Forget The Legal Technicalities: SEATTLE Has An NHL TEAM!

Officially all the NHL is doing is allowing a Seattle ownership group to make an ownership bid to which they will make the usual standard investigations about how appropriate it is, subject to league approval. Forget about them, they are just a formality. Seattle now has an NHL team, exactly a century after they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. It’s over; unless something incredible happens, the NHL is not going to refund $650 million back to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. Seattle will begin play in the 2020-21 season.

The NHL had been eying Seattle for the past several years. Seattle is an obvious NHL expansion city, one of the better ones (I had it listed in my group of top 10 cities for NHL expansion), with deep roots in hockey in Canada, competing for the Stanley Cup in even its pre-NHL period and for decades in the CHL, competing for Canada’s top junior trophy, the Memorial Cup. In fact the only surprise is why it took 100 years to join the NHL. And if Las Vegas with its doubtful market is proving to be an overwhelming success because of excellent ownership, the same conditions should make the new Seattle team an undoubted, sure winner.

The new Seattle team will play in a $600 million renovated, Key Arena, a sports facility that opened in 1962 and is therefore 55 years old (more on the repercussions of this decision later). Aping Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley, Bruckheimer and Bonderman will conduct their own preliminary season ticket drive to see who will put their money where their mouths are.

Perhaps even more important than Seattle’s admission to the NHL is its repercussions for the future. The news of Seattle joining the NHL has direct repercussions on Phoenix, Vancouver, Hartford, Calgary, NHL realignment, renovated arenas, the NBA, and future NHL expansion. All these topics probably need full, fleshed-out articles, but I’ll go over them briefly now.

Vancouver

This is the easiest one to document. Edmonton and Calgary were always each other’s best rivals with Vancouver their number two choice. Vancouver will now have its own best NHL rival all to itself, joining the Seattle Sounders-Vancouver Whitecaps MLS rivalry. Seattle will also have rivalries with Edmonton, Calgary, all the California teams, and possibly Las Vegas.

Phoenix

With the current troubles about where the Arizona Coyotes will play in the future, there were rumors that Seattle and Portland were cities that the current Coyote ownership was negotiating with for possible relocation. The granting of an NHL franchise to Seattle obviously rules out the Coyotes moving there. Baring a miracle about building a new downtown Phoenix arena, funded by taxpayers, where will the Coyotes play? Houston, Portland, Quebec, and Hartford are still in the running.

The NBA

Originally it was supposed to be a new NBA franchise owner of a returned Supersonics building a brand new arena with an NHL expansion team as a tenant. But now the NHL has beaten the NBA to the punch. Where does this leave a returned Supersonics?

Calgary, Hartford And Renovated Arenas

As noted above, by virtually granting a team to Seattle, the NHL is saying that they approve the renovation of an old, 55 year old arena. Yet at the same time, the NHL is telling the Calgary Flames ownership to play hardball with Calgary taxpayers and city officials about building a new arena to succeed the 34 year old Saddledome, one of the NHL’s better arenas with over 19,000 seats (see below about the Seattle renovation). Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? The Flames ownership won’t say since they want a new arena that they don’t have to pay for. But surely a cheaper renovation of the existing building is much better for taxpayers and city officials than building a costly, perhaps unnecessary new arena. If the NHL is going to a accept a renovated arena in Seattle, how can they turn down a cheaper Calgary renovation?

For Hartford, the admission of Seattle in a renovated old arena should mean that the NHL will also approve the $250 million renovation Hartford and Connecticut plan to spend to get the Whalers back. The XL Center is only 41 years old so if the NHL can accept the Key Arena, they should also accept the XL Center. The new renovation will give the XL Center over 19,000 seats (again see below about the Seattle renovation).

More importantly, if this proposed Seattle renovation is done, the renovated Key Arena’s seating capacity will make it the third smallest arena in the NHL (2nd smallest if the New York Islanders get a new arena), ahead of only Winnipeg and New York. For the money they plan to spend ($600 million), would it not be better to tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new one with enlarged seating instead?

NHL Realignment

Probably this is only a temporary stopping point in NHL expansion (The NHL has an unofficial commitment to return both Quebec and Hartford to the league plus they want an NHL team in Houston). Probably they want to expand to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams. But by expanding to 32 teams in balanced conferences, the NHL now has the opportunity to realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences, each with 4 divisions of 4 teams each. Once the Seattle franchise is formally approved, expect the NHL to follow it up with an announcement of realignment. Whether there will be other new expansion teams added before this announcement is made remains to be seen.

Future NHL Expansion

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his NHL owners have more than the obvious reason to welcome Seattle into the NHL and probably this is the most important one. The last NHL expansion to Las Vegas was a bust. Probably what the NHL wanted was an expansion of four teams, Quebec and three western cities so the NHL could not only expand but realign as well. Before the expansion was even announced, the press and the Internet were saying that there were four “done deals” already; Quebec, Las Vegas, second Toronto, and Seattle. But of 16 possible bids, only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City continued on to the end (The Quebec bid was “suspended” by the NHL probably because the NHL does not like the potential owner who made racist statements about an NHL Board owner, is an active pro-separatist of Quebec independence, and is generally untrustworthy), probably because the investment world would not accept a $500 million expansion fee. It was a humiliating failure, probably the first time a “big 4″ league expansion had no competition between rival cities. I even speculated that the NHL would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner Bill Foley, and then set a lower expansion fee that the investment world could accept if the league wanted to expand in the future.

But the breach in the wall by Bruckheimer and Bonderman means that Gary Bettman’s brazen gamble paid off. Not only did they accept a $500 million expansion fee, they upped it to $650 million. Bettman has every reason to kiss their rumps. He and his NHL Board are not going to turn down Seattle now, even if the proposed season ticket drive doesn’t get a single client and the new renovated arena is the second smallest in the NHL. Now the investment world will have to accept a higher NHL expansion fee even when the value of any NHL team is not listed in the top 20 sports franchises in North America. Right behind Bettman, the commissioners of the NBA, MLB, and the NFL have lined up to bestow hugs and kisses on Bruckheimer and Bonderman. If the fourth ranked NHL can get expansion fees like this, imagine what their leagues can get when they announce expansion. MLB has already projected Montreal and Portland as its next teams and a realignment into a brand new structure with 32 teams. The NBA also wants to realign once it gets to 32 teams.

So Seattle is in and don’t think this is the end of NHL expansion. Houston, Quebec, and Hartford are waiting and there are probably more potential teams sitting on the fence. A 40 team NHL, here we come.

 

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

 

Some Cities Are Waking Up About New Arenas And Stadiums

The latest news from Calgary is that negotiations have broken off. These negotiations were about the controversial “Calgary Next” project, a combined NHL-CFL arena-stadium project or at least a single project that replaces the “old” Saddledome. It’s about time. Fans and their elected politicians should not be at the mercy of fickle and arrogant sports leagues that show no loyalty to their communities and expect new facilities every few decades.

Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It is 34 years old and with over 19,000 seats, is one of the bigger NHL arenas. It has been renovated once. Suddenly the Calgary Flames ownership and management find it abhorrent. They of course do not want to pay for a new facility themselves and have issued a vague “or else” threat to the city if they do not get their way. (Are there secret negotiations with other cities without NHL hockey underway?)

Responsible representative municipal politicians have every reason to question the Flames and the NHL before plunging money into a possible bottomless pit, especially in this day and age. All they have to do is look at the actions of the even more high and mighty, arrogant NFL to fear the consequences. That wonderful league stripped St. Louis of the Cardinals but promised the city a new team if they would build a modern stadium. St. Louis complied and the NFL was happy to shift the Los Angeles Rams there when L.A. told the league to take a hike about building a new stadium.

Two decades later after Los Angeles finally decided to build a modern stadium, the NFL treacherously allowed the Rams to depart St. Louis because of the unstated reason that Los Angeles is a much bigger market where they can make more money. So much for the new modern stadium St. Louis built that is only a mere two decades old. Now the NFL wants them to build another one. The NFL could have expanded and started the process of becoming a 40 team league which would have hurt no one, but instead decided to unnecessarily hurt loyal fans and blackmail cities into spending billions on new facilities. To make the point plainer, they stripped San Diego and Oakland too. Based on the NFL which punishes cities and their taxpayers even if they comply with their wishes, if you were a Calgary municipal official, would you trust the NHL and the Flames?

The “Calgary Next” project is highly questionable. Costs range from under one billion to nearly to nearly two billion. If the costs cannot be accurate, there is no point even considering the project. Deceitful figures could cost taxpayers millions of dollars which could be spent better elsewhere. Taxpayers and their representatives have every right to delay and question things.

If this were the New York Islanders, a franchise that played in a facility that became obsolete, especially in seating capacity, and then moved to a facility that is even smaller with obstructed seats and bad ice, I would have some sympathy. But in Calgary there has been nothing specifically stated about what is wrong with the Saddledome. If the Flames would lay out what exactly is wrong, perhaps a much cheaper renovation could be attempted. But like spoiled brats they simply complain that the Saddledome is too old at 34 years old and then threaten to blackmail the city by leaving if they don’t get their way. If hockey was not so important to Calgary and its fans, I’d say, “See ya.”

Based on this logic, the 86 year old Empire State Building should have been torn down decades ago and a new one, taller than the Freedom Tower built. If sports franchise owners are this important, what about businessmen and home owners? Over 90% of all North American cities should be torn down and rebuilt at taxpayer expense because these people are “owed” it. But set a standard age date for a facility. 25 years, a quarter of a century and then tear it down. How about building me a new home? I deserve it.

What should be questioned is the whole concept of taxpayers paying for new facilities for rich sports franchise owners. Since when is a North American sports franchise owner “owed” a facility at public expense? Compared to most people, they’ve got too much already. But supporting a team is like a drug for most fans, as bad an addiction as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Under its spell, all logic is cast aside in an effort to be the top banana.

This problem is by no means confined to Calgary or even the NHL. Besides Calgary, here are a list of other current NHL related facility problems, excluding the legitimate New York Islander mess.

Quebec City, which wants the Nordiques back and complied with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s terms and built the Videotron, which the NHL loves, only to be thwarted by the ownership factor and have a bidder whom the NHL can’t abide.

Hartford, which also wants the Whalers back and is now willing to spend $250 million to update the XL Center. But if the NHL cannot abide the 34 year old Saddledome, how can they accept a 41 year old renovated building? There has been no comment by the NHL if this renovation will be acceptable. Hartford could be spending $250 million for nothing.

Hamilton, which was a front-running city for an NHL team in the 1980s and built Copps Coliseum in the anticipation of NHL expansion only to lose its potential franchise to Ottawa in a bungled bid. The city was prepared to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena if Jim Balsille managed to pry the Coyotes from Phoenix but the NHL opposed it and Buffalo and Toronto refused to set reasonable compensation terms. Thus the two best Canadian markets, Hamilton and Quebec City, sure money makers, remain without teams.

The possible end of the Phoenix Coyotes. Here at least, common sense may be taking over. Both the NHL and the suburb of Glendale have publicly said that they want to be rid of each other. An arena, specifically built for the Coyotes that is only 13 years old is now completely unsuitable. The NHL wants a new downtown Phoenix arena built. But the Arizona legislature and local taxpayers and their representatives are not going to have much sympathy for a franchise that is abandoning a 13 year old facility that was built specifically for them at taxpayer expense and has only iced a competitive team once in its entire history. Gary Bettman’s dream of a Phoenix team may come to an end.

Ottawa, which claims that its current arena is too far away to attract sellout crowds consistently. The Senators want a new downtown arena built. This may be the only new project that gets off the ground without much controversy.

Seattle, which was the front runner, along with Las Vegas and Quebec in the last NHL expansion. But nobody can decide who will build and where a new arena can be built. And if the potential NBA owner builds the arena, will it have the same problems that the New York Islanders found in the Barclay’s Center that was built specifically for basketball?

Kansas City, which built the Sprint Center to get both an NHL and NBA franchise. But nobody trusts the Kansas City market as being suitable for big league hockey. Kansas City has hosted some NHL preseason exhibition games which were either sellouts or half full depending on who was playing. And local investors did not like the NHL’s greedy $500 million expansion fee. So the Sprint Center remains empty without a professional hockey and basketball tenant.

Milwaukee and San Francisco which are currently building new arenas for the local NBA team. But both new facilities will be far under the current NHL seating medium of over 18,000 seats and since they are being built for a basketball team, they may have the same problems as the Barclay’s Center.

It’s time for some sober second judgment. Every hockey fan wants a local NHL team with a good facility but there has to be a return to common sense first. North American professional sports have become more and more unreal, catering only for rich fans. But when every taxpayer, rich and poor is on the hook for sports facility projects, the mindless worship for professional sports has to be set aside. There is too much money being wasted right now. Some cities are waking up to it. We’ll see what plays out.

 

Wasted Summer By The NHL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

islanders

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

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

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

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

edmonton

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

San Francisco

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

Milwaukee

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

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

Seattle

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

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

 

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

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

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

coyotes

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

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

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

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

islanders

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

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

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

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

 

Sports Facilities Casualty List

In the wake of Calgary’s ultimatum of possibly leaving if the 31 year old Saddledome arena is not replaced in the immediate future, it is good to remind these dwellers in the unreal world of professional sports and especially the taxpayers and (usually) their spineless governments who are called upon to provide most, if not all the funds for new sports facilities, which in many cases do not fulfill the dreams they are supposed to bring about, that in many instances, a huge waste results. Here is a partial list in both hockey and other North American sports of the terrible waste of capital and other resources to build the wrong sports facilities.

Wrong Design

1. Montreal Olympic Stadium

The Olympics and their arrogance always want the grandest spectacle possible that usually lasts for the three weeks the games last. Especially to see on the first day, a group of athletes clad in their official attire walk behind two people, one carrying a sign with the country’s name on it and another carrying a pole with a piece of cloth on it which is deemed the symbolic flag of its country. For such a spectacle, the cost of the 1976 stadium was over $1 billion dollars. But after the games were over, most Montrealers decided they did not like watching the CFL Alouettes and the MLB Expos play in that facility. Today the Alouettes play somewhere else, the Expos are gone and probably won’t return until a new baseball stadium is built for them.

2. Toronto Skydome

It was overdue that Toronto get a new stadium in the 1980s. Both the Toronto Argonauts and the Toronto Blue Jays had dreams of playing in some better place. There was talk of getting an NFL team and the Olympics. And a few extra perks like a retractable roof were icing on the cake. If you are going to build something like that, you might as well go all the way. Fair enough. But for heaven’s sake, you choose the right design and build it right. In certain sections of the SkyDome upper deck, nobody can see if a fielder has caught a ball if it is hit to that part of the ballpark. You have to wait for the replay on the big screen to know. Then Toronto Argonaut fans decided they did not like watching football in the stadium any more than the Montreal fans did in theirs. Today the Argonauts play somewhere else. And plans for an NFL team and the Olympics went into the can when it was found out that the Skydome only seats about 50,000 people. A stadium that was built for over half a billion dollars is now only worth about $25 million.

3. Barclay’s Center

The New York Islanders play in the worst arena in the NHL. The arena has the second smallest seating capacity ahead of only Winnipeg. There is bad ice and still worse, 1,000 obstructive view seats for hockey. The Islanders despite having a competitive team cannot sell out the arena. Recently, Hartford sent them an open letter inviting them to move to a renovated XL Center where they would become the new Whalers. The very existence of the franchise in New York is at stake if they cannot find a suitable new arena.

Betrayed Dreams

1. Copps Coliseum, Hamilton

In the mid-1980s, Hamilton built a new arena in anticipation of NHL expansion. Everyone liked it and Hamilton played host to most of the games of the 1987 Canada Cup. The NHL announced plans to grow the league through the 1990s to becoming 30 or more teams. But during the first expansion in which Hamilton was a front runner, the potential bidder, Tim Donut did not like the NHL’s terms and wanted to renegotiate them. The NHL like all North American sports leagues refused to make any concessions and the new Hamilton team became a returned Ottawa Senators. Hamilton’s arena still makes money but did not fulfill the purpose for which it was built. The NHL continues to cold-shoulder Hamilton, thanks mostly to Toronto and Buffalo who want extensive compensation from a new Hamilton franchise. The Hamilton city council has offered to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena. The market is there, the arena is there but one of the two best Canadian markets without an NHL team still has no franchise.

2. Videotron, Quebec City

In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued three factors for the readmission of Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford which had lost their NHL teams two decades ago. They had to have a sufficient fan base, a proper NHL arena, and a suitable owner (No mention of a $500 million entry fee). Quebec always had the fan base, now they have the arena, but the NHL cannot abide the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau who made many enemies on the NHL Board by his separatist politics, his obstructionist business practices, his inappropriate racial remarks about an NHL Board member, and his general untrustworthiness and unpredictability. No other suitable Quebec City owner has yet appeared, so an arena that the NHL loves, that has a fanatical hockey fan base, has no professional hockey tenant.

3. Sprint Center, Kansas City

This arena which opened in 2007 was built to get both an NHL franchise and an NBA team. But no investors for either a hockey or basketball team trusts the Kansas City market. The NHL has played exhibition games there which were either half full or a sellout depending upon who played. Other cities are considered well ahead of Kansas City for NHL and NBA expansion. The Sprint Center makes money like its counterpart in Hamilton but still does not have a professional sports team tenant that was supposed to be the main reason for it being built.

League Treachery And Arrogance

1. Dome Stadium, St. Louis

St. Louis opened a 70,000 seat domed stadium in 1995 to lure the NFL back to the city. There is nothing wrong with this facility and the Rams got good attendance. But St. Louis is not as big a market as Los Angeles, the second largest market in the United States. So when Los Angeles, which had snubbed the NFL for two decades finally decided to build a suitable stadium, the NFL immediately cooked up phony excuses and shifted the Rams back to where they came from. The Rams were soon followed by the San Diego Chargers and then Oakland was moved to Las Vegas. Both the Raiders and Chargers played in older stadiums which the arrogant NFL long hated and was only waiting for a “better deal” to come along to move the teams. Of course the NFL only had to expand the league and no city would have lost its team but that was never a considered policy of the most arrogant and ruthless sports league in North America which allows franchise shifts, sometimes on only the mere whim of a prissy billionaire owner. That extensive casualty list includes both Los Angeles teams, Oakland (twice), St. Louis (twice), Cleveland, Houston,  San Diego, and Baltimore. It is also important to note that there were websites listing Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Buffalo as well as the three victim cities as other potential casualties. So much for fan loyalty, tradition, and local investment.

Wrong Location And Bad Product

1. Gila River Arena, Phoenix

13 years ago, the then Phoenix Coyotes were glad to move into this new arena, built especially for them in Glendale, Arizona. Today both Glendale and the NHL have publicly declared they are finished with each other after only 13 years. Each side claims that the arena is too far away from downtown Phoenix and Glendale further asserts that nobody is going to support a team that in truth has only produced one contending team for the Stanley Cup in its entire existence. Suburban Tempe turned down a chance to build a new arena. A bill to provide more public funding for yet another arena has come to nothing. An arena, only 13 years old now has no professional league tenant with the blessing of its community.

 

So Calgary and its taxpayers are fully justified in taking their time and closely examining any deal for any new sports facility including the joint NHL-CFL Calgary Next mega-project. In the fickle world of North American professional sports, the entire project could blow up in their faces leaving an immense bill to be paid that could be financially crippling. You only get one shot with these immense sports projects so you better take your time and get it right.

As for the Flames and their threats of moving, they should be showing cooperation, not unbridled arrogance. They are only saying what they are saying because of the fanatical devotion of their fans. As mentioned in a previous article, nobody is talking about leaving or tearing down the Empire State Building even though it is 86 years old. There are no complaints about old Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in baseball. Just what IS wrong with the Saddledome? What does it lack? It has never been completely spelled out. There were no complaints by the Flames 31 years ago.

This is just a power play, more of the arrogance from the unreal, greedy world of North American professional sports. Go ahead and leave Flames, if that is what you want. But Calgary without the Flames would not only be heartbreaking for their fans, but an embarrassment for the NHL. What does the league want, another Phoenix situation? There should be more answers and explanations on the table that are owed to the Calgary taxpayers. They are not a bottomless pit. Since when are arenas and stadiums “owed” to sports franchise owners? And since when does the public have to deal with blackmailers? If the Flames were to move, Calgary would be better off without such owners and its league.

 

Calgary Threats All Too Typical Of The Arrogance In Professional Sports

Go jump in a lake! And I’m just being polite. What should be said merits much stronger language that can’t be printed on a blog without the risk of offending someone or committing slander and libel.

In the ending days of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs we now hear the Calgary Flames threatening to leave the city if a new arena is not built to replace the Saddledome and soon. They will not “threaten to leave”, they say, they’ll just “leave” without any notice. The Saddledome ia 31 years old, the second oldest arena in the NHL behind Madison Square Garden which recently had a $1 billion renovation done to it.

If hockey wasn’t so loved by Flames fans, the proper response should be, “Here’s your plane tickets, and they’ve been charged to your account. Out on your fanny, as fast as you can go. We can live without you for 20 years and more, just like Los Angeles did without NFL football.” And, “You are right. The Saddledome does need replacing. But you build the new arena with your own money. Don’t expect we taxpayers to do it.” See if the Flames actually take them up on that stand.

I didn’t know that expensive sports arenas usually built by taxpayers and their governments were supposed to be replaced every two or three decades and paid for by the same taxpayer fans. But why stop there? If this a valid principle, it should be applied for everybody.

For instance when I lived in Canada, I dwelt in a beautiful house that was over 100 years old. If I come back, I want you to build me a bigger more modern one with your tax dollars. And Toronto’s CN Tower is now 42 years old and no longer the world’s tallest structure. It’s ancient by sports leagues’ standards. Rip it down and build something taller than the new king in Dubai. In New York, the Empire State Building was built in 1931 and got surpassed by the Freedom Tower. Let King Kong really demolish it this time and build something more fitting and taller on the site. The new Empire State Building. And for a project of replacing something old that is really challenging, how about tearing down that obsolete Great Wall of China that never did its job properly and replacing it with something like the Berlin Wall or the Hoover Dam?

In Calgary, we have the “Calgary Next” project on the table, a joint NHL-CFL arena-stadium complex that nobody really knows what the cost is. The official planners say it costs $890 million. The “realists” say it will cost more than $1 billion. It doesn’t even take into consideration if any new facilities should be also built to get an NBA team and a MLB franchise. Therefore politicians and taxpayers should take a long time to consider all aspects of such a mega-project. But the Flames and Commissioner Gary Bettman want it steamrollered mindlessly right away.

The Flames seem to be taking their cue from the NFL which recently deprived loyal fans in St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego of their traditional teams needlessly instead of expanding the league. That’s the NFL way. Everything is okay until a “better deal” comes along. Then regardless of tradition, support, loyalty, money and resources that have been invested, strip a city of its franchise unless they can top the new proposal. If the Saddledome is too old, what is to be said of Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago? MLB seems able to live with such “old dumps”.

During the Obama administration, 45 million Americans (and uncounted Canadians) got unofficially classified as “poor”. Yet they are called upon to build sports palaces with their tax dollars for rich people which they can never hope to enter. In 1971, the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL built Texas Stadium, the first sports facility to have luxury boxes. In effect Dallas officially introduced privileged seating into sports facilities, an unspoken recognition of a social “class” system, that is supposed to exist only in Europe and Asia, but not in the United States, the land that the Declaration of Independence proclaims is free and equal.

Since then steps to take away professional sports from the “common fan” have increased without any barriers. Today there are sports arenas and stadiums with privileged seating. There are expensive ticket prices, in many cities that only corporations can afford. There is expensive sports merchandise that is exactly the same quality as ordinary merchandise except it has a team logo on it. There are expensive cable and pay tv packages. The CFL for instance is no longer available on free television.

The Calgary Flames stance comes from this arrogant, unrealistic sports world that has been built. A world where cities and taxpayers are routinely blackmailed. A world in which loyalty of a franchise to its city lasts as long as the old facility for which the team probably clamored to be built suddenly becomes obsolete in the eyes of its tenant, or a better deal comes along somewhere else. A world in which rich men with money to spare demand cities build new sports palaces for them for free while 45 million and growing struggle just to get an unemployment insurance cheque.

Of course when everything is kosher again and the taxpayers and their spineless officials give in and build a new facility with public funds, we’ll get the propaganda ads again. We’ll see the sports figures interacting with and giving back to the community. We’ll be glad to know that these role models can spare such crumbs for us. Because the few moments and crumbs that they do give probably are only a tiny morsel of what the communities have given to them.

 

As The Coyotes Play… #2

Welcome back to your favorite NHL soaper, “As The Coyotes Play”. In our last episode, we left the Coyotes howling that their new love Tempe, Arizona, an eastern suburb of Phoenix slapped their faces just as hard as Glendale, a western suburb of Phoenix, did when they told them that the marriage was over. The Coyotes were left wondering where to go and what do. We saw NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman trying to reassure Las Vegas Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley and himself that what is happening will not happen to every dessert team, that there will be a happily ever after ending in Phoenix.

Now in our first segment we see the Coyotes get hope back in their eyes when they are told that the Arizona legislature is considering passing a bill to allow funding for a new downtown Phoenix arena. We see the parched tongues of the Coyotes start to drool that there may at last be water in the dessert heat. But the bill is still in the debating stage. We don’t know how much the legislature and the Phoenix and Arizona public love the Coyotes. It will show in future weeks. Time for our first commercial break.

When we return, we see NHL Commissioner Bettman tearfully pleading to the Arizona legislature to pass this bill. He speaks eloquently that he believes in an NHL Phoenix franchise and reiterates how the league is committed to Phoenix. Then he earnestly points out all the job-creations that will occur, all the revenue that will be raised if a new arena is constructed. He angrily repudiates that Glendale hussy, who never made a profit the whole time she shared the Coyotes bed and boldly states that he is finished with her for good.

Then one of the Coyotes Arizona owners, Andrew Barroway arises and repeats with more emphasis the Commissioner’s words. He stresses the advantages of job creation and revenue raising should a new arena in the Phoenix valley be built in a suitable location. He again denounces false, philandering Glendale for her inability to make any money in all the years of their marriage. Returning to her bed is out of the question forever. Time for another commercial break.

When we return we see the Arizona Coyotes General Manager, John Chayka sobbing bitterly because the Coyotes may leave Phoenix. He tells the touching story of NHL first overall draft choice Auston Matthews, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Local hero Matthews current brave knightly deeds could not have occurred if the NHL had not come to Phoenix. To leave the dessert would be a betrayal of Matthews and all the NHL has accomplished to build hockey in Arizona. The children in the Phoenix area that have taken up hockey as their favorite sport would suffer an irreparable loss.

But Bettman and Barroway reappear and solemnly warn the legislature that the Coyotes will consider “all the options” if something suitable cannot be worked out. But they never state what these other options are. Can that mean that there are other lovely eyes out there that want the love-starved Coyotes? One thing if that is true, it will be a western girl like Portland, Seattle, and Houston, not some faraway eastern lass like Hamilton, Quebec and Hartford.

So how will the Arizona legislature answer? How many more years will the Coyotes have to spend in the detested Glendale bed? Will the Coyotes yet live in the dessert heat or become a piece of nostalgia? We leave you in cliff hanging suspense until the next episode of “As The Coyotes Play…”

Hartford Trying To Take Another Step Back To The NHL

As reported in January, Hartford is taking the first tangible steps to make a returned Whalers move from nostalgia and dreams back to having an NHL franchise again by proposing to upgrade the 41 year old XL Center by a $250 million renovation with seating increased to a more than adequate 19,000. When I heard about it, I wondered if it would not be better to build a brand new modern arena, provided the cost could kept at the Quebec Videotron level, of under $400 million. Costs for a new arena have been set as high as over $500 million but if Quebec can build a cheaper arena, why can’t Hartford?

Whatever, whether it is a new arena or a renovated old one, what is important is that a returned Hartford Whalers is no longer dormant but has the possibility of reality. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three NHL cities that lost their teams in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and outlined three reasonable conditions for returning to the league: Great fan-base (which all three cities have), a proper NHL-size arena, and acceptable ownership (no mention of a $500 million entry fee). The tour produced immediate results in Winnipeg and Quebec. Winnipeg is already back in the NHL and Quebec built the Videotron arena, but is stuck at the ownership factor.

But no response came from Hartford. The then mayor declared his support for a new arena and a returned Whalers as part of a large downtown reclamation project but no action occurred until last year’s proposal for a renovated XL Center.

Now Hartford has taken another tangible step to try and get back into the NHL, but not by expansion but relocation. The target is their closest neighbor, the New York Islanders, a franchise with known arena problems.

islanders

Currently the Islanders play in probably the worst arena in the NHL, the Barclay’s Center which has poor ice, the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL, and is the only NHL arena with obstructed seats for hockey. Their fans have shown how much they like the arena by giving the team the second worst attendance in the current season. The Islanders are under contract to play there for two more years but already there is talk of either moving back to their old, newly renovated home on Long Island or building a brand new, larger, modern arena in Queens.

Recently, the Governor of Connecticut and the Hartford mayor signed a letter addressed to the Islanders ownership and management proposing that the team be moved to Hartford when either renovations are completed or a new arena built. They point out that 3.1 million potential fans live within an hour’s drive of the arena and that the team would now be located much closer to its farm team in Bridgeport. And they project that a renovated arena would turn a $2.1 million annual profit.

There has been no response to the letter by the Islanders. The only talk is about being committed to the Barclay’s Center for the immediate future, and the possibility of the Queens arena being built.

From the NHL’s viewpoint, there are three advantages to shifting the Islanders to Hartford. First it honors Bettman’s 2010 promise of bringing back the three lost franchises if they meet his conditions. The second is that the Islanders move out of a bad arena into a better one. The third is that by relocating instead of expanding, the NHL would only have to add one more western expansion team to balance up the conferences and realign into an NFL type structure. And a returned Hartford would be able to renew its rivalries with the New York area teams, the Rangers and Devils, any Quebec based teams, plus possibly Buffalo, Ottawa, and Toronto and above all the Boston Bruins.

The difficulty with shifting the Islanders to Hartford is their heritage and history. Does the NHL want the only American NHL franchise to win four consecutive Stanley Cups, a feat only accomplished twice before by Montreal, and the American expansion franchise currently tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for most Stanley Cup victories by an expansion team since 1967 to disappear? Losing a 45 year old franchise with such a glorious history like the Islanders would be damaging to the league’s image and prestige. It was one thing to shift inglorious, unwanted, Atlanta to Winnipeg. It would be much tougher for the Islanders to leave.

Probably the NHL secretly would prefer the Queens arena proposal and hope everything works out. It is doubtful that the Islanders will remain in the Barclay’s Center when their contract expires. But perhaps the governor and mayor have targeted the wrong Eastern Conference franchise. It would be much easier shifting inglorious Florida or Columbus, two other teams with serious attendance problems.

Also with Bettman making proposals to bring back the three lost franchises plus expanding to Las Vegas, it shows that the NHL is willing to expand past the symmetrical 32 team barrier to the next symmetrical number of 40 (2 conferences with 4 divisions each, with 5 teams to a division). And offering Hartford an expansion team instead allows the league to collect another $500 million expansion fee.

But whether if by arena renovation, or new construction, expansion or relocation, the important thing is that the Hartford Whalers are now being talked about as becoming a reality again, instead of memories and nostalgia. The important thing is that significant public officials as well as their old fans want the Whalers back. Perhaps the next tangible step will be when a suitable rich investor who believes in a returned Hartford Whalers steps forward to make that dream come true.