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.

 

NHL 2017-18 Season Second Quarter Report

It is now approximately halfway through the current season and the second quarter of this year was much different from the second quarter of last year which was characterized by long double digit winning streaks by a few teams. Nobody has had a double digit winning streak this year though the amazing Las Vegas Golden Knights have come the closest so far. Here is a summary of those who won and lost during the second part of the season.

Biggest Winner

New York Islanders

Actually it should be the Knights but the Islanders ended over 30 years of frustration when New York State agreed that a proper, new arena which will seat over 18,000 will finally be built for them. The Islanders are currently in a slump and out of the playoffs but thanks to this news, they could lose every remaining game and still be the biggest winner of the year except for Las Vegas and whoever wins the Stanley Cup. Getting a new arena means that the Islanders ownership and management can at last concentrate on building a true, contending team, starting with the resigning of John Tavares. It also means that the would-be returned Hartford Whalers will have to find either a new potential expansion franchise owner or get another NHL team to consider relocating.

Runners Up

Las Vegas Golden Knights

That the expansion Knights can actually win a playoff spot is a true miracle. That they can actually win the whole Western Conference and be a true Stanley Cup contender might be described as a miracle of miracles. This team had one of the longest winning streaks in the whole NHL during the second part of the season and have yet to have a slump. Do the new Las Vegas fans think this is normal? Their current season and fast development will be the model for every new future NHL expansion team.

Winnipeg Jets

Nobody expected the Jets to be this good. Unless they go into a horrendous slump, it’s likely they will make the playoffs and be regarded as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. They have been winning, lost one of their best players, Mark Scheifele and are still winning. But if they make the playoffs, all the improvements that most of the other top contenders have made will make it tough to take the next step.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins had not done anything noteworthy during the first part of the season largely because the hadn’t played many games. But during the second part of the season they have blossomed and now have a comfortable playoff position. Like the Jets, unless a horrendous slump occurs, expect to see Boston, now regarded as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender back in the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils

Unlike last year, the Devils have not gone into decline after a good first quarter. They are still holding on to a playoff position and top pick Nico Hischier has been everything they had wanted. Their playoff position is precarious but at least they are showing some staying power which they did not have last season.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues are still responding to Mike Yeo’s coaching and have a real shot at winning not only their division but the entire Western Conference. If they make the playoffs, have they improved enough to not only win a playoff round but get over two humps and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, something they have not done since being coached by Scotty Bowman in the 1960s?

Tampa Bay Lightning

They have been the best team in the NHL for the entire year. One big question mark, their goaltending looks solid. But the other big question is can this team stay healthy for once? As was shown last year, this true playoff contender can be undone if certain players get injured.

Nashville Predators

The Stanley Cup runners up of last year actually got better when they got Kyle Turris from Ottawa through Colorado and he has been making a significant contribution since he arrived. Is Turris enough to finally take them all the way? They will have tougher competition in the playoffs this year so their new asset is certainly needed.

Los Angeles Kings

Are they finally back? Have they finally found the chemistry again that won two Stanley Cups during the past decade? They are in position to win not only their division but their conference. If they are indeed back to what they once were, they could be the team to beat in the Western Conference this year.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Boy did he ever get a good second quarter. In fact it is possible to say that he got a better second quarter than the Islanders and the Knights. He was in trouble when he set a $500 million expansion fee and only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec agreed to pay it. To make matters worse, Quebec’s bidder was unacceptable and only Las Vegas was considered good enough to join the NHL, leaving the league with 31 teams, one short of being able to realign into a more comfortable NFL structure (still unannounced). It seemed that if the NHL were to expand again in the immediate future, Bettman would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley and set a lower, more realist expansion fee that the investment world would accept.

Then Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman of Seattle appeared and actually set a new $650 million expansion fee record. The Seattle “approval process” is now a mere formality. And then there was Tilman Fertitta of Houston who said he would like see an NHL team in his arena which will mean another NHL expansion fee of at least $650 million if not higher. That’s probably an unannounced “done deal”. And finally the New York Islander 30 year arena problem got solved. That’s not like getting icing on the cake, that’s like getting three large iced cakes for your birthday. The two main problems left are Quebec and Phoenix.

Biggest Loser

Matt Duchene

Question: When did the Ottawa Senators go into the tank?

Answer: When they got Matt Duchene from Colorado.

How would you like to be the answer to that question? Not even P. K. Subban of Nashville, who at this time of year, last year was playing with a bag over his head because his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, were leading the Eastern Conference while the Predators were struggling to get the last playoff position, was in this kind of trouble. Ottawa traded for him because he was supposed to have the talent of number ones like Crosby, McDavid, Toews, Laine, Matthews, etc. He was supposed to be a step up from Kyle Turris who was let go to Nashville. Now after being in the shadow of Nathan McKinnon of Colorado, he was being given his own NHL team to lead. Instead of moving upward, the Senators are now out of playoff contention with almost no chance of turning things around and Duchene has contributed almost nothing. The vital team chemistry is gone and somehow Duchene is a big part of it. No one can explain why. This subject probably merits a full article.

Dishonorable Runners Up

Buffalo Sabres

At the start of the second quarter, they still had a chance of making the playoffs, but instead of going upwards in the second quarter, they plunged down toward the depths of the Arizona Coyotes. Last year, owner Terry Pegula got impatient with the Sabres when he saw the progress that teams like Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton were making and fired his coach and general manager. But “cleaning house” only made things worse and the Sabres are left vying with the Coyotes for the number one draft pick.

Arizona Coyotes

They played better than they did in the first quarter but remain the most horrible team in the NHL. Actually the only interesting thing about the Arizona Coyotes is if there is going to be an Arizona Coyotes at the end of next season. The horrendous play of this season will ensure that there will be no public money coming to build a new downtown Phoenix arena for a franchise that has iced only one contending team in its entire history. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns publicly insulted the Coyotes by refusing to be partners to build a new arena. I’ve advanced the idea that the best solution will be to add two more Western Conference expansion teams besides Seattle and then shift the Coyotes with its current ownership to Quebec to get rid of the unsuitable Pierre Karl Peladeau. A new Houston expansion team would be part of the process. Whether the Coyotes get the number one pick is irrelevant. The existence of the team is now the main factor.

Ottawa Senators

This is just a continuation of the Duchene problem that seems to be at the heart of the issue as to why the Senators are so bad. Is it coach Guy Boucher’s fault? But he had the Senators in playoff contention before Duchene came and Ottawa was Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh’s toughest playoff opponent last year. Is it General Manager Pierre Dorion’s fault? But he was not the only general manager to believe that Duchene was a number one talent. It also hurts him to know that the Nashville Predators are getting significant contributions from the traded Kyle Turris while he gets almost nothing from Duchene. He is probably in shock just like everybody else. Everything points to Duchene. It is not a happy place to be in.

Florida Panthers

They actually played respectable hockey during the second quarter but nothing, short of making the playoffs can cover up the bonehead decision of getting rid of coach Gerard Gallant even though he had a winning record with the Panthers last season when he became the first NHL coach to be fired. Every time the Las Vegas Knights win, it is a blow to the Deathwish Panthers who like the Coyotes have a horrible history, seldom making the playoffs. And if Las Vegas is the model of how a desert team should be run for the Arizona Coyotes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the model of how a Florida team should be run for the Florida Panthers. The success of both Tampa Bay and Las Vegas only emphasizes how badly these two losing franchises have operated.

Montreal Canadiens

Both the Canadiens and the New York Rangers started out with horrible records, but while the Rangers recovered and have a chance to make the playoffs, the Canadiens are virtually out of the picture. They needed to start moving upward during the second quarter but have at best been just wheel spinning. They lost two veteran defencemen during the off season, goaltender Carey Price is a good international goaltender when he plays for team Canada, but is a suspect NHL playoff goaltender, and General Manager Marc Bergevin guessed wrong about P. K. Subban.

The Bubble Burst

Detroit Red Wings And Vancouver Canucks

At the start of the second quarter, both these teams which had been playing well had a chance to make the playoffs. But during the second quarter, reality caught up with them. Neither of these teams which had been Stanley Champions or contenders for so long have the talent any more to contend and now need top draft choices to rebuild. Most of Detroit’s old stars have retired and the Sedins of Vancouver are in their declining years. At least they have a legitimate excuse for why they out of contention, not like the teams listed above.

When Are You Going To Wake Up?

Pittsburgh Penguins

Mysteriously, the two time defending champion Penguins have been playing stumblebum hockey. The playoffs are certainly attainable but Pittsburgh needs to start putting together some of the long winning streaks that have characterized the past two seasons. It is too early to panic but some of the teams above them are starting to pull away and some teams from below are starting to challenge them. Maybe it is time to get a little uneasy.

Edmonton Oilers

If it is not time to panic for Pittsburgh, it almost is for Edmonton. They played well during the second quarter but not well enough to make up for their bad first quarter. And what I warned about in my first quarter report is starting to happen. At least seven Western Conference teams pulled away and cannot be caught up to and two others are poised to become that way. Only the last playoff spot is now available to them and that is now fast flickering away. They need long winning streaks during the next quarter to have any chance to make playoffs.

We’ve Seen It Before

Washington Capitals

Yes, the Capitals had their usual long regular season winning streak and now have a chance to win their usual President’s Trophy. And yes, Alexander Ovechkin has his usual pretty individual statistics. But nobody should pay attention to what the Capitals do during the regular season. In the Marcel Dionne (whoops!) Ovechkin era, the Capitals have never even made the Eastern Conference Final. So now (yawn) that they have had another great second quarter, it means almost nothing. In fact the best thing that they may have going for them is that Pittsburgh is currently out of a playoff spot leaving the door open for the Capitals to finally get to at least the Eastern Conference Final.

Minnesota Wild

The western playoff wheel spinner Minnesota Wild played well too during this quarter and now precariously have the last playoff spot. But as long as ex-coach Mike Yeo is coaching the Blues who humiliated the Wild and General Manager Chuck Fletcher with an easy playoff victory last year, it is not enough to just make the playoffs, but to go deep into the playoff picture, especially surpassing Yeo’s Blues. Every year the Washington Wild and the Minnesota Capitals play for the wheel spinning Stanley Cup. Will that ever change?

 

Let’s Review The Harvesting Of NHL Coaches

5 NHL coaches were fired during the regular season and as soon as the season ended, other teams wasted no time in shoving the head coaches out the door. And as usual, most were unfair. So far, four more coaches paid the price.

1.            Dallas Stars – Lindy Ruff
Ruff is a good coach, but he has never won the big one. Last year, perhaps he got the Dallas Stars to over-achieve and that led management and fans to expect big things this season. But Dallas – with many notable big names and star players – did not show anything this year. Instead of building on or at least matching last year’s progress, Dallas regressed back to their old position of two years ago, so Ruff’s dismissal could have been predicted. Dallas has a lot of big salaries for underachieving players so many of them could be next and Dallas has made that clear by imitating Anaheim and bringing back their only Stanley Cup winning coach, Ken Hitchcock whom St. Louis fired earlier.

2.        Florida Panthers – Tom Rowe
Florida is in the unique position of firing their coach during the regular season and then firing his successor in the off-season. Gerard Gallant had taken the Panthers to a seldom-realized division title last year and actually had a winning record this year too when Florida without any warning became the first team to fire a coach and replace him with General Manager, Tom Rowe. But of the 5 teams that fired their coaches during the regular season, the Panthers were the only team not to respond to the new coach and improve. Now Rowe has been removed as both coach and general manager, but at least retains a job as special adviser. Dale Tallon is back in the General Manager’s harness. All this is done by an organization that seldom makes the playoffs, ensuring consistent bad attendance, and is a leading candidate to be shifted to Quebec, Hartford, or elsewhere. Florida is a laughingstock and these coaching changes show why. Unlike Tampa Bay where hockey is popular, the ownership and management are a major reason why hockey remains unpopular in the southern part of the state. Gallant was a leading candidate to be hired in the off season and the new Las Vegas Golden Knights showed their savvy by making him their first-ever coach, something that might have been predicted.

3.       Vancouver Canucks – Willie Desjardins
If any coaching change was the most unfair during this season, this has to rank near the top. Desjardins was placed in charge of a team on the way down, with its two top stars, the Sedin brothers over the hill and near retirement. Somehow he was expected to turn this team that has no top young draft choices on its roster into winners. Even in this downward spiral, Desjardins had approximately a .500 record over three seasons. Vancouver needed to rebuild with young stars as early as back then. Who is the Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews on this team? No one. Not even the best of coaches can do anything if the team’s top players are aging and in decline and no good young talent for the future has been added. How good a coach was Desjardins? We’ll never know, at least in Vancouver.

4.        Los Angeles – Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi
This ranks near the top as the most controversial change of the season, Los Angeles getting rid of the coach and general manager who gave them their only two championships. Admittedly, Lombardi might have slipped. Since the last championship, the Los Angeles attack has consistently declined and Lombardi has failed to find the right replacements either by draft, trade, or free agent signing. Trading for Ben Bishop when the team needed more offense was extremely questionable. But do you take such an extreme step as firing him only three years after winning it all for the second time? And the decline of attacking personnel is hardly Darryl Sutter’s fault. He still has this team playing well defensively. Lombardi and Sutter will immediately become leading candidates to be hired again sometime and somewhere in the future.

Is Gary Bettman Waiting For Another Team To Collapse For Quebec?

There is no current news about a Quebec expansion team but that does not mean nothing significant is happening. First a brief recap.

Forget the nonsense of the official NHL story that the Quebecor bid was turned down because of conference imbalance and a low Canadian dollar. The real reason Quebec still does not have the Nordiques back is because the owner of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau made a lot of enemies on the NHL Board, first because he is a known supporter of the separatist provincial party, Parti Quebecois, and more specifically he publicly insulted a member of the Board, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson about his suitability in owning the team because he is an anglophone Quebecer. Peladeau never retracted his remarks or apologized to Molson and that made it easy for Gary Bettman and the NHL to turn down Quebecor’s bid long before construction started on the new Videotron arena. The recent election of Molson to the NHL Executive Committee confirms that Bettman and the Board were backing him to the hilt. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on its Board and acted accordingly.

That did not solve the problem of Quebec. In 2010 Gary Bettman offered terms of readmission to all three ex-NHL cities that lost their franchises, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford. He publicly consorted with the Quebec Provincial Premier, the Quebec City mayor and other important businessmen and government officials and kept encouraging them to spend nearly $400 million taxpayer dollars on a new arena. Probably privately he told the premier and the mayor that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner but to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem.

Videotron

Finding a suitable owner meant that Gary Bettman would work behind the scenes as much as possible so it is difficult to know what is going on. I have speculated that the resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche may be part of an attempt to put a suitable ownership group together.

Part of the problem is that there may not be enough rich French Canadians who want to own an NHL franchise. Another solution would be to accept outside help but Americans, investors from “English Canada” might fear an elected Parti Quebecois provincial government and have stayed away from investing in Quebec.

There is another possible solution. Like the Atlanta crisis a few years ago, Bettman and the Board may know about certain members of the Board who find their current cities unsuitable and would welcome a move to Quebec which is the coming city in Canada, soon, maybe within a decade to have over 1 million residents.

Quebec

There would be no problem in attracting sell-out crowds, attracting corporate sponsors, and selling Quebec Nordiques merchandise for a Quebec team. The market includes all of eastern Quebec province and the four Maritime provinces. Take away the racial and political problems, Quebec with a new arena is a marvelous investment opportunity, one of the better NHL franchises, a sure winner. Adding the city would restore the Quebec-Montreal rivalry, once the best in the NHL, allow Bettman to keep his promise, and get many of his Canadian critics off his back.

The only real drawback to Quebec getting an established NHL franchise instead of an expansion team is that the NHL would have to forgo that $500 million expansion fee. But in compensation, a current weak franchise would become an instant strong one. And the NHL could still get its $500 million by expanding to another western city instead which would allow the league to realign as well.

So if Quebec is to get its team by a franchise shift instead of expansion, who are the candidates? One of the most obvious ones, Arizona will not be moved because it will cause further conference imbalance. If the Coyotes move, they will be moved to a western city.

So the shifted franchise will come from the Eastern Conference. Based on current NHL attendance, the top choices can all said to be the “usuals”

1. Carolina Hurricanes

They have the worst attendance in the NHL and the owner, Peter Karmanos is known to want to sell. Currently the Hurricanes are drawing approximately 60% arena capacity, by far the worst in the NHL. The reasons for not moving the team are that the Hurricanes have won the Stanley Cup so there is some kind of tradition. And the reason for poor attendance might be because the Hurricanes have not iced a contending team for a long time. But if they added a star player and contended again, would the fans come back? Still they are considered the number one target.

2. New York Islanders

They have been treated like poor cousins of the New York Rangers for years. Despite the heritage of winning four Stanley Cups in a row, a feat that has only been accomplished twice before, the Islanders have been treated shabbily since their glory days. Nothing was done to replace their outmoded arena with a new, larger, modern one. Currently the Islanders play in probably the worst arena in the NHL, the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn which is far from their original fan base, is the second smallest arena in the league, and has lots of obstructive view seats. A few years ago, a large delegation of Quebec fans came down en masse and bought a large quantity of unsold Islander tickets to show the NHL they were in earnest to get the Nordiques back. The Islanders are a target all right. But moving this franchise would be a tremendous blow and loss of status to the NHL in the United States because of the Islanders history and heritage. And it is said that yet another new arena might be built in Queens. That would be the preferred solution for the NHL.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

It is one thing to move the Hurricanes and Islanders but there would be no problem in moving the inglorious Blue Jackets who have only made the playoffs twice in 16 years and have never won a playoff round. The Blue Jackets try to get fans from a cursed hockey area in the United States, Ohio-Indiana which I have labeled the “Death Valley” of American hockey. Nobody can explain why in an area so close to the Canadian border and between such hockey loving cities like Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the east and Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit in the west, hockey is so unpopular. In these two states are buried the dead bodies of the Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, Cleveland Crusaders, and Cleveland Barons, all from the 1970s. As mentioned in an earlier article, the NHL can never forget the horrible attendance of the ghost of the Cleveland Barons. That is why when NHL expansion is talked about, these cities are never mentioned. Columbus is simply the most successful team ever to inhabit these states. But they average just over 15,000 fans per game which is only 82% arena capacity. If the wonderful turnaround of the current season still does not attract fans, maybe the owners will conclude that it is time to move to Quebec where they will be appreciated.

4. Florida Panthers

Florida ranks with inglorious Columbus. They made the Stanley Cup Final once, two decades ago. Since then they seldom make the playoffs. Gary Bettman had great difficulty finding new owners for the team a few years ago. The new ownership has made the team playoff contenders but they still only get 85% arena capacity for their games. Leaving the reluctant Miami market for Quebec is a real option for the Panthers.

5. New Jersey Devils

The Devils are the other poor relations of the New York Rangers. Like the Islanders they have a winning heritage with three Stanley Cups, but mostly they are a hockey after-thought after the Rangers and Islanders. They average 14.5 thousand fans which is 88% capacity. But moving the team is ugly for the NHL because of their past success and heritage. Perhaps moving to another part of New Jersey, away from the New York area where they can find fans that will really identify with the team is the best solution.

Is this the real plan of Gary Bettman and the NHL Board? Do the same thing as in the Atlanta crisis? Wait until the current season ends and then shift an existing franchise to Canada. That would be a suitable gift for Canada’s Sesquicentennial.

Gerard Gallant Becomes The First Scapegoat Of The New NHL Season

And now for some funny news. Want to know why the Florida Panthers seldom make the playoffs? Want to know why they usually have poor yearly attendance? Want to know why when people talk about shifting franchises to better markets, Florida is always mentioned? (Holding your breaths Quebec fans?) Well Florida just fired its coach, Gerard Gallant yesterday after losing to the improving Carolina Hurricane.

Poor Gallant just didn’t do enough. After all he only led the Panthers to a division title last year, was the runner up in the coach of the year ballot, was only one of four coaches in Panther history to get them into the playoffs, had a total record of 95-65-25 with Florida, and even had a winning 11-10-1 record this year when he was fired. No, he just didn’t do enough.

It is decisions like this that makes people with knowledge about hockey smile, shake their heads, and then laugh to themselves when they think and talk about the Panthers. The Florida (Miami) market is one of the most precarious in the NHL (along with Phoenix, etc.), and a large reason for it being so fragile is the horrible record it has amassed since it made the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, two decades ago. Since then they have iced bad teams, drafted poorly, failed to develop their young talent properly, and seldom made the playoffs leading to declining interest in hockey until the very existence of the franchise is at stake.

The coach takes the material that the management gives him and tries to mold it into a winning team. Gallant’s winning record since he joined the Panthers shows that he did a good job. But the coach does not build the team and the Panthers horrible record of the past twenty years is an account of bad management and ownership. Even last year with its division title, there were symbols of the  rot at the upper levels of the team. When your best player is legend Jaromir Jagr, now 44 years old, well past his prime (this is no derogatory comment on Jagr’s play last year or his remarkable career), what does that say about the rest of your team?

Where are your top draft choices after twenty years of horrible play? How are they being developed? Where are the smart trades to add to the core of young talent you are allegedly building a team around? If Jagr is your best player, you are not drafting the right young players or developing them properly. The only achievement that is noteworthy is that you managed to sign the right free agent, well past his prime, with some talent still going for him.

In assuming the coaching duties, General Manager Tom Rowe is starting to put his own position in the organization on the line. A few years ago the Toronto Maple Leafs were contending for the Stanley Cup playoffs when they suddenly fired coach Randy Carlyle, a former Stanley Cup winning coach with Anaheim. The Leafs promptly fell out of contention and finished near the bottom of the standings. If Rowe fails to inspire the players, that could well happen here and then the team he helped to build (his achievement?) will be exposed for all to see.

If that happens, the ownership and management may well regret firing Gallant. It may then be said that Gallant’s coaching was not only benefitting the Florida players, it was also concealing and protecting the management and ownership above him, those who have now showed an eagerness to dump him.

So the Florida Panthers and their ownership and management now embark on a new perilous path. Hockey fans may not be able to take this team seriously and the existence of the team may not last much longer in Miami if they continue to be chronic losers, but they are still always good for a laugh.

Ellerby Traded to Kings

Little late on the wagon here, but Keaton Ellerby has been traded from the Florida Panthers to the LA Kings in exchange for a 2013 5th Round Pick. Just an opinion here, I expect him to either be sent to the Monarchs, or be the six defenseman with Drew Drewiske being sent down. As the tenth overall pick in 2007, he certainly hasn’t been living up to his potential. Players such as Ryan McDonaugh (11th), Kevin Shattenkirk (14th) have been leaving their footprint in their respective NHL teams. Just going to give you guys a little scouting report on Ellerby. Skinny 6’4 Defenseman out of Okotoks, Alberta. He’s a shutdown defender who has the potential of greatness. Do not expect him to be the next Erik Karlsson. He’s the type of guy you want on the back end just to stable the ship. He will not have highlight reel hits or flashy goals, but he will be the first one in back in a rush. He’s a good skater, but has trouble staying out of the penalty box. If he worked on his frame and his discipline, he could become a good second pair defenseman.

It’s really hard to say who wins the trade because with a draft pick, you really never know if they will pan out. You can have gems like Pavel Datsyuk (171st) and Carl Gunnarsson (194th), but you can also have top picks not pan out, most notably Hugh Jessiman (12th) and Alexandre Daigle (1st). If you come back to me a few years from now when the draft pick has developed a bit i’ll give you a definitive answer.