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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Calgary, Hartford, Hamilton And Seattle All Now Lumped Together Under One Big Arena Mess

Ho Ho Ho! NHL (and other North American sport leagues) hypocrisy rides again. It centers about the issue of building sports arenas and stadiums and who should pay for them. In this year where the jolly old arrogant NFL stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their franchises just to please Los Angeles, a city that snubbed them for two decades, and plans to do the same to Oakland in the near future, we find four cites who either have or want an NHL franchise suddenly bound together on the issue of a new arena. It seems strange that we can lump all these diverse cities together but the issue is the same. And there is the same blackmail, lies, taxpayer burden, and hypocrisy tainting all four locations.

Calgary

It all starts in Calgary where the Flames ownership have engaged in “or else talk” to get a new arena built to replace the 34 year old Saddledome. On the table is a proposed combined NHL-CFL project (arena-stadium) called “Calgary Next” that will cost either $890 million (the proposers) or nearly $2 billion (the realists). Just to let everyone know where the NHL stands on this issue, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary earlier this year and urged the municipal powers that be to accept it. He loves new arenas like the ones in Las Vegas, Edmonton, and Detroit. He wants new ones built in Phoenix and Ottawa too.

But when you can’t agree on the real cost of a major project, it is not wise to start building until you get all the answers. Remember Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Toronto’s Skydome? They soared to $1 billion and $500 million before they were finished. Calgary officials and taxpayers have every reason to ask questions and proceed cautiously.

More importantly for this article, just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It has been renovated once and with over 19,000 seats, it is one of the bigger and better arenas in the NHL. Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL have specified what they are dissatisfied with and what has to be changed. All that’s been stated is that the building is too old at 34 years (How come the Empire State Building, etc. is still standing?) and if they don’t get their way, the Flames will consider moving. Perhaps if they would state what is wrong with the Saddledome, a much cheaper renovation could be made. But taking their cue from the arrogant NFL, the Flames ownership have issued a veiled “or else” ultimatum to try to blackmail the city and its taxpayers. They of course want nothing to do with building a new arena by themselves.

The Flames want to move because of the mere age of the building. But right now in Hartford and Seattle, officials plan to spend $250 million and $564 million to renovate a 41 year old building and a 55 year old building so that they can get an NHL franchise. And a few years ago, when Jim Balsille was vainly trying to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, its officials voted to spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to the current NHL median seating of 18,500. The Coyotes of course never came so the renovations were never made.

But if the NHL and the Flames can’t accept a 34 year old renovated Saddledome, how can the NHL accept the renovations of the XL Center and the Key Arena? If I’m a municipal official in Hartford and Seattle, acting responsibly on behalf of my taxpayer voters, I want to get something tangible for my money and that means a certain NHL franchise and nothing less. I don’t want to spend $250 million and $564 million and be told by the NHL that the changes made are unacceptable. I want answers right NOW before I spend a single penny. I’m not going to spend that amount of cash and get nothing to show for it. I want a straight and honest answer from the NHL. Are you going to accept a renovated “old” building or not? And if the answer is no, I’m not spending anything.

Seattle

There are other questions that should be answered right now, starting with seating capacity. That’s not an issue in Calgary and won’t be one in Hamilton or Hartford where the seating will be raised to 18,500 and 19,000. But it sure is one in Seattle. The proposed $564 million renovation will mean a seating capacity of only 17,100, making it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders who have just stated that if they get a favorable ruling, they intend to build a brand new arena at Belmont Park. Seattle’s “improved” renovated arena will be over a thousand seats less than the NHL median. And back to Hamilton, that’s less than the current seating capacity of Copps Coliseum which the NHL claims is unacceptable. The best this renovation can do is build a stopgap arena. Is this renovation really worth doing at that cost?

And most importantly, there’s the cost issue. As noted above, the weaselly Flames ownership doesn’t want to spend a single cent on a new arena but engages in veiled blackmail instead. If NHL hockey was not so important to Calgary, I’d show the door to the Flames ownership right now. I’m not going spend a single penny on either “Calgary Next” or just a new NHL arena until I know the true cost of building one. And if a much cheaper renovation of the Saddledome is more appropriate, that’s what I’ll do.

Hamilton

And for Hamilton, Hartford, and Seattle I’ve got some other questions. How come it only costs Hamilton $50 million to make Copps Coliseum an acceptable arena while it costs Hartford $250 million and Seattle $564 million for the same thing? How come it cost Las Vegas and Quebec City only $375 million to build a new arena while it has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million and the $564 million for just renovations in Seattle? I want answers NHL, and I want them NOW.

Hartford

So where do I stand on these issues?

Calgary:

I want to know just what the Flames ownership says is wrong with the Saddledome and if it is feasible, renovate the building again. I’ll only consider “Calgary Next” or other schemes if renovating the Saddledome is not feasible. And before I spend any money, I want to know the true cost of any new arena/stadium. If the Flames ownership is still not satisfied, I’d reluctantly show them the door. It would be just as damaging for them and the NHL to leave Calgary as it will be for the city.

Hamilton:

Stop kicking this city around NHL. Tell them that you will award them an expansion franchise based on the $50 million renovation. And tell Toronto and Buffalo to spell out reasonable compensation terms like what happened in New York and Los Angeles. This city should have been given a team long ago.

Hartford:

First I want to know if the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center or not. If they do, I will proceed with the $250 million renovation though I do want to know why Hamilton can renovate its arena so much more cheaply. If the NHL will not accept the renovation, I want to know why Quebec and Las Vegas can build acceptable arenas that are over $100 million less than the estimated cost of a proposed new Hartford arena. And when I get satisfactory answers for both the costs of renovation and building a new arena, I’ll proceed on that basis.

Seattle:

Scrap the renovation project. For the money they are willing to spend, tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new modern one on the site that has proper seating. And because the NBA will always have more seats in an arena than the NHL, build a new arena to get an NHL team first. The NBA will automatically be satisfied.

I want Calgary to keep its team and I want the other three cities plus Quebec into the NHL as soon as possible. But not at the cost of giving into blackmail and spending public tax dollars wastefully. To repeat, these cities want truthful answers NOW, NHL and they expect you to honor your word. They don’t want to be lied to in this day and age, when it is too late to turn back and leagues like the NFL are making suckers out of loyal fans and their public officials. They want something to show for their money, an NHL team playing in an acceptable arena. I don’t think that is too much to expect.

 

Seattle Has To Get NHL Answers NOW Before Renovating The Key Arena

Hard on the heels of Hartford renovating its 41 year old XL Center for $250 million comes the news that Seattle has given up trying to build a new arena and will renovate the existing 55 year old Key Arena instead. By the time the dust settles, the remodeled Key Arena will have approximately 18,300 seats for an NBA team and 17,100 seats for an NHL team. The renovation will cost $564 million. And it is being reported in Sports Illustrated at least that the plan is to get an NHL team first and then an NBA team.

It all sounds wonderful when you think about the positives. Seattle finally joins the NHL after becoming the first American city to win the Stanley Cup exactly a century ago; the NHL gets another western city to make a symmetrical 32, balances up the conferences and then gets to realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences of 4 divisions each with 4 teams that allows the league to expand easily to 40 and then 48 teams; the NHL gets another $500 million expansion fee; an obvious hockey market that should have got an NHL team long ago finally joins the big leagues; and Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Las Vegas, and all the California teams get a great new rival. Everybody should be happy. It solves so many problems.

But I’m not jumping on the bandwagon. Hold on a minute. Aren’t there a few expensive and questionable “peculiarities” about all this? For example:

1.

Flames ownership has said that a 34 year old building, bigger and better than the Key Arena is not even good enough to be renovated and a brand new building, part of a project that nobody can even get a clear cost about has to be built. The pouty Flames ownership has even threatened to move the Flames from Calgary if they don’t get their way and earlier this year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary and urged the local municipal government to accept this costly project. Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL will say. It has been renovated once and perhaps a much cheaper upgrade will do the trick. But if the NHL and one of its teams can’t accept a 34 year old renovated building, one of the league’s bigger and better arenas, how can they accept a 41 year renovated building in Hartford and a 55 year old renovated building in Seattle?

2.

The seating capacity for NHL hockey is only 17,100. That is well below the NHL median of over 18,000 seats. That would make it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders. Probably in a few years, Seattle will need a new arena. Is this renovation really worth doing?

3.

17,100. Isn’t that less than the seating capacity that Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario has? The same Copps Coliseum (built in 1985, so that it is only 32 years old) that many NHL people say is obsolete and that a new arena has to be built for Hamilton to get a team? When poor Jim Balsille tried to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, the city council said they would spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum so that it reached the NHL median of 18,500. Yet the NHL says a much younger and larger NHL arena than the one to be renovated in Seattle is not good enough.

4.

$50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum. How come it costs only $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to a bigger and better arena than in Seattle while it costs $564 million to renovate the Key Arena to a seating capacity that is less than that in the current Hamilton arena? The money that Seattle will spend on renovation is the type of money that can build a brand new arena. Quebec spent $375 million on a bigger, brand new arena. It has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million. $564 million sounds pretty expensive for renovations in Seattle.

So will we have sensible sober second thought in Seattle? Or will we have mindless sports franchise worship that is willing to spend countless sums of money on a project that I think is half-assed and could be spent more wisely on a new bigger and better arena that should hold up for decades? And how can this project be accepted by the NHL after its excuses and stand in Calgary and Hamilton? Seattle had better get some NHL answers, even a guarantee before a single cent is spent on this project. Like Hartford, it runs the risk of spending a huge sum of money for either a stopgap or nothing.

 

Hartford Should Get An NHL Guarantee Before Spending

After two decades of doing nothing, it was announced earlier this year that the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut would spend $250 million to upgrade the 41 year old XL Center to 19,000 seats in hopes of getting back the lost Hartford Whalers. The intention of the Mayor and the Governor are plain. They even sent a letter to the owners of the New York Islanders who have arena problems, inviting the Islanders to solve their arena mess by leaving Brooklyn and becoming the reborn Hartford Whalers once the XL Center is renovated.

But is Hartford doing the right thing? Are they spending $250 for nothing? Why should this question be raised at all? Because of what is going on in Calgary.

Out west, the 19,000 seat Saddledome, one of the biggest arenas in the NHL is 34 years old, seven years younger than the XL Center. But the owners of the Calgary Flames have suddenly turned against the structure, claiming it is old and obsolete. What is being proposed is a combined NHL-CFL arena-stadium project called “Calgary Next”. This project is so controversial that nobody can give an accurate cost figure. The gung-ho builders claim it costs $890 million. The “realists” say the actual cost will be near $2 billion.

The pouty Flames ownership has thrown an “or else” tantrum if they do not get their way, threatening to leave Calgary for fairer pastures. And of course NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who loves new arenas, especially the new ones in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Edmonton, flew into Calgary earlier this year (on his new arena tour that included new arena pleas in Phoenix and Ottawa) urging the municipal Calgary government to accept “Calgary Next”.

The Flames ownership has never publicly stated what is specifically wrong with the 34 year old Saddledome. If they laid out their exact grievances, perhaps a much cheaper renovation could be done. But like all North American professional sports franchise owners in this day and age, they expect the local taxpayers to pay for a new facility to which they will contribute exactly 0 to build.

Well if a 34 year old arena with new renovations is unacceptable to a sports franchise owner and the NHL and its Commissioner, how is the NHL supposed to accept a renovated 41 year old XL Center? The NHL has not uttered one official comment about the proposed renovation of the XL Center. Clearly by their open letter to the New York Islanders owners, the Governor and the Mayor expect to get the Whalers back in return for spending $250 million.

But the city and the state should hold back. Much as I’d like to see a returned Hartford Whalers, and Gary Bettman said that the Whalers would be welcomed back in 2010 if they met his conditions about the fan base, the arena and a suitable owner, based on the situation in Calgary and elsewhere, there is no guarantee that the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center. The Hartford taxpayers could be spending $250 million for nothing.

When Jim Balsille tried to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, the city offered to spend $50 million to upgrade Copps Coliseum – in vain. And it has to be said that when Copps Coliseum was built during the 1980s, it was built with the specific intention of getting an NHL franchise. The people of Hamilton are still waiting.

It has been estimated that building a new arena in Hartford would cost in excess of $500 million. That’s double the cost of the offered $250 million. Quebec built its new Videotron arena for $375 million. If the cost of a new Hartford arena could be kept at that level, I would be 100% in favor of building a brand new arena. $500 million, double the cost of renovating the XL Center, makes me think twice.

Moreover I would also be thinking of the NFL as well. That league just recently stripped the city of St. Louis, which built a perfectly acceptable modern stadium, approximately a mere two decades ago of its franchise and shifted the Rams back to Los Angeles which finally caved in and built a suitable stadium, for the unspoken reason that Los Angeles is a bigger market where they can make more money. Then they told St. Louis to build another stadium. So much for fan loyalty, taxpayer money invested in a sports facility, local media investment, and local corporate investment. For added measure, they stripped San Diego and Oakland too.

What’s to stop another crybaby NHL owner, like the ones in Calgary for first accepting the Whalers and their renovated arena and then start complaining and threatening to leave because the arena, even though it has been upgraded, is 41 years old? If I’m a Connecticut taxpayer I would want a guarantee – in legal writing – from both the NHL and whoever wants to be the new Hartford owner that

a: Hartford is going to be guaranteed an NHL franchise by a specific date if the XL Center is renovated.

b: The new Whalers owner signs a legal document that the Whalers will be committed to Hartford for at least a fixed number of years before they can raise the issue of both a new arena and franchise shift.

The NHL made an unofficial commitment to Hartford in 2010 when Bettman made a tour of Hartford, Winnipeg, and Quebec and offered them terms for readmission. Winnipeg is already back, but Quebec, which built the Videotron that the NHL loves is stuck at the ownership factor. A returned Hartford with a proper arena and a suitable owner is a guaranteed money maker. The Whalers would renew their rivalry with Boston and other rivals in the New York area and the province of Quebec.

But unless the Mayor, Governor, and the taxpayers decide they want to build a new arena after all, they should pause and think this over before spending a single cent on renovating the XL Center. There are so many possible greedy and hidden pitfalls involved in this renovation that they may well be spending $250 million for nothing.