Did The NHL REALLY Want To Pull Out Of The Pyeongchang Olympics?

I bought the original story and it still might be true. When I originally wrote about it, I blamed Gary Bettman and the NHL for taking a backward step in international hockey by pulling out of this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. At the time I blamed it on the usual factor, American ignorance, and that this was another typical arrogant, ignorant business decision, one that snubbed a country that had recently raised the quality of its hockey team to at least the “B level” of play, a country of 50 million people who would be a splendid new market for international hockey and for the NHL itself. I condemned the NHL and did not give the motives for it anymore thought until what has recently happened.

As reported on many Internet websites, there was the current American Vice President, Mike Pence attending the opening ceremonies with a mandate by President Trump to stir up more trouble between the two Koreas. The President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in had been using the Olympics to reduce tensions between North and South Korea. In particular, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un was made a special guest of honor.

This did not sit well with the Americans who have been trying to rein in Kim Jong-un and North Korea, one way or another, especially since the start of the Donald Trump administration. And it is Pence’s appearance and mission at the Winter Olympics that has made me think again about the NHL’s decision to withdraw from the South Korean Olympics. Did the Bettman and the NHL really want to do it? Or was there some secret pressure from the American government, perhaps even formal blackmail, that forced Gary Bettman and the NHL to take the decision they made?

First of all in some ways, this is old hat with me. When I was in university in the 1970s, a group of Americans gave a seminar, two years in a row which I attended about the assassination of John Kennedy. They brought clear copies of the Zapruder film, kept out of the United States for protection purposes, showed highly disturbing photos that could be used to prove the existence of a conspiracy, and formulated theories about who could be behind it.

Similarly, when 9/11 occurred, I would watch the Michael Moore film “Fahrenheit 9/11″ and even purchase another “conspiracy possible” dvd. I would note the little puffs of smoke that you still see when watching the World Trade Center buildings collapse, in proper order from the top down, suggesting that the way the buildings collapsed was a professional demolition job, actually caused by explosives planted much earlier in the buildings instead of “decoration” attacks by planes hijacked by “terrorists” to make things “look good”. So I will be the type of person who will tell you that Kennedy died because of a conspiracy and that all the evidence of 9/11 points to President Bush blowing up his own buildings in order to justify a war on Iraq.

The Americans have been masters in concealing the truth about these kind of things. The real decisions about who lives and who dies are made behind the scenes, behind closed doors out of sight. For example, when 9/11 occurred, media dissidents were conveniently fired or muzzled. Despite the recent releases of new information about the Kennedy assassination it is doubtful that the full truth is still known and it is a similar situation for 9/11. One such similar occurrence (not involving the United States) was suggested in the British miniseries “Fall Of Eagles”, when a rich “socialist” who wanted to have a Bolshevik revolution in Russia was actually brought into the presence of Kaiser William II in Germany to get permission to smuggle Vladimir Lenin, then living in exile in Switzerland, back into Russia by means of the famous “sealed railway car” trip through Germany. The Kaiser gave his reluctant assent but feared the consequences. Thus the decision to allow a Communist Russian Revolution to occur was actually made by the German Kaiser who needed to get Russia defeated and out of World War I.

If such backroom decisions and pressure were practiced on Gary Bettman and the NHL by the American government, so far as any decision to pull out of the 2018 Winter Olympics occurred, it is doubtful if the public will find out the truth for a long, long, time, if ever. Before Pence appeared at the Olympics, I had not given the possibility any thought, but when he appeared, it made me reconsider everything. And when thought of logically, there is a real possibility it might have occurred.

Why should Bettman, who has been actively trying to improve international hockey by bringing back the World Cup, allowing NHL regular season games to be played in Europe again, and playing exhibition games in China, suddenly take an extreme, negative decision that badly hurts international hockey? One of the reasons given is that the time zone of the South Korean Olympics is poor for American television ratings. But Bettman hinted that the NHL might go back to the next Olympic Games which will be held in Beijing China, the same time zone. So that excuse makes no sense. And why would Bettman who is a good businessman want to snub a potential great new market for the NHL of 50 million? That’s a poor business decision and Bettman is smarter than that. Why would the Commissioner who needs to see international hockey grow, snub a nation which has raised its standard of play to at least the “B level”?

Like the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 disaster, only a few people know the real truth. If such pressure occurred then Bettman, a few NHL insider intimates, plus representatives from the American government will know. As far as I know, nobody has asked them and if asked, they will probably deny it. As usual, this kind of event does not look good on America. To return the beginning of the article, the official story might be true… or it might not.

 

Greatest Chicago Blackhawk Era Is Over

Sometimes one game tells the truth about an entire situation that nobody wanted to believe, that fans, players, owners, coaches, and management desperately did not want to admit. Arizona 6 Chicago 1 was one such game. To lose that badly to the worst team in the NHL can only mean one thing in Chicago: The greatest era in Blackhawks era is finally over and it’s time to rebuild.

Unless they are traded to other teams, there will be no more Stanley Cups for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marion Hossa (not playing this year), Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. For them, the next glorious moment will be their induction into the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Nobody wants to admit this. Nobody wants to believe that the invincibles who carried the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups are now mortal and can’t do it anymore.

It is not the coach or management’s fault. Coach Joel Quenneville, a proven Stanley Cup winning coach is still coaching the same way but he cannot prevent every key player getting old at the same time and that the new players Chicago has brought in are unable to accept a passed torch. A few years ago, this was Detroit’s situation and now they are in the midst of a thorough rebuild. Now it will be Chicago’s turn.

The revelation began with the unexpected shameful playoff sweep by Nashville, a team they used to beat easily in the post season, in the very first round of last year’s playoffs. Chicago had been leading the Western Conference last year and had been favored to play Pittsburgh in the Final, if not win the Stanley Cup. Not only was Chicago swept, but they were humiliated in the process. The Blackhawks have never recovered from the shock.

As when I was writing about the Detroit situation, it is not time to condemn or accuse but to salute. So far in the long history of the Chicago Blackhawks, this core of players has been the best team ever assembled. The closest Blackhawk team was the group built around the Bobby Hull-Stan Mikita combination. But they only won the Stanley Cup once – and that was when they were an underdog. For the rest of the Hull-Mikita era, the Blackhawks would pile up impressive regular season statistics (like today’s Washington Capitals) and then blow it in the playoffs. Hull and Mikita would set new individual scoring records. But teams like Toronto which had far less talent than the Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup. A later team built around Denis Savard would accomplish nothing. The Blackhawks would have to wait nearly 50 years for a champion again.

But this team with Toews as its centerpiece would win. When the Pittsburgh Penguins built around the Crosby-Malkin axis and who were expected to dominate this era began to stumble, the Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings stepped into the breach and seized the Stanley Cup for themselves. They have squeezed the most they could get out of themselves while it was possible. All the players on this team who once won the Stanley Cup can retire knowing they got almost the maximum they could get. They can hang up their skates with some satisfaction. It is very different for one of their main rivals, the Vancouver Canucks – built around the Sedin brothers – and most of the other teams in the current NHL. Their players have passed through NHL history with nothing to show.

It is always sad when the end of an era is coming. The atmosphere changes and becomes depressing. Nobody likes losing. Players with memories of the glorious immediate past will cry in anguish about 6-1 defeats to the worst team in the league. The Blackhawks will miss the playoffs for the first time since Toews became captain of the team. It is over and now it is time to rebuild. But it was good while it lasted.

 

Though Not Stated, The NHL Is Bursting At The Seams For An Expansion To 40 Teams Within Two Decades

After the failure of the last NHL expansion, probably due to the refusal of the investment world to accept a $500 million expansion fee, Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly stated that the NHL is not pursuing expansion at the present time. But right now he has got potential expansion proposals crawling out of the woodwork. Seattle is almost certain to become the 32nd NHL team which finally balances the conferences and makes realignment possible, and at least 3 almost certain expansion/relocation cities, Quebec City, Houston, and Hartford have expressed active interest in getting an NHL franchise. (I’ll deal with these individually later.)

As mentioned many times in other articles, as early as 2010 when Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission (fan base, proper arena, suitable ownership), the NHL was prepared to dramatically expand the league. At the time, the NHL had 30 teams, so their offer to readmit 3 cities meant that the NHL would have 33 teams, one more than the current 32 NFL limit. This amount of expansion implied that the NHL would also realign, probably into an NFL structure, though with 5 teams in each of the new 8 divisions, to the next symmetrical number of 40.

Unfortunately, an ownership crisis developed in Atlanta and Winnipeg had to be used to resolve the problem. Actually the NHL wanted an expansion team in Winnipeg, not a relocated Atlanta Thrashers. There is a similar problem today in Phoenix and a potential expansion city will probably have to be used to relocate the Coyotes. With the admission of Seattle, the problem of balancing the conferences is at last solved. It is easy to predict future NHL expansion: There will be four new eastern and four new western teams added (though there is the possibility of Nashville being shifted east) until the 40 team mark is reached.

Commissioner Bettman could not be more delighted at the way things are turning out for him; even his new Seattle investors have upped his expansion fee to $650 million. But at least one city is going to get a bargain-basement relocated team at less price and there are still lots of issues to be resolved.

1. There are lots of rumors about an arena crisis in Calgary. Actually it is about a pouty Flames ownership that wants its cake and eat it too. They want a new arena built (at taxpayer expense, not themselves paying for it) simply because the Saddledome is over 3 decades old. But the Saddledome is actually one of the larger (over 19,000 seats) and better arenas in the NHL. Just what is wrong with it, the Flames ownership won’t say. If they laid out what is inadequate, probably a cheaper renovation could be negotiated. Meanwhile the Flames ownership makes relocation threats, knowing full well that the Saddledome could probably carry them for at least another decade without any problems. Nobody wants to tear down the 86 year old Empire State Building. By accepting Seattle with its renovated 55 year old arena, how can the NHL refuse a cheaper offer of renovating the 34 year old Saddledome instead of building a costly and maybe unnecessary new arena? The only true NHL arena problem is in Phoenix.

2. The only thing stopping Quebec from getting a team is the ownership factor. The local Quebec market is now over 800,000 and the entire market stretching west half way to Montreal and also including all eastern Quebec, plus the 4 Maritime provinces is several million. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena and gave it its blessing by awarding a World Cup exhibition game and allowing the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason games there. So the only objectionable factor is the owner. Pierre Karl Peladeau has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his public racist comments about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, his support of the Quebec separatist political party, and his general untrustworthiness. At the recent Centennial meetings in Montreal, Molson was seen publicly with Gary Bettman many times but Peladeau was as usual nowhere in sight. A suitable ownership bid from Quebec City means that the Nordiques return to the NHL tomorrow. Quebec is a prime candidate for the relocated Coyotes and it would not be surprising if the Coyotes come at the same time as two more western expansion cities (one probably Houston) get added to the league.

3. Since the NHL is ready to accept an old renovated arena in Seattle (55 years old) instead of a new arena, there should be no objections to Hartford renovating the XL Center which is 41 years old. The Seattle project at least is highly dubious because it will produce an arena that will make it the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL. For the money that they are planning to spend, it would be better if Seattle built a new, modern arena instead. The Hartford renovation must increase the seating capacity of the XL Center.

4. Bettman could not be more delighted that the Houston Rockets of the NBA were sold and now the market has a friendly arena owner in Tilman Fertitta. The NHL has long wanted Houston in the league to be a rival for Dallas and has regretted turning down the bungled attempt by the WHA Aeros in the 1970s to get in. Houston is the largest American city without NHL hockey and it is only a matter of time now, like Seattle, before it gets its franchise. Probably Bettman is only waiting for the token Seattle approval process to conclude before making a formal Houston expansion announcement. Given Bettman’s new policy of negotiating NHL expansion secretly instead of the traditional way of announcing a competition for expansion that failed so miserably last time when the NHL could only get Las Vegas, it might not be inaccurate to conclude that Houston has already been secretly accepted, a “done deal” like the ones that were being proclaimed on the Internet and in the press before the last expansion was announced.

5. The happiest development for Bettman is what the new Seattle expansion means. During the last disastrous Las Vegas expansion, the investment world told him and his $500 million expansion fee to take a hike. But the breach in the wall by Seattle gives Bettman the last laugh. He can now expand the NHL to 40 teams and who knows what the final expansion fee for the 40th team might be? Thanks to Seattle, he and the NHL are getting their cake and eating it too.

What are my predictions? The NHL is on its way to becoming a 40 team league within the next two decades in a realigned NFL structure, the only difference being that each division will have 5 teams instead of 4. There will be a few stopping points along the way. Right now I think this initial phase of expansion will temporarily halt at 34 teams before resuming once the new franchises get settled and consolidated. That means that Houston, if they find a suitable owner will be the next NHL team, and Quebec City, keeping the existing Arizona ownership which means Pierre Karl Peladeau is finally out of the picture, will get the Coyotes. Since the NHL wants to keep 2 balanced conferences, the only mystery is what other western American city will be Houston’s expansion partner. My guess is it will be one of Portland, San Diego, Oklahoma City or Kansas City. And our behind-the-scenes man, Bettman has already been negotiating with at least one of them, waiting to proclaim their chance, along with Houston to apply for an NHL franchise once the token Seattle approval process is finished.

Then after a few years the NHL will accept Hartford’s renovated arena and be forced to grit its teeth and tell the Calgary Flames to make some terms about a Saddledome renovation. By then other cities will be even more hungry for an NHL team. In Canada, once the Quebec City situation is cleared up, the next city will be second southern Ontario (probably Hamilton) or second Montreal. Whoever are the three western American city losers will be even more ripe for the taking. Milwaukee and San Francisco are building new arenas but they may be too small and too basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Saskatoon and Spokane are long term possibilities.

And NHL expansion will have repercussions outside of the league. MLB, envious and admiring at what the NHL doing, can’t wait to make Montreal and Portland its next expansion cities. And the NBA, also wanting to reach at least 32 teams and realign won’t be long following the other two leagues. For them, Seattle is the obvious western choice but they have to like what they are seeing in NHL Las Vegas. Perhaps a four team NBA expansion is on the horizon.

There may be other surprise bidders for an NHL team, right now unforseen. The only thing for certain is that a 40 team NHL within two decades is on the table. The questions to be settled are who, where, when, how much, and in what order.

 

NHL International Games Are Good – To A Point

Once again Gary Bettman does the right thing to a limited point. The success of this year’s return of the NHL playing regular season games in Europe – two games by Ottawa and Colorado – to a sold out crowd in Stockholm, Sweden, prompted the NHL to double its European investment next year. At this year’s All Star Game, Bettman took the opportunity to announce that Edmonton and New Jersey will play games in Stockholm next year, while the Winnipeg Jets will play the Florida Panthers in Helsinki, Finland.

It’s a good move by the NHL, not only recognizing the contributions from its European stars, but also with an eye to the future if one day a European branch of the NHL becomes feasible. Unlike the NFL which has staged too many games between the bottom of the barrel teams in London for the liking of British fans, the NHL is at least making an effort to send decent matches to Europe.

But Bettman’s choice of teams seem to be based on nationality, rather than current record. For Finnish fans, they get to see Patrik Laine of Winnipeg and Aleksander Barkov of Florida again. For Swedish fans, New Jersey and Edmonton have Marcus Johansson, Jesper Bratt, Adam Larsson, and Oscar Klefborn. Actually, if these games were based on what was really relevant, the story would be about Canada’s best young player, Connor McDavid, coming to Stockholm to play against his old Edmonton star teammate, Taylor Hall. Bettman is throwing that match-up in as almost icing on the cake.

Edmonton will also play a preseason game in Germany, and New Jersey will play one in Switzerland. All these games will increase the NHL’s popularity in Europe and enhance the game of hockey – except it still doesn’t deal with the heart of the problem that has been stunting the growth of hockey outside of the traditional “Big 7″ countries since before the Canada-USSR match of 1972. The main reason why hockey has not grown in popularity internationally is that no action has been taken to raise the standard of play in any country outside of the “big 7″. Over the past four decades, the NHL has hosted clinics, sent out-of-work NHL coaches, and now plays preseason and regular season games in Europe, but the quality of play in countries other than the “Big 7″ remains inferior.

Bettman himself recognized this problem when he revived the World Cup in 2016 and created two hybrid teams, Europe and North America to fill out his roster instead of inviting more national teams from other countries. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. Bettman did not want any boring mismatches between “Big 7″ countries and “B Level” teams as was seen at the recent World Junior Championships. But that decision means that quality hockey is confined to a meager seven countries. International hockey will never increase in stature until the quality of hockey is improved outside of the “Big 7″. In particular, there are more than a dozen “B Level” countries, immediately below the “Big 7″ who could really spread and enhance international hockey if their quality of play was raised to the level where they had a real chance to win medals in important international tournaments.

Which brings this article to the third part of Bettman’s important international announcements. The NHL will play exhibition games in China again. This is money talking. China is nowhere near the level of even the “B Level” countries, but it is the biggest market in the world and Bettman wants the NHL to tap into it. Playing preseason games there may help international hockey a tiny bit in the long term but nothing like raising up the quality of play in the “B Level” countries right now. But China’s market is more important to the NHL than the “B Levels”. The NHL won’t dare snub China the way they snubbed South Korea by pulling out of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The result is that we have the NHL Commissioner with the best of intentions doing many things right to help the growth of international hockey except the one thing that could help it the most, improving the standard of play below the “Big 7″, particularly in the large number of “B Level” countries, including South Korea. All the random, inconsistent, hodge podge efforts of the past four decades simply don’t work. In over 45 years, the “Big 7″ can’t even grow to a “Big 8″. There has to a concerted plan in place to improve the quality of international hockey. Until the NHL and the international powers that be recognize that the quality of play is a serious problem and needs to be dealt with, the growth of hockey will remain stunted. The NHL deserves a few pat on the backs for playing regular season games in Finland and Sweden, but they would deserve a few more accolades if they faced up to the main problem of international hockey and dealt effectively with it.

 

Carolina/Hartford: A House Divided Cannot Stand…

I’m addressing this article to the new Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon. Are you really a Carolina Hurricanes fan? Do you really want to make things work in Raleigh? Or do you want to move the team back to Hartford?

In less than a month after purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos who remains a substantial shareholder, Dundon, who comes from Texas wants to bring back some nostalgia from his new team’s history by wearing old uniforms. There is nothing wrong with that. All seven original teams (including Ottawa) sometimes wear brand new “old” uniforms when they play games. And other NHL franchises who have now been around for a while haul out old uniforms for nostalgia and marketing purposes. Selling nostalgia can be a great way of making extra money. Fanatical fans can now own and wear two or more jerseys, the current model and the oldie.

Hurricanes

But Dundon has put a new twist on nostalgia. He wants to sell, wear, and even play games in uniforms in the Hurricanes original incantation, the Hartford Whalers. Almost every old uniform of every team since the original expansion of 1967 can be purchased somewhere, particularly in sports stores in hockey-mad cities like Toronto. Now Dundon wants to officially sell old Hartford uniforms in Raleigh at games and even do something unprecedented in ANY of the four major professional sports in North America, have the home team play home games in the uniforms of another city.

whalers

This may be a nostalgia money maker but it probably won’t be a big one. How is playing games in Hartford uniforms supposed to start a rebirth of hockey in Raleigh? It makes sense to play games in old Hurricanes uniforms if they exist, but this ploy of playing in Hartford uniforms, if it comes off has to be at least a minimum bewildering act for Hurricanes fans under the new regime which can also be taken as an act of hostility or worse. It came hardly be interpreted as an act that commits the NHL to keep playing in Raleigh.

I doubt if the NHL will allow it if they are serious about keeping the Hurricanes in Raleigh and because it opens up a hornet’s nest. Taken to its logical conclusion, will we see games in which Calgary wears Atlanta uniforms, the Colorado Avalanche wearing the old blue and white of the Quebec Nordiques, Dallas wearing Minnesota North Stars uniforms, etc.? Here’s a couple of fun possibilities. The Winnipeg Jets playing an away game at Arizona only to see the Coyotes come out in old Jet uniforms, so that the Jets can play the Jets. And New Jersey can double the pleasure. All the forwards will wear Colorado Rockie uniforms while the defense and goaltender wear the old logo of the Kansas City Scouts.

And why stop there. Just because your current team once played in another city, why should it be limited to playing games in that old city’s uniforms? What’s wrong with the Montreal Canadiens paying tribute to their old provincial rivals, the Quebec Nordiques who are currently trying to return to the NHL, by playing some of their home games in Nordique jerseys? If they have a particularly bad game, they can always pretend they lost because they were wearing the uniforms of their hated rival. And how about some city bringing back some uniforms that at present can’t be brought back by any team. Who would like to see their home team wearing the jerseys of the old California Golden Seals and the Cleveland Barons?

This is an imaginative, but destructive idea. Sell old Hartford jerseys in Raleigh if you must, but don’t play any games in them. This is a new situation. You are supposed to be burning your past bridges and starting afresh with new hope. I doubt if Gary Bettman will warm to this idea. I can remember reading a book about the Green Bay Packers who had a few bad seasons in the 1950s, just like the Hurricanes have recently been experiencing, and then when Vince Lombardi took over the team in 1959, one of his first tasks was to make the Packer players proud of wearing Green Bay uniforms again. Instead we have Dundon who just bought the team telling his players to wear uniforms from another city. That’s a wonderful way of getting the citizens of Raleigh-Durham to identify with the Hurricanes.

The other thing that has to be considered is what effect does this “promotion” have in Hartford? It is known that Hartford and the state of Connecticut are finally taking active steps to bring back the Whalers, including a major renovation of their old arena. As mentioned in another article, all they lack is a good owner to front an expansion bid or bring back a relocated team. Have they just found one in Dundon?

Can you imagine if Dundon decided to have the Hurricanes wear Quebec Nordiques uniforms instead of the Hartford Whalers? In Quebec City, they would almost start to consider printing tickets for next season’s return to the NHL and even ask Dundon if some, if not all remaining Hurricanes home games for this season be played in Quebec City. Hey Dundon, how about playing some Hurricanes games in the uniforms of the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL? After the agony of the Phoenix Coyotes debacle and all the other times Hamilton has been kicked around by the NHL, if you brought the Hurricanes to Hamilton instead of Quebec and Hartford, you’d be worshiped as a saint.

 

Bettman To Seattle: Hurry Up And Get Your Token Approval Process Over With; Then The NHL Can Have… More Expansion?

Apart from awarding San Jose next year’s All Star Game, for me at least, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made two significant announcements at this year’s All Star Game in Tampa Bay; one international (the subject of a future article), and one about the future of the NHL which is the subject of this article. In his polite terms: Seattle submit your bid and get your season ticket drive (like the one Las Vegas held) started and over with as soon as possible.

As I’ve said in a few articles on this blog, once the world learned that the NHL wants Seattle to become its 32nd team, the NHL will not be refunding $650 million back to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. Bettman and the NHL Governors want to welcome them to the NHL Board as soon as possible and only a major catastrophe (like discovering that Bruckheimer and Bonderman share the same sentiments of Pierre Karl Peladeau, the unwanted Quebec City bidder) will stop Seattle. But scooping up that expansion fee may not be the main reason for hurrying things along. In a recent article, I’ve speculated that the NHL wants Seattle over and done with so that they can expand further and possibly solve their two remaining major problems in Quebec City and Phoenix.

I strongly suspect that Houston is already one of the those “done deals” that the Internet and hockey media were announcing before the disappointing attempt at expansion that only brought in Las Vegas. And I have further speculated that by adding yet another American western city as well as Houston, the NHL which wants balanced conferences can then switch the Arizona Coyotes who have probably a 0% chance of getting money to build a new downtown Phoenix arena, the key to their survival, to the east as a revived Quebec Nordiques team, thus cutting out the unwanted Peladeau who has a stack of enemies on the NHL Board. And to follow that up, most likely there will be some kind of NHL realignment, as yet unannounced, probably into an NFL type structure that will allow the NHL to expand easily to 40 teams.

All these potential wonderful events are of course being done behind closed doors, out of the sight of the media and Internet by Bettman and his agents. Out of nowhere came the announcement that Tilman Fertitta, the new owner of the NBA Houston Rockets wants an NHL team as a tenant in his Houston arena. And a few weeks later came the unexpected news that the NHL had given its blessing to Bonderman and Bruckheimer to start getting Seattle into the NHL. Unlike the open attempt to recruit new franchises that ended in the humiliating failure of getting only Las Vegas, Bettman has switched to working behind the scenes and taking everyone by surprise. So a Houston/second American western city expansion and an Arizona-to-Quebec possibility are well within the realm of speculation. And it wouldn’t surprise me that another one of my speculations – Patrick Roy who was happy coaching the Colorado Avalanche for his friend, General Manager Joe Sakic and then suddenly without good reason abruptly quit – will be involved in a revived Quebec franchise with Sakic’s (an ex-Nordique himself) knowledge and blessing.

As a soothsayer, I could be wrong. I’m not infallible like Paul the Octopus. It’s just that what I’ve speculated makes the most sense based on three known facts: The NHL wants to expand to at least 36 teams, probably 40 and it is well known that there are several hungry cities like Seattle, Houston, and Las Vegas that want to join the league under right terms; the NHL wants to realign into a more manageable structure that will allow expansion to 40 teams to take place easily; and the NHL wants Quebec back in the league with a suitable owner and also wants to solve its Phoenix problem one way or the other.

For my theory to be proved, the only real mystery for me is which other American western city wants to join Houston. Here again everything is being conducted behind closed doors so it is difficult to get an accurate picture to what is going on. I’ve narrowed it down to four cities but I could be wrong. In my opinion, Portland is the best American city after Seattle without NHL hockey. There’s talk that San Diego which recently lost its beloved NFL Chargers wants to build a modern arena. It would not surprise me that Bettman, who loves new arenas has already been secretly in touch with this potential San Diego bidder. Oklahoma City which failed to get an NHL franchise in 2000 and instead grabbed the NBA Seattle Supersonics is a good possibility. And there still sits Kansas City with its forlorn new arena awaiting a permanent tenant. Who would be Houston’s western expansion partner? For now I would bet on Portland or San Diego. But I’m not infallible.

And if we want to speculate beyond the current round of four new franchises plus a relocation to Quebec, it would not surprise me that Bettman has secretly been in touch with Hartford, the other former NHL city he visited in 2010 and gave them advice and encouragement about how to get themselves a proper arena and a suitable owner. And once the Quebec problem is settled, in Canada there is always Hamilton or some other southern Ontario city there for the taking. So Seattle get your rump in gear and get this token approval process over with. There are plenty of other delicious morsels on the NHL’s plate and Gary Bettman can’t wait to get at them.

 

Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 12: More Garbage On The Way From The Good Ol’ USA

In my last article in this series, I told about the panel that comes with Windows 10 that lists articles of contemporary news. And I mentioned that the sports section seldom carries any hockey stories. Right now with Seattle getting a new franchise and Houston possibly the next one, you read nothing about it. At the midpoint of the NHL season, there is nothing about scoring leaders, injuries, individual teams, or any feats that occurred during the previous night’s games.

Today in the sports section with nearly 30 articles listed, there was only one about hockey, that the Colorado Avalanche now had a ten game winning streak. Ah but don’t despair hockey lovers, I discovered one more article on the panel, this time in the entertainment section. With all the important developments and games occurring in the NHL and elsewhere, what’s the most important thing about hockey that the American media feels is necessary for fans to know? How many of you guessed that what is most important to American fans is that network television wants to bring back the Mighty Ducks of movie fame in a weekly television series.

Yes that American mythical sports monument to American hip hip hooray jingoism is being considered as a weekly sitcom. What’s next, the Bad News Bears as a miniseries? I have never seen a Mighty Ducks movie but I have read the several reviews in Canadian newspapers to get the picture. It’s always the same. Those lovable Ducks take on some villainous European team, probably Russia and win the World Championship. Canada always manages to get defeated off camera by either Russia or some other villainous European team, so it is up to the Ducks to save the world. To this date, the Ducks have yet to play a Canadian team. Disney, the creator of the Ducks doesn’t want to offend and lose the Canadian market.

Meanwhile what goes on in reality? Most of the top American players that play in the NHL or internationally got their junior development by playing in the CHL, Canada’s top junior league that has a few American franchises near the Canadian border. Both American and European boys are anxious to get into the CHL which probably has the best junior development program in the world. If an American or European boy does well in the league that has most of Canada’s top juniors, it is almost a certain ticket that he will become a high NHL draft choice. As my colleague on this blog, Sam Happi will tell you, many of the top juniors for next year’s NHL draft are Europeans playing on Canadian or American franchises in the CHL.

Just what does an American or European boy have to go through? Most likely he will be taken in by a Canadian family in the Canadian town he plays for and try to fit into a strange environment with the new “foster family” that is sponsoring him. He will have to go to a Canadian high school to make sure his education is up to stuff. He will learn about a country’s history he is unfamiliar with, learn about its culture, and in many cases have to learn one if not two languages, English and French.

It probably hasn’t occurred to the potential revivers of the Mighty Ducks that the vast majority of Canadians live close to the American border and are bound to see this American “patriotic” sports comedy on American television. Are the Ducks going to finally play a Canadian team? If so, how are Canadians going to react if they are portrayed as the “bad guys”? And will the Ducks defeat them or will the game diplomatically end in a tie? If the Ducks win and are acclaimed the best in the world, how does this match up to reality in which the United States finished third at the recent World Junior Championship (though they did beat Canada in a game decided by a shoot-out) and even worse, lost every game at the revived World Cup which Canada won? Such a television series is bound to be treated with mild amusement at best by Canadians, more likely with scorn and ridicule, if not worse.

More importantly, how is this type of thing going to help American boys coming to Canada to learn skills in the CHL, who just want to fit in and be friends, to get along with and be part of their new foster family? The last thing these boys need is an American hockey television series in which the Americans lord it down on everybody else. These boys are coming to Canada to learn, to be friends with their new Canadian family and their Canadian and European teammates. They don’t need this kind of embarrassment. But this is typical of a country where the teams that win in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB are proclaimed “World” Champions even though there are only two international teams, both located in Toronto that compete for the top trophy. The NHL does it too, but in more recent decades with the influx of American and European players, the term “Stanley Cup Champions” instead of “World Champions” is preferred.

Bringing back the Ducks won’t help the NHL or its commissioner, Gary Bettman either. Bettman has a bad image in Canada where he is unfairly perceived to lead a gang of American owners who pursue “anti-Canadian” policies. It’s a false myth, encouraged by the owners of the NHL’s Canadian franchises who have repeatedly thwarted attempts to place more Canadian franchises in the NHL. Cooking up this anti-Canadian myth gets them off the hook. Bringing back the Ducks is only going to encourage this myth. This is the last thing Bettman needs.

The Duck myth only emphasizes the low status of the NHL and hockey in the United States. Why doesn’t American television make up a sitcom about football and basketball instead of hockey? Because they can get away with it better if they choose low-status, fourth-ranked hockey. Actually a more intelligent television series would be one about an American boy coming to Canada to learn hockey skills and then trying fit in with his new hockey foster family and a strange environment. Or if it must be a sitcom, showing these problems in a humorous way.

Instead American television wants to bring back a stupid piece of “patriotic” rubbish that bears no relation to reality and has the potential to make relations between Americans living abroad in Canada decidedly uncomfortable. And American hockey can do better to correct its recent sinking ship than to spend time spewing out unrealistic sports propaganda that is only going to bring contempt and ridicule to America. This week, the NHL has its All Star game in Tampa Bay. There is nothing reported on the panel about it. There are no articles about the success of the new franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Nothing about the problems of the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes. Nothing about the current injuries in the NHL. Nothing about the New York Islanders building a new arena. Nothing about anything important in hockey. But the Mighty Ducks might be coming back. That’s all that matters.

 

Horrible One-Sided Trade For The Ottawa Senators

It was not a happy Hockey Day In Canada for the Ottawa Senators. On the very day that the Senators and their prized acquisition, Matt Duchene blew yet another two goal league to arch-rival, Toronto, Duchene’s old team, the Colorado Avalanche won their ninth straight game, putting themselves in a playoff position, while the Senators drop further away out of sight.

Ottawa must still be reeling from the shock. Nobody would have predicted such a one-sided trade. What’s even more horrible is that Ottawa was supposed to be the big winner. To recap: Ottawa got Duchene from Colorado in return for a bunch of players and at the same time let Kyle Turris go to Nashville. To rub it in, Nashville is now leading their division and Turris has made a significant contribution, while the Senators have got virtually nothing from Duchene.

Getting Duchene made sense for Ottawa. Last year in the playoffs they solidly defeated a tough Boston Bruins team and then pulled off one of the two major upsets of the Stanley Cup tournament by ousting the New York Rangers. The Senators weren’t through either. They proved to be Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins toughest opponent, going toe to toe with them for the maximum seven games and only losing in double overtime. To General Manager Pierre Dorion, the difference in that series was that the Penguins had two superstar players at forward, Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, arguably the best player in the world and the best European player in the world. Dorion figured that if he could acquire a superstar forward of his own, it would be the final piece of the puzzle that would put Ottawa past Pittsburgh and give them a Stanley Cup to match their recent Grey Cup. Dorion was not alone in such thinking. Many fans, coaches, media, other general managers, etc. believed it too.

So with the best will in the world, Dorion looked around for a superstar forward. The biggest prize available seemed to be Matt Duchene who was rumored to be available for the right price. In a way, Colorado was trying to imitate the Pittsburgh formula for building a Stanley Cup champion, by molding a team around two superstar forwards, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. But the Pittsburgh formula was not working in Denver and the Avalanche finished near the bottom of the standings last year. It was rumored that Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic had made Duchene – significantly not MacKinnon – available for a trade.

Sakic obviously made a sound assessment of his club. As things would turn out he picked the right source for the “cancer” on the team and then kept the result close to the chest. His accurate assessment qualifies him to being named this year’s top General Manager of the NHL, in conjunction with Las Vegas General Manager George McPhee. One only has to compare the result of Sakic’s diagnosis with that of Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin who targeted P.K. Subban as the scapegoat for Montreal missing the playoffs two years  ago and shipped him to – a potential deja vu for Dorion – Nashville. And today, both Ottawa and Montreal are out of the playoffs by a wide margin while the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche soar.

So without divulging the reason for his assessment, Sakic held out until he got what he believed was the right equivalent for Duchene and then let him go to Ottawa. Nobody flinched at the move. As an added incentive, getting Duchene would seem to be a way for Ottawa Senator owner, Eugene Melnyk to tell local Ottawa politicians, “We’re serious about winning the Stanley Cup. Now provide funds for building a new arena.”

For Duchene, perhaps it meant he was now going to be released from playing under the shadow of MacKinnon and be given his own team to lead. But instead of responding to the challenge, Duchene has failed to produce and Ottawa, once so close it seemed to the Stanley Cup now finds itself in the dregs of the league. Nobody would have predicted this. It was supposed to be a win-win-win trade for every team. Instead Ottawa stands fleeced.

Who do you blame? How can you blame coach Guy Boucher who got his team to respond so well in the playoffs last year and until Duchene appeared, had the Senators in playoff contention this year? Obviously Dorion is going to get a lot of blame, but other NHL general managers, coaches, media, fans too numerous to count, believed in Duchene too. Duchene was coveted by a lot of teams. This trade seems to prove Sakic’s worth as a general manager, rather than any deficiency by Pierre Dorion. And owner Melnyk approved the trade for the arena reasons listed above. There have been no further moves since the trade by Ottawa. Probably the results have left the owner, general manager, coach and the rest of the team in shock, stunned.

As to why Duchene has proven to be not what he was projected to be, there you have me. Obviously I am not close to the Senators. I am not acquainted with Duchene personally so I cannot accurately access why he failed to respond in his new environment. Obviously Sakic and the Avalanche management had come to believe that he was not what he was projected to be and wanted him gone and carefully and wisely kept it to themselves. They were lying in wait, ready to take advantage when any inquiring general manager like Pierre Dorion came calling.

So most of the blame clearly falls on Duchene. A lot of people are going to be refining their judgment and assessments about him. There is no way Ottawa is going to get what they paid for if they try to trade him. If he became a free agent, there is no way he is going to command the salary he once seemed to merit. Unless he turns things around, his value on the NHL market will take a severe drop.

Unless Duchene becomes what he was projected to be, this trade will become one of the worst or best in NHL history, depending on who you are cheering for. Not even the Gretzky trade of 1988 was so one-sided. Edmonton won one more Stanley Cup without Gretzky, while he failed to take the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup. So far, a more accurate trade to compare this one to was the one in which the Chicago Blackhawks traded Phil Esposito to the Boston Bruins. Esposito subsequently became the NHL scoring champion and Boston won two Stanley Cups while Chicago had to wait over 40 years until the days of Jonathan Toews to win the Cup again.

Right now it is a nightmare to play for or be part of the ownership, management, and coaching staff of the Ottawa Senators. A logical trade, one that most people might have predicted that Ottawa would win has blown up to catastrophic proportions. The team that seemed one step away from the Stanley Cup now has plunged into the depths of the NHL. And still worse, from Duchene’s point of view, they can accurately name the date of when it started to occur.

 

McDavid Years Are Not Imitating The Gretzky Years For The Edmonton Oilers

Danish hockey fans awaiting the World Championships in May, in Denmark are going to get an unexpected major, bonus, windfall for their tournament. They are going to get to see Canada’s best young player, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, arguably one of the two best players in the world today, along with Sydney Crosby, captain the Canadian team. That ought to boost ticket sales. The World Championship tournament will be the only significant, pressure games that McDavid will play this year.

Unless a miracle of a long winning streak(s) occur, the 2017-18 season is over for the Edmonton Oilers. Currently they are behind the top eight teams in the NHL Western Conference by more than 10 points – and four other teams are poised to pull away to be just as far if not farther. It is probably too late for Edmonton to catch them. For the remainder of the year, the Oilers will occupy a space with the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks, who are supposed to be where they are, far away from the top twelve teams in the conference and comfortably above the horrible Arizona Coyotes. That was expected of Vancouver, not Edmonton. Their unexpected drop has been the reverse equivalent of the success of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights. If one didn’t know any better, one would assume that the Knights were the established, rising power, while the Oilers were the new expansion team.

The fall of the Oilers is an unpredictable shock, and it has its Eastern Conference match in the Buffalo Sabres. Both teams were supposed to be building around two rising young stars, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel but instead of moving forward from the progress they have made, both teams have dramatically regressed and are now top contenders to land the supposed number one draft choice, Rasmus Dalhin of Sweden. But in McDavid’s case, he also carries two burdens; first being the projected successor to Sydney Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain (the line of Canada’s top players, head and shoulders above everybody else, starting with Maurice Richard) which includes Wayne Gretzky; and second, being Gretzky’s heir in Edmonton. Gretzky himself is back with the Oilers and is acting as McDavid’s mentor.

mcdavid

Much of the blame for the current unexpected result will fall on coach Todd McLellan who has an undistinguished record as a head coach at the NHL level. Unless that miraculous winning streak occurs, he is probably a goner at the end of this season. Dan Bylsma, ironically the fired coach of the Buffalo Sabres, whom impatient owner Terry Pegula abruptly dismissed, who once won the Stanley Cup with Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, ought to be a leading candidate to replace him. But the real problem that General Manager Peter Chiarelli has to determine is if changing coaches is the only problem.

This situation is in direct contrast with the Gretzky years in Edmonton, which proceeded on schedule like an upward Bell Curve. Except for one hiccup, a shocking playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 1982 playoffs (which included the legendary “Miracle on Manchester” game of Los Angeles Kings’ lore), it was onward and upward for Gretzky and the Oilers until he was shockingly traded in 1988. There were no regressions like McDavid is currently suffering.

Gretzky

Gretzky had entered the NHL with the merger of the WHA league in 1980 and under the merger terms, the four new franchises, Edmonton, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford were severely stripped of most of their players. The Oilers were allowed to retain Gretzky and because of him, they never missed the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the very early years, the Oilers status was that of a very bad playoff team that always lost in the first round, but during their third year, the Oilers, heavy underdogs, upended the declining Montreal Canadiens of the legendary Guy Lafleur in the first playoff round and then seldom looked back.

The fall of the current Oilers could only be temporary. If the coach is the problem, an established winning coach like Bylsma could right the ship within one season and have the Oilers back to where they were projected to be as the coming powerhouse of the NHL. Every member of Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain won at least one Stanley Cup and the current disappointing season won’t dim those expectations in Edmonton. The real dilemma is finding out if there is more to the problem than the coach and that again sharply contrasts with the Gretzky years.

Perhaps the main contrast with the current McDavid years and the Gretzky years is that everything the Oilers touched with Gretzky turned to gold. Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, both goaltenders, Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr are only the up-front players. There was also Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen, Charlie Huddy… the list goes on and on.

In contrast, since the departure of Chris Pronger, the Oilers have a horrible record of developing players and nobody can say why. The latest problem child is Anton Slepyshev whom Chiarelli says is available for the right price. Four times, the Oilers had the overall number one pick in the NHL draft; McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov. Only Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid remain. Hall was the best of the bunch after McDavid, and is now recovering his status in New Jersey. Yakupov plays a minor role in Colorado and Nugent-Hopkins has never lived up to his status as the over-all number one pick.

Then it gets worse. The departed Ales Hemsky, San Gagner, and Jordan Eberle were the best of a bunch of forgettables. Also during this period, the Oilers have changed coaches, general managers, uniform colors, and even arenas. There is no magic like there was during the Gretzky years. And that is Chiarelli’s main problem. Is getting rid of McLellan enough? Or is there some kind of developmental or even spiritual problem, hard to identify, that has been poisoning the Oilers for over a decade? If the problem is more than the coach, it is going to be very difficult to identify it and root it out. The Oilers have been trying to find it without success for over a decade. Last year, it seemed they had finally got over the hump and were on their way, but this year…

There is a writer for this blog, Sam Happi that specializes in articles about draft picks and the development of young prospects. He has got some potential surreal articles coming up. Imagine, Danish fans getting to see one of Canada’s all time greatest players, Connor McDavid playing in their World Championship tournament in May. Imagine, Rasmus Dalhin, the projected number one pick in this year’s draft in Dallas lining up next year as McDavid’s teammate. None of this would have been predicted at the start of this season. It would have been treated like a joke or a prophet who had lost his marbles.

It’s no laughing matter for Edmonton fans. Is this just one bad year that can be blamed on a coach or is it the continuation of a nightmare that has been going on for over ten years, that nobody has ever found out why it keeps occurring?

 

As Predicted: The Carolina Hurricanes Aren’t Coming To Quebec City Or Hartford

The sale of the Carolina Hurricanes by Peter Karmanos to Tom Dundon means that at least for a while, the Hurricanes won’t be coming to either Quebec City or Hartford. Despite rumors that have arisen over the past few years, this writer at least has been steadfast in believing that the Hurricanes will stay in North Carolina despite the noticeable drop in attendance.

The main reason for the drop is not that hockey has become unpopular in North Carolina but because Carolina hasn’t iced a competitive team for almost a decade. During Karmanos’s last years, the Hurricanes declined from the peak of winning the Stanley Cup in 2002. The last sparkle was the Hurricanes getting to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009. Since then the Hurricanes could usually be found among the lower ranks of the Eastern Conference. No wonder attendance dropped off.

But if Dundon shows the same kind of competence that Bill Foley is showing in Las Vegas, there is no reason to believe that the fans won’t come back. Like the New York Islanders, who have struggled with attendance and arena problems since their peak years in the early 1980s, winning the Stanley Cup can go a long way to get a franchise to survive during tough times. The memory of winning seasons, can cause ex-attendee fans to remember back to the glory years and long for a champion again. Winning the Stanley Cup even once starts a championship tradition.

Certainly NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman believes in the power of a Stanley Cup victory. He was in attendance when Dundon was introduced, an open signal that he still believes in the Carolina market. Such optimism is completely missing in his two remaining trouble spots, Florida and especially Phoenix where no Stanley Cup banners hang in the local arena. A huge reason for the unpopularity of the Coyotes in Arizona is that they have only iced a competitive team once in their entire history. That’s not true in Carolina. The real danger sign that would threaten the franchise is if the Hurricanes start icing playoff teams again and the fans still don’t return.

Dundon is in a good situation to take over. The Hurricanes are starting to be competitive again. Currently, they have at least a 50% chance of making the playoffs this year and for sure baring injury, of at least being competitive for the last playoff positions. What they really need in this market are star players who are box office draws. The Hurricanes are mostly no-names. Even if they miss the playoffs again this year, a good draft in Dallas and some astute trades could capture the imagination of hockey fans in Raleigh again.

As for Quebec and Hartford, despite the rumors over the past few years, they should now consider getting the Hurricanes to relocate to be a closed book, at least for now. What Hartford should be doing is trying to find a suitable investor like Foley and Dundon to front a Hartford bid for an NHL expansion franchise and coming to a final settlement about the Hartford arena problem. Both the mayor and the governor of Connecticut want the Whalers back as a key to reviving Hartford as a vibrant city. Hartford with a proper NHL arena and a suitable owner would be a winner, a sure money maker.

For Quebec, losing the Hurricanes relocation option simply narrows down the choices to get its beloved Nordiques back. Before proceeding any further, Quebec City fans should take note of this Dundon/Hurricanes press conference as another signal of the real reason why they don’t have the Nordiques back. Note that Commissioner Bettman was there in person, in whole-hearted support of Tom Dundon. Since when has he ever been seen in the company of the openly racist Pierre Karl Peladeau? The NHL loves the Quebec market and its brand new Videotron arena but wants nothing to do with the pro-separatist, would-be Nordiques owner Peladeau, who made inappropriate racist remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson, and has built up a stack of enemies on the NHL Board of Governors.

I’ve advanced the idea in other articles on this blog that Quebec’s best chance of getting the Nordiques back quickly would be if the NHL accepts the current Seattle bid, then adds two other Western Conference expansion teams, and then shifts the Arizona Coyotes to Quebec. This kills two birds with one stone. With the horrible team, the Coyotes are currently icing, there is no way they are going to get public money for building a new downtown Phoenix arena. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns want nothing to do with the Coyotes about building a new facility. Shifting the Coyotes out of Phoenix where they have no future to Quebec gets the NHL out of a hostile market and at the same time gets the unsuitable Peladeau out of the picture.

In support of this theory, the Seattle bid could not be more welcome for Quebec. So is the news that Houston wants to actively pursue getting an NHL franchise. It only remains to find a third western city that wants an NHL team. Unless some suitable French Canadian bidder who has been hiding in the shadows appears, at least for now, that is probably the best way the Nordiques will return to Quebec. But Carolina is now a dead issue. Hartford and Quebec have to look elsewhere.