China NHL Games: Congratulations?, Hilarious Hypocrisy?, Or Bitter Acid Stupidity?

What I expected was displayed at the NHL website about the first NHL exhibition games in China. Three articles – a game summary, a diary article, and most predictable of all, a wholesome article about how the NHL broke the ice and made new fans in China; describing the excitement, especially among the young, impressionable children; how many patrons in a crowd of only 10,000 in Shanghai were wearing NHL jerseys; how many attended the clinics that the Los Angeles Kings offered; how the NHL made its first tiny baby step in the world’s largest population of 1.3 billion; how historical this was; etc. How sweet and lovable.

I’d be prompted to offer my congratulations to Gary Bettman and the NHL – and they do merit some – except when I think about what they could have done, what they SHOULD have done. Hockey is so minuscule in China that at last glance, the Chinese national team was ranked 37th in the world. What will be the end of all this incision? China moves up to 35?

Meanwhile – since before 1972 [when NHL players first began playing in international tournaments against teams from other countries], there have been a group of countries including Germany, Austria, Poland, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Slovenia, Norway, Hungary and Belarus who have been stuck at the “B level” of quality of play, just below the traditional “big 7″ countries of Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, and Finland. In the 45 years since the Canada-USSR match, only Switzerland and Denmark can be said to make much progress. That is not much to show for 4½ decades when it was said back in 1972, that hockey would become “the number 2 sport in the world” behind soccer.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman just revived the dormant World Cup last year and wants to spread the game internationally. The China games are part of this plan. But “realistic” Bettman won’t tackle the real problem. For his revived World Cup there were only six national teams. Usually in international games in other tournaments, games between “big 7″ countries and “B level” ones are boring mismatches, slaughters that put fans to sleep and only fatten up the scoring statistics of “big 7″ stars. To prevent such mismatches, Bettman cooked up two hybrid teams for his revived World Cup, Team Europe and Team North America. Even Slovakia was not invited to send a team.

If he really wants to spread the game internationally – and have a larger, more meaningful hockey World Cup, one that one day might rank with soccer’s World Cup – there has to be a plan to get at least the “B level” countries up to the standard of play of the traditional powers. That would mean a real expansion in prestige for international hockey.

But there is no plan. Instead the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks make a tiny dent in 37th ranked China. In 45 years, hosting once-a-year clinics, and sending out of work NHL coaches to “B level” countries to improve things is not enough. International hockey has not been developed or improved. It’s every country for itself with no well thought out plan to improve the quality of the game. The World Cup could be played by at least 16 national teams. Right now it is played by only six and there is no hope of broadening it in sight. Hockey cannot expand without resolving the quality of play problem. The “B level” countries are still where they were back in 1972. That’s over a dozen teams that could make a significant expansion of international hockey.

It is even worse on the women’s side. Only Canada and the United States can ice quality teams. Women’s hockey has been threatened with expulsion from the Olympics because of the lack of competition. In contrast, international curling, for both men and women, has made real improvements world wide. Maybe it is an unfair comparison or perhaps there is a lesson there somewhere.

Meanwhile while the NHL pats itself on the back because of China, a hilarious piece of hypocrisy has developed for Bettman and the NHL. South Korea has joined at least the ranks of the “B level” countries. Yes, that same South Korea which will host the Winter Olympics next year in 2018 at Pyeongchang, that Gary Bettman and his NHL owners see fit to abandon, has improved its men’s hockey team so much that next year they will be promoted to the top level of the World Championship tournament where they will take on the traditional “big 7″ teams for the first time.

After being awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics, the South Koreans obviously did their hockey homework. They were nowhere in the ranks of hockey a few years ago, but some smart people who knew what they were doing improved the team so much that it can make its debut at the top level of next year’s international tournament. How good is this new, upstart country? Nobody knows. There will be a clearer picture when they play the traditional top bananas next year.

South Korea is where the NHL should have sent the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, not 37th ranked China. But Pyeongchang is not as glamorous at Shanghai and Beijing and the population of South Korea is “only” 50 million, not 1.3 billion. Money, not the betterment of hockey is talking. Bettman wants hockey to grow internationally, but the NHL pulls out of “unglamorous” South Korea, the one country that has made a real climb in the hockey ranks internationally. If South Korea does anything significant at next year’s World Championship, it will be awfully embarrassing for Bettman and the NHL. If the South Koreans play well enough to stick around at the top level, or [horrors!] actually win a medal, will Bettman be forced to invite them to his 2020 World Cup?

It’s bad enough already. Reward a country that has really improved its hockey program by snubbing their nation of 50 million people by pulling out of their Winter Olympics. That’s a great policy for the NHL which could have a brand new market of 50 million people to tap. But South Korea, like the “B Level” countries is not 1.3 billion China.

So we come to our conclusion judgment of the NHL’s experimental China exhibition games. Congratulations NHL, you have made a little tiny dent in expanding international hockey. For that we grant you a halo over your head. But when it is thought about what could have been done, what should have been done, perhaps it would be a more appropriate response to roll on the floor in hilarity or sit bitterly ruing at the opportunities that have been wasted.

 

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Wasted Summer By The NHL

Well the new 2017-18 NHL season is about to dawn and the NHL gets revived after a school teacher two month vacation. In June there were exciting events; the crowning of the 2017 NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL Awards Banquet, the start of the new Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the NHL draft. After that flurry the NHL has taken what it considers a well deserved two month vacation.

Since July 1, the only news at the NHL website is which free agents signed with which teams, and a series of articles about the strength and weakness of every team for next season. The only significant news was that Dallas was chosen to be the site of next year’s NHL draft in honor of its 25th anniversary. Oh yes – the new Detroit arena opened.

Pardon me, but I think that is a poor result for a summer where so many important issues that can affect the NHL long term have gone unresolved. Sure everybody deserves a rest, but I was hoping that at least one major issue would be resolved before the new season started. All the significant issues that were shelved on July 1, are still present now with the start of this new season, and in some cases, with less time to solve them, some with potential dire consequences. Am I the only one who is being a sour, Scroogey, sore-head who thinks that this summer was wasted by the NHL which should have been working maybe even overtime to solve its problems and then putting its feet up for a well-earned rest?

I am not alone if you are a Quebec Nordiques fan and want to be finally taken out of the “suspended” state that the NHL placed Quebec in after the last bungled attempt at expansion. Resolving the Quebec situation would mean that Commissioner Bettman and the NHL finally found an acceptable owner instead of the pro-separatist Pierre Karl Peladeau who made inappropriate and unacceptable public remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson. Instead one of the two best markets in Canada without an NHL team, one of the more valuable franchises in the NHL, only has a couple of Montreal Canadiens pre-season exhibition games to look forward to next season. Its beautiful new arena, the Videotron which the NHL loves is wasted and empty, a continuing scandal to a summer of nothing.

And as a sidelight, the granting of a new Quebec expansion franchise would allow the NHL to realign at last into a 32 team NFL structure which would allow the league to expand comfortably in the future to at least 40 and even 48 teams. Instead, thanks to the greedy terms of the bungled last attempt at expansion, the league only got the new Las Vegas team, leaving it at 31 teams, one short of the symmetrical 32 necessary for realignment.

The NHL should have been working its tail off this summer at devising some acceptable new expansion terms so that it could expand as soon as possible and resolve the alignment problem. The investment world found a $500 million expansion fee too excessive and backed away during the last expansion leaving only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec left, a humiliating embarrassment for the NHL. Now they have to either set an appropriate NHL expansion fee or wait indefinitely for investors to accept their current half a billion dollar terms. Expansion and realignment could be delayed for a long, long time.

And on the expansion front, Quebec’s brother franchise, Hartford, which also lost its team in the 1990s finally made some news last season by announcing a $250 million upgrade of the XL Center to a 19,000 seating capacity. So Whaler fans will also want to know the NHL’s opinion about this renovation, whether an upgraded 41 year old building will be suitable to get their team back and any expansion terms and fees that might occur along the way. But there has been no official announcement by the NHL on any of this, during the summer.

And when you mention Hartford now, you also draw in the New York Islanders because the Hartford mayor and the Connecticut governor sent the Islanders ownership a formal letter inviting them to become the new, relocated Hartford Whalers once the XL Center renovation is completed. The Islanders are having arena problems right now. The second-smallest NHL arena, the Barclay’s Center was built for basketball and has bad ice and obstructed view seats for hockey and the Islanders cannot sell it out. Because of the arena, the Islanders had the second worst attendance last year and if they don’t get good attendance they cannot afford to pay star players like John Tavares and build a competitive team.

The very existence of the Islanders depends on getting some kind of new arena, either by a move to Hartford or a new facility to be built in Queens. Time is running out and there have been no announcements about any positive developments this summer. This issue will heat up as the new season progresses. It is rumored that the Barclay Center itself wants the Islanders gone as soon as possible. The sooner this problem is solved the better, before an invisible gun is pointed at the NHL’s head.

And the NHL has a similar problem in its Western Conference, in Phoenix where both the NHL and the citizens of Glendale have publicly said they are finished with each other. Gary Bettman’s attempts to keep a team in Phoenix including the NHL owning the team and keeping it from falling into the lap of Hamilton via Jim Balsille may finally be over if a new arena in the downtown area is not built. But Phoenix and Arizona taxpayers are not going to be too eager to build a new arena for a franchise that is abandoning a facility that is only 13 years old and has only iced a competitive team once in its entire history. And in this summer of NHL nothing, there have been no announcements about a new arena or any move by the Coyotes to another city like Portland or Seattle.

And there have been no announcements about a new Seattle arena finally being built. Seattle, a “done deal”, a front-running city for an NHL franchise during the last horrible NHL expansion somehow bungled its bid like front-runners Houston and Hamilton did in expansions before them. The NHL was specifically courting Seattle because it was a western city that could balance up its conferences but the arena soap opera is going on with no end in sight. The NHL got their 31st team, Las Vegas, but not their 32nd team to balance things and realign.

Also on the arena front, there have been no announcements about the start of new arenas in Calgary and Ottawa. Bettman made a tour of these Canadian cites as well as Phoenix urging a resolution to these facility situations. There seems to be positive sentiment in Ottawa for a new downtown facility, but in Calgary, many politicians and citizens are questioning the terms and financial figures of the proposed “Calgary Next” project. And the Flames added fuel to the fire by threatening to walk out. There is nothing positive to announce in this summer of nothing in either city.

Nor is there anything positive to report internationally. The NHL pulled out of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next year leaving many NHL players threatening to desert their teams and play for their country anyway. As if that was not enough, the South Koreans who have been down in the dregs of international hockey since it began, suddenly improved enough to be promoted to the top level of international play in next year’s World Championship. That could be awfully embarrassing for Bettman who has been trying to revive the World Cup and promote international hockey and for the NHL which has now snubbed a potential new market of 50 million people, if the South Koreans do anything significant in next year’s tournament. But no announcement during the summer of any change of heart has been made.

Likewise, there has been no announcement of any new developments to improve the quality of international hockey below the traditional “big 7″ country level. Vancouver and Los Angeles will play some exhibition games in low ranked, but big market China. And Boston and Los Angeles will host some clinics for the Chinese too. But there have been no formulated plans set out to raise the standard of play particularly in the dozen “B level” countries just below the “big 7″ so that a real expansion of international hockey and the revived World Cup can be made. Just the same old thing since 1972 when NHL professionals began playing in international tournaments.

All these issues plus others that were shelved during the summer are still there when the NHL comes back from vacation. Thwarted hopes for expansion and realignment, the fate of the Winter Olympics, unresolved arena issues, improvement of international hockey, are still now hotter than ever. Am I the only person who is a sourpuss because it seems to me that nothing was done on these issues? Will the NHL come to rue that some of these issues might have been solved or at least worked on during the past summer? Can these issues continue to be shelved forever?

 

Jagr, Iginla, And Doan All Paying For Bungled NHL Expansion

Before the NHL officially announced its recent expansion which in the end produced “only” the Las Vegas Golden Knights, it was commonly reported in the media and on the Internet that there were four “done deals”, Las Vegas, Quebec, second Toronto, and Seattle all ready in the bag. And that was only the tip of the iceberg. The NHL had not expanded since 2000 and rumors and desires had been building up, that it was thought that the cup was overflowing with potential applicants just waiting to get in.

There was Quebec’s fellow lost partner, Hartford and frustrated Hamilton. There were two failed bidders from 2000, Houston and Oklahoma City. There was Kansas City with its empty Sprint Center, built to get an NHL and NBA team. There were the potential hockey hotbeds of Portland and Milwaukee and perhaps surprise bidders like San Diego and San Francisco. All were thought to be parked outside of the NHL’s door just waiting for an official announcement of expansion.

Instead the NHL ruined everything by tacking on a $500 million expansion fee and a $10 million “consideration fee” ($8 million to be refunded if your bid failed) that threw cold water on every potential bidder’s face. The verdict by the investment world: We’d love to own a professional sports franchise but we’re not suckers. An NHL franchise is not worth that amount of money. Of 16 potential bidders, only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec stayed around to the end. And Quebec’s potential owner was unacceptable to the NHL. Even two of the “done deals” pulled out.

It was a first rate humiliation for the NHL. Not only did they want to expand, they wanted to realign as well into an NFL like structure of 2 conferences each having 4 divisions of 4 teams which would permit growth to the 40 team level and beyond. Instead they staged an expansion with no competition between rival cities (perhaps a “big 4″ North American professional sports first) and had to settle for only Las Vegas giving the league only 31 teams which prevented the NHL from realigning.

An unexpected fallout from this bungled expansion has been the fate of Jaromir Jagr, Jerome Iginla, and Shane Doan. All are representatives of the new kind of athlete that the NHL like its bungled expansion is unprepared for. With new advances in medicine and conditioning, it is now possible to prolong professional athletic careers beyond the usual retirement age of 35-40. Gordie Howe played until he was over 50 and Chris Chelios reached 48. But instead of being the exception, tomorrow’s athlete will play to these ages regularly.

The NHL is quite unprepared for this development. The oldest, Jagr, at 45 was still making significant contributions to his last team, the Florida Panthers. But NHL teams, ignoring that these elderly athletes can still make a significant contribution declined to sign these free agents, choosing to sign younger players who may have more long term potential in them for the future.

Sure Jagr, Iginla, and Doan have seen their best days pass them by. Modern medicine still isn’t advanced enough yet to turn them back into the state of 20 year olds, though that potential still exists in the future. But even at their advanced ages, they can probably still play better than many of the young players who are being given a chance, but will never reach their potential.

Doan gave up and retired. Jagr and Iginla are still waiting for offers. It is a shame that three of the NHL’s recent greatest players cannot get contracts and are being considered washed up without too much evidence.

If anything, the admission of Las Vegas should have made more NHL jobs available. And there would have been lots more if even only all four “done deals” had been granted NHL franchises. But the NHL’s greedy terms produced the worst “big 4″ North American professional league expansion in history. Now the NHL is caught between a rock and a hard place if they want to expand and realign in the near future. Either way they will lose face. They have to admit their expansion terms were unrealistic, refund money back to Bill Foley and Las Vegas so that they can set more realistic expansion terms that are more in tune with the real NHL franchise market, or wait years (decades?) before the investment world agrees that an NHL franchise merits a $500 million expansion fee and $10 million consideration fee. They could be stuck at the 31 team level, unable to realign for a long, long time.

If NHL expansion had been done properly, there would be four new teams entering the league now and Jagr, Doan, and Iginla would have no problem finding a new home. Their careers are either over or in suspension, a casualty of a league that is unprepared for the athlete of the future, and does not know the true value of its franchises in the investor market.

 

Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 10: New American Arenas Proclaim NHL Hockey: We’re Number 4

If you dig deep and read between the lines, the current home of the New York Islanders in Brooklyn, the Barclay’s Center provides valuable lessons about the status of NHL hockey in the United States, how to build sports arenas, and even about the future development of the NHL. And none of it is good.

To re-summarize, the New York Islanders have been treated badly since their glory years of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their original home, the Nassau Coliseum held just over 16,000 seats at its peak. That was okay back then when the median seating for the NHL was in the 16,000-17,000 range but it is not acceptable now when the median is probably over 18,000. As the years passed, the Coliseum became the second smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg. The Islanders more than merited a bigger, more modern arena but nothing has ever come from it.

islanders

Eventually the Islanders moved to the Barclay’s Center which has even less seating than their old home and to make matters worse, has bad ice, and obstructive view seats for hockey. The Islanders found they could not sell out even this reduced seating venue and had the second worst attendance in the NHL last season, ahead of only Carolina. And as long as they remain in the Barclay’s Center, it is unlikely attendance will improve.

The Barclay’s Center was built for the NBA Brooklyn Nets. It was not meant to be the home for an NHL team. In fact there is talk that the arena wants the Islanders gone soon. The NHL franchise is in peril. The options are build a new arena, return to Nassau, or move to Hartford.

The NHL will always be at a disadvantage when arenas are built when compared to the NBA. Basketball seating will always be greater than hockey because more seats can be added to the floor of the arena. The Barclay’s Center provides several important lessons for building arenas. First, it is possible to build a bad arena for both sports. Second, it is possible to build an arena that is good for basketball but bad for hockey. Third, it is impossible to build an arena that is good for hockey but will be bad for basketball. And fourth, when designing and building sports arenas, the architect should think hockey first because basketball will always fall into place.

There is no problem building arenas in Canada where hockey is number one. Arenas are always built with hockey in mind. If new arenas are built in Calgary and Ottawa, these cities automatically become contenders for a new NBA franchise as well as their current NHL teams. When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman paid his first visit to the new Edmonton arena, built for hockey, he was so impressed he has vowed to reward the city with an All Star Game and to be the host of the NHL draft.

edmonton

If only there was the same attitude in the United States. The new Detroit arena that will open next season will be satisfactory for the Red Wings. And the new Las Vegas franchise had its arena designed for the Knights. But in the United States, that’s as far as it goes.

San Francisco

Right now there are two new arenas being built in Milwaukee and San Francisco and they only have the NBA in mind. The new arenas have been designed for basketball which could make any new NHL expansion team face the same problems the New York Islanders have. The new San Francisco arena will have approximately 18,000 seats, meaning a new NHL franchise will have seating well below the NHL median. The new Milwaukee arena will only have 17,500 seats for basketball which translated to the NHL could make it the third smallest arena in the league.

Milwaukee

It is clear when American arenas are built in this manner, what the status of hockey in the United States is. And with the NHL folding the Atlanta Thrashers and the potential debacle in Phoenix, the American environment is not conducive to building hockey-friendly facilities. The NHL wants to stay in Phoenix but pulling out of an arena that is only 13 years old and was built specifically for the inglorious Coyotes is not going to induce the locals to build yet another new arena in the Phoenix area. And if they did, they would more inclined to reward the NBA Suns, not the Coyotes.

Another potential mess is Seattle. They were the front runner for an NHL franchise in the recent expansion, but lost out when they could not resolve their arena issue. How would a new Seattle arena be built? Most of the talk has been about getting back the Supersonics. Almost all the talk has been about a new NBA owner being the owner of a new arena with an NHL team as tenants. Would a new Seattle arena be suitable for hockey under this arrangement?

Seattle

Commissioner Bettman listed the arena as being one of the three most important factors to be considered when offering terms to Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford to return to the NHL. If arenas in the United States are going to be built to accommodate the NBA first, it also brings into question the future development of the NHL. Under Bettman, the NHL has followed a pro-American path, with expansion and relocation mostly in the United States, mainly to get a good American television contract. But NHL hockey cannot grow in the United States if new arenas are built like the Barclay’s Center. Bad new hockey arenas could mean that the growth of the NHL in the United States is at a dead end.

Would that mean a significant change in direction in NHL policy? Expanding the NHL in Canada or starting a new branch in Europe? Right now the future of the Arizona Coyotes and New York Islanders are unresolved. And the NHL wants to expand to at least 32 teams in balanced conferences so that it can realign. The arena problem is tangled up in these issues. Certainly the Barclay’s Center and the new arenas in Milwaukee and San Francisco confirm that in the chase for status in the United States, in a four league race, the NHL is in fourth place.

 

Disappearance Of Three Stores Is An Apt Symbol Of Why There Are Only 7 Canadian Franchises In The NHL

When I lived in Toronto there were three stores that I (and sometimes my parents) would sometimes visit. These were Knob Hill Farms (a grocery chain), Sam The Record Man (title says it all), and Honest Ed’s (Toronto’s greatest discount store). All three are now gone and Toronto (and Canada) is the poorer for it. At all three, tremendous savings could occur. At Knob Hill Farms (owned by Steve Stavro, a future owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs), food was cheap. In its heyday, Sam The Record Man could probably boast that they sold the cheapest records and tapes in the world (that’s right the world. It’s not an exaggeration). And when my mother made her occasional expeditions to Honest Ed’s she would make my father and me who were trying to watch television stop while she pulled out all of her purchases from bags and boast how much money she had saved us.

All three stores are gone now and there are serious economic and social consequences because of it. When the stores existed, what did it mean? It meant a bigger market. Poorer people and those not so well off (though not the very poor) were able to stretch their dollars and get more. By spending less on food, records, and other commodities, it meant that these people could put more of their salaries into the bank and when they had accumulated enough they could even start to buy luxury goods that before had been beyond their grasp. It was a win-win situation. By showing some generosity, these entrepreneurs increased the size of the market and business activity. When one visited their stores, the parking lots and street parking were full and the stores were often jammed to the hilt.

When Stavro became the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his regime was the only period in the long (50 years and counting) dismal years of bad Toronto Maple Leaf ownership between the horrible Harold Ballard and the even worse Ontario Teachers Pension Fund when the Leafs iced decent teams (the Doug Gilmour-Matts Sundin era) that had a chance to win the Stanley Cup. In other words, which is the point of this article, an NHL owner has to show some generosity in order to ice a winning team. When the Teachers took over from Stavro, they regarded the Leafs as merely an economic investment in which everything had to be squeezed out and nothing put back in. And if you knew some teachers (as I did), all you had to do is listen to them talk to understand why the Leafs were as bad as they were. Somehow they exceeded even the horrible Ballard which I would never have believed possible. In the entire time of the Teachers ownership, there was not one playoff game.

toronto

Which brings this article to the issue of NHL expansion into Canada. At the highest level, you have to show some generosity and give something back. And in too many articles to count that I have written on this blog and others, I have illustrated that all through the NHL expansion years from 1967 to the present day, the Canadian franchise owners in the NHL have shown little or no generosity about putting more franchises in Canada. Only Calgary, Ottawa, and the return of the Winnipeg Jets from Atlanta have not met with any opposition.

Canadians like to believe the myth that American owners led by the Commissioner/President of the NHL are anti-Canadian. The American owners are probably indifferent at worst. If you are going to blame Clarence Campbell, John Ziegler, and Gary Bettman for anything, it is their failure to curb the opposition of Canada’s NHL franchise owners to share the northern market and Canadian television money.

Hamilton

The two current obvious exclusions are Quebec City and Hamilton. Both have fanatical fan bases for hockey and acceptable arenas. Hamilton’s city council was even prepared to spend $50 million to upgrade Copps Coliseum to an acceptable 18,500 seats and luxury boxes if Jim Balsille had managed to bring the Coyotes from Phoenix. Los Angeles and New York in the NHL and other cities in other professional sports leagues have been able set reasonable compensation packages for new teams moving into an existing team’s regional market, but not in ungenerous Canada. No terms for a Hamilton franchise have ever been laid out. So an almost guaranteed money-making franchise, one that has been estimated that could even become the third most valuable NHL franchise, behind only Toronto and the New York Rangers does not exist.

In Quebec City’s instance, the problem is that the NHL does not like the bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau, a supporter of the provincial separatist party, Parti Quebecois. Separatism is by nature an exclusionary action; in Quebec, based on language and racial descent. When Peladeau lost a bidding war with Geoff Molson to own the Montreal Canadiens, he made a public remark implying that it was inappropriate for Molson to own the Canadiens because he is an Anglophone Quebecer. That remark, plus an attempt to obstruct one of Molson’s business colleagues damned Peladeau in the NHL Board’s eyes and doomed any attempt by Quebecor to bring back the Quebec Nordiques long before a single shovel went into the ground to build the new Videotron arena.

Quebec

Equally unfortunate is that no other acceptable Quebec investors have made any attempt to bring back the Nordiques. And the possibility of retaliation by racists acting through a Parti Quebecois provincial government has stopped any investors from “English Canada” from trying to restart the Quebec NHL franchise. Despite having an acceptable arena that the NHL loves, an increased population of over 800,000, a fanatical local fan base, and a market which stretches half way to Montreal and includes the four Maritime provinces, Quebec City still does not have the Nordiques back. Indeed it is possible to imagine that if there was no racial/political issue involved, Quebec would not have lost its team in the first place and the Videotron would have been built years ago with private funds.

As noted above, if you want your market to increase, if you want to ice a competitive team, you have to show some goodwill and generosity at the highest level. But as noted, stores that practiced that policy in Toronto have disappeared. The market shrinks, there is less money, and new investments and opportunities do not occur. In the case of NHL expansion into Canada, all that is left is for Canadians to believe the myth that the “American” NHL is anti-Canadian.

This is Canada’s 150th birthday and the Centenary of the NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman could have made it a year to really celebrate in Canada by granting new Quebec and Hamilton franchises. But in ungenerous, elitist, exclusionary Canada, it was not possible.

 

Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 9: Two Current Hot Potato Arena Issues Have To Be Favorably Resolved

It was bad enough that the transfer of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg because no investors wanted them showed the low status of NHL hockey in the United States as compared to the NFL, MLB, and the NBA, but two more problems that will do the same are still on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s plate and have not gone away. Neither the Arizona Coyotes, nor the New York Islanders are set for the long term for where they will play. The Islanders play in the worst arena in the league, the Barclay’s Center where the ice is bad, there is obstructed view seating for hockey, and has the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL.

In Arizona’s case, they have been like a lame-duck franchise from the very beginning, and now nobody in the area wants to spend any more money building new arenas for a franchise that has had only one decent season where they challenged for the Stanley Cup in their entire history. Both Bettman and the Glendale citizens have publicly stated they are finished with each other, Glendale even admitting its preference to have an arena with no tenants that is only 13 years old.

coyotes

Bettman has stated that he wants the Coyotes to continue in Phoenix and a few years ago blocked Jim Balsille’s attempt to move the team to Hamilton. But how much longer can the Coyotes continue in Phoenix? Tempe refused to build an arena that would have been the third smallest in the NHL and the Arizona state legislature is unlikely to spend money on such an undistinguished franchise after the Glendale debacle.

Actually moving the Coyotes to another American city or even using them to solve the Quebec/Hamilton problems would not be that bad a blow. The only sufferers would be local fans who have genuinely embraced the game of hockey. Hockey has never taken off much there and it can be said it was the NHL’s fault for coming there in the first place instead of choosing markets in both the United States and Canada where there were was substantial enthusiasm for the game. Perhaps Phoenix’s best legacy will be inspiring last year’s number one draft choice, Auston Matthews to take up the sport.

But it is still another visual reminder of the NHL’s low status in the United States. It’s a definite blow to getting an American television contract that is the equivalent to what the NFL, NBA, and MLB gets. And it’s another forced move like Atlanta. Nobody except local fans are going to mourn the disappearance of the inglorious Coyotes but the fact they had to leave town says it all. And moving the Coyotes to another city would also mean the loss of another potential $500 million expansion fee.

But much more damaging would be the disappearance of the New York Islanders who are the only American franchise to win four consecutive Stanley Cups and until this year, were tied with Pittsburgh for most Stanley Cup victories by an American expansion team. Moving inglorious teams who have done nothing to distinguish themselves, like Atlanta and Phoenix is one thing, but the disappearance of the Islanders would be a serious loss of face for the NHL.

islanders

Since their golden years, the Islanders have been treated very shabbily. They needed a new and larger arena long ago, but nothing has been done and now the very existence of the team is at stake. The team can only be a lame duck team at best unless a proper arena is built; without a new facility, the Islanders will be unable to afford star players and build contending teams. As time passed the Nassau Coliseum became the second smallest arena in the NHL and the Barclay’s Center is even worse. The team is now like an also-ran compared to the New York Rangers.

Both Quebec and Hartford would take the Islanders in an instant. Quebec once snapped up a large block of Islander tickets and a large contingent of fans attended an Islander game in order to demonstrate to the NHL that they wanted the Nordiques back. And earlier this year, Hartford announced plans to renovate the XL Center with $250 million and the Hartford mayor and the Connecticut state governor sent a letter to the Islanders ownership inviting them to become a renewed Whalers once the renovation was complete.

The disappearance of the Islanders would be a bitter blow to the NHL. It’s hard to claim equality with the other three leagues, to make pretensions that NHL hockey is an “American game”, to hope for a substantial increase in American television revenue if one of your most glorious teams disappears because of indifference. Bettman would smile and put a brave face on it but everyone would know the real meaning if the Islanders disappeared. And of course another potential $500 million expansion fee would go with them.

These are two test cases for the NHL. Nobody questions the status of the NFL, NBA, and MLB in the United States, but the issue is very much alive for the NHL. How they resolve these two potentially damaging issues will say a lot about the status of the NHL in the United States now, and may significantly affect the policy direction of the league for the future.

 

Quebec City Back In The NHL? Follow The Path Of Foley, Thomson, And Chipman

So Quebec City is still stuck at the ownership factor after more than a year. Off and on for this past time, I have been writing about the Quebec situation and its absurdity. How Las Vegas that hardly knows hockey and has never had a major league team in any sport and has a smaller arena can get an NHL franchise easily while fanatical hockey bed Quebec City is still on the outside looking in.

Is the problem the “anti-Canadian” NHL led by insensitive American majority Board members fronted by an American “anti-Canadian Commissioner? Is it the greedy owners of the 7 Canadian franchises who don’t want to share the Canadian market and Canadian television money with Quebec City and can’t be reigned in? Is it NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s “traditional” policy of awarding expansion and relocation teams to strange “non-hockey” American markets in order to impress American television networks to get a better contract while ignoring fanatical markets in Canada and the northwestern United States?

The answer is “no”, especially in the case of Quebec City. Bettman himself is not anti-Canadian though most Canadians like to cling to it for comfort as a Canadian myth. In 2010 he made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises, laid out terms for readmission, and invited them back if they met those conditions. And when he went to Edmonton to see its new arena for the first time, he was so impressed he wants to give the city an All Star Game and an NHL Draft session. That’s hardly the decisions of an anti-Canadian.

And the NHL loves the new Videotron that Quebec City built. Upon its opening, they awarded Quebec an exhibition game of the World Cup. Montreal, owned by the supposedly “anti-Quebec” Geoff Molson wants to keep playing preseason exhibition games there until Quebec City gets the Nordiques back. It’s obvious that the NHL loves Quebec City, its market and arena. They WANT the Nordiques to return. But they will not tolerate an owner like Pierre Karl Peladeau.

Videotron

Just to recount, Peladeau lost a bidding war to Geoff Molson to own the Montreal Canadiens and then publicly declared that Molson was unsuitable to own the Canadiens because he was an Anglophone Quebecer. Then he obstructed the business dealings of a colleague of Molson’s in some matter. He dabbles in pro-separatist provincial politics. Finally, he is simply untrustworthy; he is absurd. How can he think to get on a Board Of Governors when he publicly insults one of its members with a racist remark, a remark that probably not only offended Molson but many other Board members? Even a separatist cannot trust him because he invested in Canada by buying the Sun Media chain. The NHL wants somebody reliable, somebody they can believe in as an owner, so they are going to stay away from Peladeau.

MolPel

No, if you want an expansion/relocation NHL team, you follow the path of Bill Foley, Dave Thomson, and Mark Chipman who are the latest members of the NHL Board. The NHL is prepared to forgive and overlook a lot of sins if you have a good owner. Just for the record, Foley is the owner of the new Las Vegas Golden Knights, and Thomson and Chipman were the owners who acquired the Atlanta Thrashers and brought Winnipeg back into the NHL. With good owners, Gary Bettman and the NHL Board were even prepared to ignore the small size of the Winnipeg arena.

Ownership is a critical factor along with an arena and fan base. When Thomson and Chipman were lobbying to get Winnipeg its Jets back, they were often seen in the company of Bettman and members of the NHL Board. It helps to be the richest man in Canada like Thomson and be wealthy like Chipman, but both of them went out of their way to make themselves popular with the NHL Board. It was obvious that when Atlanta got into trouble, the Board and Bettman kept Chipman and Thomson in the back of their minds and that made it easy to transfer the team to them and return to Winnipeg after no investor appeared to keep the team in Atlanta. And Chipman is so popular, he (along with Molson) has been elected to the NHL Executive Committee.

Foley is also a popular choice. There were (and still are) doubts about whether Las Vegas has a suitable fan base, but nobody has doubted Bill Foley’s enthusiasm for the NHL. The NHL has been a flop in Phoenix but they are willing to take a chance on another desert team because of Foley. If he makes Vegas a success, look for him to be elected to the Executive Committee at a later date.

In contrast, Peladeau alienated the NHL Board. When the Videotron was being built, Bettman was often seen in the company of the provincial premier, the Montreal mayor, and other important local officials, but not Peladeau. And when any spokesman from the company was called to comment on how things were going, it was former Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney. For any new franchise, the NHL Board wants an owner whom they can work with, and trust and believe in.

For now, Quebec City rests in “deferred” suspension, until a suitable owner is found. It’s sad that the best city in North America without an NHL team, a city with a market the NHL believes in, with a new arena that the league (including Geoff Molson) loves, one that had the best rivalry in the NHL with Montreal, has to wait because no acceptable owner has appeared.