What Was Significant For Hockey In 2017?

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

THE GOOD

1.     The NHL Balances Its Conferences And Can Realign

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

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

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

3.     Seattle Gets An NHL Team

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

4.     The Saving Of The New York Islanders

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

5.     Crosby/Malkin/Pittsburgh Legend Continues To Grow

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

6.     Emergence Of Connor McDavid As Crosby’s Successor

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

7.     NHL Plays Regular Season Games In Europe Again

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

8.     Emergence of South Korean Hockey

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

9.     Hartford Getting Back Into The NHL

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

10.     NHL Not Acting Like The NFL

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

11.     Success Of The Las Vegas Golden Knights

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

12.     NHL Centennial Celebrations

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

THE BAD

1.     Continued Quebec City Frustration

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

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

2.     Arizona Coyotes Soap Opera

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

3.     Calgary Flames Blackmail

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

4.     The NHL Pulling Out Of the Pyeongchang Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.     The NHL’s Poor Treatment Of Older Players

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

NHL: The Obvious Solution: Move The Coyotes To Quebec And Expand By Three Western Cities

Before going into specifics, here is a list of four of the main problems that are currently oppressing the NHL:

1.      The Arizona Coyotes are virtually dead in the area unless they get a new arena which the ownership does not want to pay for and neither the state nor the municipal authorities want to finance. To rub it in further, the NBA Phoenix Suns have said they would rather upgrade their current arena and make it more basketball friendly than share it again with the Coyotes or go halfsies with them on a new arena. The NHL’s dream of a Phoenix franchise may soon be over.

2.      The NHL wants Quebec City back in the league, loves the fan base/market and the new arena, but cannot abide the potential bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau who has made many enemies on the NHL Board, has made public, inappropriate racial remarks about a Board member, supports a separatist provincial political party and is generally untrustworthy. Except for the ownership problem, Quebec would probably have a team by now.

3.     Though it has not been stated publicly, the NHL wants to realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences of 4 Divisions, each with 4 teams. Not only does this make things easier to follow for the fans, but it allows the NHL to expand easily in the future to the next symmetrical numbers of 40 and 48 teams. There are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in North America right now so there will not be any problem finding potential new markets in the future. The last expansion was a humiliating failure when the NHL only got Las Vegas when they probably wanted Quebec (with a suitable owner) and three western cities. 31 teams is no better the previous awkward 30.

4.      The NHL has to find a way to straighten out its expansion process. For the last expansion, they set a fee of $500 million which the investment world found unacceptable. The NHL got no competition between rival cities for a franchise and had to settle for only Las Vegas, probably the worst expansion in “big 4″ North American sports leagues history. Something has to give. Either the investment world accepts a $500 million expansion fee or the NHL must set a more realistic lower fee which may mean refunding some money back to Bill Foley, the Las Vegas owner. And if neither side will budge, the NHL could be stuck at the awkward, unacceptable 31 team mark for a long time, maybe decades and more.

The obvious solution to some of these problems is to finally admit defeat in establishing an NHL franchise in Phoenix, transfer the team with the same ownership to Quebec and then announce expansion again, focusing on two western cities to balance up the conferences so that the league can realign. The NHL of course wants to have its cake and eat it too. To them, the ideal solution is to get enough Phoenix fans to finally make a Phoenix NHL franchise feasible, including a willingness to spend public finances on yet another new downtown arena; for a suitable Quebec City owner to finally appear, complete with a cheque for $500 million who will then be granted the returned Nordiques franchise; and for the investment world to graciously accept a $500 million expansion fee without any objections, prompting two western cities to join Quebec in bidding for an NHL franchise so that the league can finally realign.

Alas, such ideal dreams have yet to materialize. To break down the list of problems that are thwarting the NHL’s ideal solution:

1.      After rejecting the proposed Quebec owner, the Quebec bid has been officially “suspended” indefinitely by the NHL. For a whole year, there has not been any solution offered and since finding a suitable owner is being done behind closed doors, it is difficult to determine if any progress has been made. No new owner (preferably a French Canadian Quebecer) has appeared in 2017 any more than one appeared in 1995 when Quebec lost its team. And if Quebec does have to get its team back by franchise shift like Winnipeg, will the fans and the powers that be accept an owner who may not speak a word of French?

2.      Other eastern cities as well as western ones may want an NHL franchise. Hartford, to whom the NHL has made the same unofficial commitment as to Quebec wants to update its old arena by $250 million and openly solicited the owners of the New York Islanders to become a returned Hartford Whalers. And Hamilton is willing to spend $50 million to update Copps Coliseum if the NHL will finally tell Toronto and Buffalo to set some reasonable compensation terms. This of course will upset the balance between the two conferences even further but it is a minor problem. Expand now, realign, and then balance up the conferences later.

3.      More serious for Hartford and Seattle is whether the NHL will accept renovated old arenas instead of brand new ones. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary and urged municipal officials to build a brand new arena. The pouty Flames ownership has indulged in “or else” talk about building a new arena instead of accepting a cheaper renovation of the 34 year old Saddledome. But if the NHL cannot accept a renovated 34 year old arena, how can they accept what Seattle and Hartford propose to do on older buildings?

4.      After the humiliating last expansion, the NHL has yet to announce what its future expansion fee will be. For now, expansion is a dead issue, but unless the league expands, it cannot realign.

If the idealized NHL dream listed above cannot be realized, what should the NHL do? Bettman made an unofficial commitment to Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford back in 2010 by giving them terms for readmission (fan base, arena, owner) and openly encouraged the Quebec provincial and municipal governments to keep building their new arena despite knowing that the proposed Quebec owner was unsuitable. He can hardly urge a city and a province to spend $375 million tax dollars and not give them anything. Similarly, Hartford and Seattle propose to spend nearly $1 billion tax dollars on renovations between them. He and his Flames ownership supporters will have to climb down on their “new arena or else” stand and accept reasonable renovations to the Saddledome or else tell Hartford and Seattle that they have spent nearly $1 billion tax dollars for nothing.

Here are a few possible alternative policies besides staying stagnant at present.

1.      NHL moves Arizona to Quebec but does not realign or expand.

This is the minimum that can be done and at least solves the two worst problems. The NHL’s unofficial commitment to Quebec is resolved and the Phoenix problem is (not without some humiliation) finally settled. One half of Bettman’s Canadian critics disappear. The disadvantage is that realignment and conference balancing get postponed and that the NHL won’t get a $500 million expansion fee from Quebec. There is also the problem of whether Quebec will accept non-French speaking owners.

2.      NHL moves Arizona to another western city and does not expand.

This solves the Phoenix problem but nothing more. It keeps things as they are though the Coyotes will now be in (hopefully) a more hockey friendly city with a good arena. But it does not solve the Quebec, realignment, or conference balance problems. Nor does it get any expansion fee money.

3.      NHL moves Arizona to Quebec and expands by three western cities.

This solves all four problems. It means that the Quebec and Phoenix problems disappear and only the question of whether Quebec will accept non-French speaking owners remains. (Most likely they will. Only the racists will be discontented.) It means that the NHL can realign and that the conferences will be balanced. It means that the NHL has got some amount of expansion fee from somebody, but not from Quebec. It means that either the NHL has set an expansion fee which the investment world finds acceptable (probably meaning a refund of some expansion money back to Bill Foley, the Las Vegas owner), or that the investment world has finally accepted a $500 million NHL expansion fee. And if Hamilton and Hartford also want to get an NHL franchise too, so what. The league can still realign, collect more expansion fee money, and balance the conferences through more expansion later. That’s a minor problem that can be postponed.

The only thing that is known for sure is that the present situation is unacceptable. The awkward 31 teams are no better than the previous 30. By its failed attempt to bring back Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford via expansion, the NHL has indicated that it is not content to just expand to the current NFL structure of 32 teams, but wants to at least reach the next symmetrical number in such a structure of 40 teams, meaning 5 teams to a division.

Certainly the NHL is going to be focusing on getting western expansion cities to match a shift of the Coyotes to Quebec. Just for fun here are (in my opinion) the best western cities for the NHL to expand to. I’ve listed them in some of my previous articles. Feel free to comment or make other suggestions.

Best Choices:

Seattle

Portland

Milwaukee

Saskatoon (now or long term)

Spokane (now or long term)

 

Other Cities Worth Taking A Chance On:

Houston

Oklahoma City

San Francisco

Salt Lake City

Second Chicago

Kansas City

 

Rumored Other Cities:

San Diego

 

Three More Nails In The Arizona Coyotes Coffin

Will this be an “historic” year for the Arizona Coyotes, their last year in Phoenix? That could be a real possibility by the end of this season. Both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the civic officials of the suburb of Glendale have publicly said they are finished with each other when the current contract runs out or sooner. The officials have made it clear; an empty arena, only 13 years old, is much preferable to having the Coyotes as a tenant. Meanwhile Bettman and the Coyotes ownership have pleaded unsuccessfully with the Arizona Legislature to finance a new downtown Phoenix arena and at least some of the local media have agreed with the Legislature’s stand about throwing good money after bad things.

While it appears that the main slap in the face has already been settled, three more missiles have been hurled at the dying animal to speed its passage into NHL history. First was the forced retirement of possibly the greatest player in the Coyotes’ history, Shane Doan. Doan actually wanted to stay and play, just like his 45 year old counterpart, Jaromir Jagr, but the Coyotes, unwilling to recognize that with the advance of modern medicine, tomorrow’s athletes will be able to play at a high quality for a much longer period than the standard retirement age (approximately 35) simply assumed he was a too old player taking up a uniform which could be better used developing a young player and sent him packing.

When you lose arguably your most popular player and even more damnably one of your better players, that’s not going to help attendance. Doan’s retirement will really pack them in. That Doan was one Arizona’s better players at his age upon his forced retirement is not only a tribute to his greatness but also a damnable indictment of the type of player Arizona has drafted over the years and how they develop their young talent. In their entire Phoenix history, they have only iced one contending team. No wonder the Arizona Legislature does not want to help a bunch of consistent losers.

And that brings us to the second nail, the start of the current season. With all the off season changes made, including the forced retirement of Doan and a new coach, the Coyotes find themselves in their usual position, at or near the bottom of the whole NHL standings. As the old cliche says, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As of this writing, the Coyotes have yet to win a game, have exactly one point and are dead last in the combined standings of both NHL conferences. That will keep the fans away even more.

And two of the defeats were to supposedly the Coyotes’ new best rival, an expansion team. Since the Coyotes arrived in Phoenix, there has always been the line about “building hockey in the dessert”. Well this year the Coyotes ARE building hockey in the dessert, the Las Vegas Golden Knights dessert. No matter how rough things get for their initial season, the Vegas fans can always look forward to two more points at the expense of their dessert cousins in Arizona. Fans in Arizona are going to love coming to games knowing that.

As if those things are bad enough for the Coyotes, their basketball cousins from the NBA, the Phoenix Suns have turned against them too, nail number three. While Bettman and the Arizona Coyotes ownership were begging for financial assistance for yet another new arena to house both the Coyotes and Suns, the Suns ownership has declared that they would rather renovate their existing arena then share a new one with the Coyotes. (Aside: Are you watching Calgary Flames ownership?). The current Suns arena was where the Coyotes initially played when they arrived in Phoenix. It has always been basketball friendly with less accommodation for a hockey team (though not as bad as the New York Islanders Barclay Center), hence the move of the Coyotes to Glendale.

Now the Suns ownership wants to make their current arena even more basketball friendly at the expense of sharing it again with an NHL team. And when you turn down the chance to go “halfsies” for a new arena with another tenant, it is just another indication of how popular the Coyotes and the NHL are in the state of Arizona.

Lost in all this is the sad fate of people in the Phoenix area who have truly become hockey fans, most notably the star of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews. The problem is there are too few of them. But it will hurt them to lose their team just as much as it would in more hockey friendly cities.

The only question is how much longer will this agony go on for. Barring the miracle that Bettman and the Coyotes ownership seem to believe will happen, the future seems to be over, at least for this time for an NHL team in Phoenix. Currently the two NHL teams with the most serious arena problems are the New York Islanders who have good hopes of building a new arena in the Belmont area and the Arizona Coyotes. One team seems to be going in one direction and the other in the opposite way.

 

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.

 

Will There Finally Be Good News For A New Home For The New York Islanders?

Will there finally be one suitable arena problem resolved for the NHL? The team with the second smallest arena seating capacity for hockey, the New York Islanders might finally get a new arena built at Belmont Park. The Islanders ownership is clear. There has to be a new home for the Islanders somewhere, either in the New York area or in Hartford. Staying in the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn is not feasible unless there is an emergency situation.

Since their glory days in late 1970s and early 1980s, the Islanders have been a run down franchise, mostly because of their arena problem. The old Nassau Coliseum with its 16,000 seats was relevant in the 1970s when the NHL median arena seating was approximately the same but as the decades passed, that median is now over 18,000 seats and the Nassau Coliseum/Barclay’s Center is now the second smallest in the NHL, ahead of only Winnipeg. Still worse, the Barclay’s Center was built for basketball and has bad ice and obstructive view seating for hockey. Staying there for the long term really isn’t a feasible option.

The whole future of the franchise depends on moving to a suitable arena somewhere. The current Islanders ownership admirably wants to make the franchise a viable, contending team again but it cannot really start until the arena problem is solved. Their preference is to stay in the New York/Long Island area if a suitable arena can be built. Hartford and possibly Quebec City remain options if nothing local can be resolved.

The team has one genuine superstar, John Tavares, but a contending team cannot be built around him until the arena problem is clarified. With the bad ice and obstructive seats, the Islanders cannot sell out even the second smallest arena in the NHL. If the franchise is to survive, they have to have a new home somewhere.

Hartford knows it. The city and the state of Connecticut recently voted to spend $250 million to renovate the 41 year old XL Center to a more than adequate 19,000 seats. Then the mayor of Hartford and the Connecticut governor sent a letter to the Islanders inviting them to become a returned Hartford Whalers once the renovation is complete. But for now, the Islanders want to retain their traditional identity and remain in the New York area.

Unfortunately it is estimated that it will take Empire State Development 4-6 months to make a final decision on the arena issue and if favorable, it will take almost two years to build a new arena. Like all building projects, this requires some careful long-term thinking. Still from the Islanders point of view, it would be better if all the pre-planning period was over and construction finally started.

Hopefully, one of the worst issues on the NHL’s plate will finally be favorably resolved. That only leaves the decision of whether the NHL will accept renovated old arenas in Hartford and Seattle as good enough to grant expansion franchises; whether there will be new arenas in Ottawa and Calgary; whether there will be an Arizona Coyotes in the future; whether the new arenas being built in San Francisco and Milwaukee which are being built for the NBA will also be suitable for hockey or have the same problems as the Barclay’s Center; setting a suitable compensation package for Toronto and Buffalo and finally letting Hamilton have an NHL franchise (remember them, Gary Bettman?); and resolving the Quebec City ownership mess. Other than that, happy times are coming to the NHL.