvement, after four decades, there is still only a “big 7″, not a “big 9″

The tournament is rounded out by Belarus, sole representative of the large number of “B-Level” country teams who have been stuck at that level of play since before 1972. The remainder of this group includes, Austria, Germany, France, Norway, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. Belarus has the usual expectations; lose every game or maybe pull an upset or two and then be regulated to the lower level. Back in 1972, after the Canada-USSR match, there were boasts that hockey would soon be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. After 45 years, there has been no expansion of the game.

There are two writers on this blog, Sam Happi and Alson Lee who specialize in writing about developments in junior hockey, about who will be the top choices in next year’s NHL draft. So the World Junior Hockey Championship will have special importance for them. This year in Buffalo, they will get to write articles on this blog for the Buffalo fans about whom the horrible Sabres – who right now have the second best chance of getting the number 1 draft pick – who will likely be their top draft pick next year.

The NHL and the powers that be in international hockey make it easy for Alson and Sam Happi to write articles. Since there is no organized plan to improve the quality of play internationally, they can divide their time accordingly. My guess is that they spend 93% of their time writing about the development of the traditional “big 7″ juniors, 5% on players from Denmark and Switzerland, and 2% on anyone else they find interesting.

It’s not that the NHL doesn’t know there is a problem. Gary Bettman gave himself away at the revived World Cup when he created the hybrid teams, Team Europe and Team North America. He did not want any boring mismatches between the “big 7″ and “B Level” teams. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team.

Team Europe, the eventual runner up in the tournament deserves special notice. It was mostly made up of – you guessed it – players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Denmark, and Germany. The latter 3 countries are the obvious ones to develop first if hockey is to grow from a “big 7″ base to a “big 10″ or better. By rights the World Junior Championships and other top tournaments ought to be played by 12 teams, or better yet 16. There will be 16 teams at next year’s World Championship. International women’s hockey is so horrible that only Canada and the United States ice competent teams and there have been threats to expel the sport from the Olympics because of lack of competition.

Bettman has made a lot of statements about how he wants international hockey to grow, most recently when he went to Stockholm, Sweden, to oversee the return of NHL competition to Europe when Ottawa played Colorado. But as usual, he said nothing about improving the quality of play at the lower levels. Over the years since 1972 there have been brief NHL clinics in “B Level” countries and out of work NHL coaches have tried their hands at coaching and improving things abroad at that level. It has obviously not been enough. If Bettman and the other powers that be in international hockey really want the sport to grow, to have a World Cup of hockey that approaches the stature of the World Cup of soccer, the quality of play problem has to finally be faced up to honestly and dealt with. Until then, it will be the usual stagnation.

For me, the most interesting aspect about next year’s World Junior tournament is two notches down. As everyone knows, Bettman pulled the NHL out of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. But the South Koreans had done their hockey homework well after being awarded the Olympics and during the intervening years set out to improve the quality of play of their national team. And lo and behold, at next year’s World Championships, the South Koreans have come out of nowhere and will play in a top tournament against “big 7″ teams for the very first time.

Probably all that is expected is that the newcomer South Koreans will lose every game and then be regulated. Nobody really knows how good this upstart is because they have never played against top competition before. But their promotion means they are at least as good as the established “B Level” teams. If they do anything significant and manage to stick around at the highest level for the immediate future, what a potential embarrassment for Bettman and the NHL who claim they want to improve international hockey and then snub maybe the only country who may finally turn the “big 7″ into a “big 8″ by pulling out of their Olympics. What a wonderful way to welcome a potential new NHL market of 50 million people.

At the junior level this year, the South Koreans have been promoted from Division 3 to Division 2, so they have been improving at that level too. That’s still 2 notches away from the top level of junior play, but for me at least, they are the team to keep my eye on. Will they win their tournament and get promoted to Division 1? If the South Koreans show something at next year’s World Championships and also keep climbing at the junior level, maybe in a couple of years, Alson and Sam Happi will have to expand their coverage and work a bit harder to cover all the developments at the junior level.

 

Islanders Get New Belmont Arena: End Of Attempt At Moving To Hartford

Just when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was reveling in a huge Christmas present, a brand new NHL expansion team in Seattle, meaning that at long last the league has balanced conferences and can now realign, that the investment world finally accepts a $500 million expansion fee and even upped it to $650 million, he got another present, just as good, the end of the New York Islanders arena crisis. New York State has accepted an Islander bid to build a proper NHL arena of 18,000 seats at Belmont park. Construction will begin almost immediately.

The Islanders have long merited a brand new arena. Their original home, the Nassau Coliseum has shrunk in size compared to other NHL arenas over the decades. Once at the median level of 16,000 seats back in the 1970s, today the Nassau Coliseum is now the second smallest in the NHL, ahead of only Winnipeg. The Islanders moved out into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, a facility even worse, built primarily for basketball with a smaller seating capacity, bad ice, and a significant number of obstructed seats. They had to get out. Their arena crisis of several decades is finally over.

The Islander arena issue was a severe deterrent to building a winning team on the ice. Hampered by inadequate revenues, even a good ownership/management team could not build a championship contender around star players like John Tavares. He can now sign a long term contract knowing things will get better. At long last a sure foundation has been reached. Whether the Islanders play at the Barclays Center or at the Nassau Coliseum while the new arena is built is irrelevant. Hopefully also, the image of the team that of being the poor cousins of the New York Rangers for the past few decades will change.

The arena announcement also ends the hopes of either Hartford or Quebec City of getting the team. Nordiques fans had purchased a block of tickets on one occasion as a way of demonstrating that they wanted Quebec City back in the NHL, and the Hartford mayor and Connecticut governor had sent a letter to the Islanders owners in hopes of moving the team to a renovated XL Center in the future. The NHL with memories of the Islanders glorious history of being the only American franchise to win four consecutive Stanley Cups obviously wanted the Islanders to remain the Islanders. Losing the team would have been a huge blow to their status in the United States.

The resolution of the Islanders arena problem leaves only Phoenix as a major arena crisis left. There is a good chance that the Arizona Coyotes will finally relocate. Quebec and Hartford will do better to look for a relocated team there. Ottawa is a semi-crisis due to current arena location, and Calgary is not a crisis at all, just one invented by a pouty Flames ownership which plays in one of the oldest, but still one of the best arenas in the NHL which seats over 19,000. It’s nice to be a professional sports franchise owner these days when you can expect expensive arenas/stadiums to be built for nothing at public expense.

These are great days for the NHL with the resolution of arena problems, new franchises being added at increased expansion fees, and more cities knocking at the door to get in the league. The New York Islanders were a potential major problem on Gary Bettman’s list. He can now cross them off forever.

 

Add Two More NHL Western Expansion Teams And Quebec Gets The Nordiques Back As A Gift From Phoenix

As noted in my first article about Seattle joining the NHL, there are important consequences for several cities. In a previous article, I described what the consequences could be for Hartford. In this article I will try to project what the consequences could be for Quebec City and Phoenix.

First a brief recap for those people who have not read any of my numerous articles about Quebec, Phoenix, and NHL expansion on this blog. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman visited the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission, the first sign that the NHL wanted to expand again. At the time, the NHL consisted of 30 teams, so readmitting all three cities meant that the NHL would grow to 33 teams, one more than the symmetrical number of 32 that the NFL has.

This implied two important developments: If the NHL could reach 32 teams like the NFL, it would probably realign into the type of structure the NFL has. And by adding a 33rd team, it also meant that the NHL would not limit itself to the 32 symmetrical number like the NFL but continue on, probably to the next symmetrical number of 40, meaning 2 conferences with 4 divisions, each with 5 teams. Unfortunately an ownership crisis occurred in Atlanta and Winnipeg was used to resolve it.

When he toured the three cities, Bettman listed three factors that every new expansion/relocation city must have before the NHL would award a team (no mention of any expansion/relocation fee). These were a good fan base (which all three cities possessed), a proper NHL arena, and s suitable owner. There was no problem accepting Winnipeg which had all three factors covered. Quebec and Hartford are in various stages of satisfying the NHL’s terms.

The NHL is also committed to balanced conferences. They switched Detroit and Columbus to the east and Winnipeg to the west and have now added Las Vegas and Seattle to even things up. That still hasn’t stopped the NHL’s appetite for expansion since they probably want to grow to 40 teams and can get expansion fees of $500 million and then $650 million along the way. There are several other cities known to want a team: Quebec City, Hartford, Houston, and Hamilton/second southern Ontario. Probably there are more.

Unfortunately the NHL is currently stuck with two expansion/relocation problems; Quebec City and Phoenix. In Phoenix, the problem is the arena factor. The citizens of Glendale told the NHL that it was preferable to have an empty arena in the future than have the Arizona Coyotes continue to play there. Bettman and the Arizona ownership publicly agreed. Bettman still wanted an Arizona team located in a new downtown arena to be built in Phoenix. He stood before the Arizona Legislature to plead for public money to build a new arena, whereupon the anti-Coyote opponents, many of whom came from Glendale counter-argued that why should more good public money be spent on a franchise that has only once iced a competitive team in its history.

coyotes

Bettman tried to argue that it would all change with a new arena, but just when he needed to see a competitive team the most, the Arizona ownership and management have presented him with one of the worst teams in Phoenix history, one that was out of playoff contention after only the first ten games of the current season. Barring a miracle, there is no way the Coyotes are going to get any public money for a new arena. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns ownership publicly insulted the Coyotes by renovating their current arena to make it more basketball friendly instead of accepting a proposal to build a new arena in partnership with them.

In Quebec City, the problem is the ownership factor. The NHL loves the entire market of several million people, which stretches from half way to Montreal eastward to include all eastern Quebec province and all four Maritime provinces. The city of Quebec itself has now a metropolitan population of over 800,000. The league also loves the new Quebec Videotron arena which they rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and pre-season Montreal Canadiens games. But the NHL will never accept Pierre Karl Peladeau as owner because he supports the Quebec separatist political party and made insulting racist comments about the current Montreal Canadiens owner and who has many enemies on the NHL Board. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist as an owner.

Videotron

The NHL has never announced a rival bid from a suitable owner from the Quebec area so the obvious solution is to keep the current Arizona Coyote ownership and team, move it out of a city where there will be no arena to play in when the current lease expires, and relocate it in Quebec so that Peladeau is out of the picture. That will mean another conference imbalance, so the NHL needs to work behind the scenes to get two more western expansion cities.

Bettman could not be more overjoyed that the new owner of the NBA Houston Rockets, Tilman Fertitta supports an NHL team in Houston, probably the American city after Seattle that the NHL wants to get a franchise in the most. Even though nothing has been announced, a future Houston team is almost a certain “done deal” like Seattle.

The problem is finding a second western city. There are plenty of candidates. Portland, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, even Saskatoon and San Diego are possibilities. All except Saskatoon (and it is one of Canada’s fastest growing smaller cities so that a franchise at the end of two decades is a realistic possibility) have potential markets to support an NHL team. Milwaukee and San Francisco are building arenas but they may be too basketball friendly and result in another mess like the New York Islanders are currently experiencing with the Barclay’s Center. Kansas City has an excellent arena but nobody seems to trust the fan base which once had a team briefly in the 1970s.

Upstart Oklahoma City which snatched away the NBA Seattle Supersonics after making a failed bid to get an NHL team in the 1990s could be a good choice. Portland, already lined up for a new expansion MLB team and has deep roots in Canadian junior hockey like Seattle is probably the best choice to join Houston. And there is talk in San Diego, now without their NFL Chargers that they will consider building a new arena with the NHL in mind. If they do, they will be a serious contender.

So the admission of Seattle is good news for Quebec City if this speculated plan comes off. Bettman wants to put a team in Quebec City, probably the best current Canadian market without an NHL franchise. He openly consorted with the Quebec City mayor and provincial premier and urged them to complete the new arena even though he probably told them privately that Peladeau was an unacceptable owner. To not honor his promise is an embarrassment for him. Even Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson has hinted that he wants a Quebec City team, just not Peladeau at the Board table. At the same time, Bettman wants to get out of the mess in Phoenix as best as possible. If the NHL can find two more western expansion cities, expect them to be used to kill two birds with one stone, the problems of Phoenix and Quebec.

 

All Hartford Needs Is A Suitable Owner And They Are Back In The NHL

In the fallout of the news that Seattle will get an NHL team (Technically they are still not accepted, but the NHL is not going to refund a $650 million expansion fee. Accepting Seattle is a mere formality now.), there are many repercussions that have occurred. In this article, I’ll explore what this means for Hartford.

Seattle’s admission is good news for Hartford. Before explaining why, let’s recap. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their teams back in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and offered them terms for readmission. There were three reasonable factors that he wanted met. (No mention of any expansion fee whether $500 million or $650 million.) These were an adequate fan base (which all three have), a proper NHL arena, and a suitable owner.

The fact that the NHL wanted all three cities back meant that the size of the NHL would grow from 30 to 33 teams, one more than the 32 team limit the NFL had. Expansion to 32 teams would mean that the NHL could realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences, each having 4 divisions, and the 33rd team meant that the NHL was not going to stop at the NFL limit but keep expanding, probably to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams, meaning 8 divisions with 5 teams in them. Unfortunately, an ownership crisis in Atlanta occurred and Winnipeg had to be used to solve it. The Jets are back leaving Quebec and Hartford to try to return too.

The most important piece of good news for Hartford by Seattle’s readmission is that NHL has said they will accept renovated old arenas instead of building new ones. The Key Arena in Seattle is 55 years old and its dubious renovation costing $600 million will create a hockey arena that will be the third smallest in the NHL for seating capacity (2nd smallest if the New York Islanders get a new arena). If the NHL can accept Seattle’s renovation, they should have no problem with Hartford renovating a 41 year old arena that will have over 19,000 seats.

That leaves the third factor, finding a suitable owner. To explain how important is this factor, let’s return to the Quebec situation. Quebec has an acceptable fan base and the NHL loves the new Videotron arena which they rewarded with an exhibition World Cup game and Montreal preseason exhibition games every year. But Quebec does not have the third factor, an acceptable owner. The owner of the prospective bidder, Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau, has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his offensive racist statements about a Board member, his support of a political separatist party, and his general untrustworthiness. Quebec will not get the Nordiques back until he is gone and an acceptable owner makes a bid. This situation should be a valuable lesson for Hartford and all future NHL expansion teams.

So besides having deep pockets, a future Hartford Whalers owner has to be morally/socially acceptable and hopefully with no political ambitions. He/she has to be a sound businessman/woman who will put the team and the NHL first. So far in public at least, nobody has stepped forward and offered to front a Hartford bid

The Connecticut governor and the Hartford mayor have tried their own hand at recruiting an owner. They knew the New York Islanders were having arena problems and wrote a letter to the Islander ownership and management, offering them the updated XL Center if nothing is done and their arena crisis cannot be solved. Right now, the Islanders are awaiting a decision within the next six months about whether a new arena will be built for them in the Belmont area. If a new arena is constructed there, any chance of the Islanders becoming the Whalers is over.

The NHL would prefer the Belmont option because they want to keep the Islanders with their glorious history. And a Hartford expansion team means another large expansion fee. So Hartford and Connecticut officials should also be talking to other businessmen, not necessarily from the Hartford area, who are interested in owning an NHL franchise. The Whalers should be a good investment. Like Winnipeg and Quebec, Hartford with a proper arena should be a winner, a sure money maker.

The NHL is striving to become a 40 team league. There are now eight franchise positions still available, four in the east and four in the west. In 2010, the NHL made an unofficial commitment to Hartford if they meet their three factors, so the door is wide open for them to return. Hartford will soon have two of the three factors solved. If they can find a suitable owner who will make a bid, Hartford could be back in the NHL within half a decade.

 

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?

 

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.