NHL 2017-18 Season Second Quarter Report

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

Biggest Winner

New York Islanders

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

Runners Up

Las Vegas Golden Knights

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

Winnipeg Jets

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

Boston Bruins

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

New Jersey Devils

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

St. Louis Blues

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

Tampa Bay Lightning

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

Nashville Predators

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

Los Angeles Kings

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

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

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

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

Biggest Loser

Matt Duchene

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

Answer: When they got Matt Duchene from Colorado.

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

Dishonorable Runners Up

Buffalo Sabres

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

Arizona Coyotes

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

Ottawa Senators

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

Florida Panthers

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

Montreal Canadiens

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

The Bubble Burst

Detroit Red Wings And Vancouver Canucks

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

When Are You Going To Wake Up?

Pittsburgh Penguins

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

Edmonton Oilers

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

We’ve Seen It Before

Washington Capitals

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

Minnesota Wild

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Embarrassments Starting To Pile Up On Gary Bettman’s Plate

So far 2017 has been a mixed bag of goodies for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. There are some good things he can take credit for. The NHL Centennial celebrations are going well. Edmonton has opened a stunning new arena that Bettman has vowed to reward with an All Star Game and an NHL Draft. This fall, Detroit will open another one. And it looks like Ottawa, especially after its success in the current NHL playoffs will get its new downtown arena approved. And (only a partial success, the NHL wanted more expansion teams) the NHL will get its 31st team, Las Vegas competing this fall. Internationally, bringing back the World Cup was at least a partial success and the NHL has recently announced it will play games in Europe again.

But behind the scenes there are major problems starting to pile up that must be far from being stored and filed away in the back of Bettman’s mind. Some are long term and can be postponed for a while but like the Atlanta situation a few years ago, some are coming to a head and have to be resolved sooner or later. In no particular order, here are some of the worst.

1.    Quebec City

Gary Bettman made a tour of the cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, in 2010, and offered them reasonable terms for readmission to the NHL: A great fan base (No problem in all three cities), a proper NHL arena, and acceptable ownership (No mention of a $500 million entrance fee). Winnipeg was used to resolve the Atlanta mess. But now Quebec has tried to comply with Bettman’s terms and has built an arena at taxpayers’ expense that the NHL loves just as much as the Edmonton one. They expect to be paid off and Bettman was openly consorting with both the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec provincial premier while it was being built.

The problem is the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau is an unacceptable owner to the NHL (I’ve written lots of articles on this blog explaining why), leaving Bettman the problem of finding an acceptable owner behind the scenes for Quebec City. So far there has been no announcement of any resolution to this problem and the longer it drags on, the more embarrassing for everyone it gets. Right now the Quebec situation has been shelved under the term “indefinite suspension”, but it has to be resolved with Quebec getting back into the NHL somehow as soon as possible.

2.    Arizona Coyotes

Bettman has fought tooth and nail to keep a team in Phoenix but it may be time to throw in the towel. Glendale has publicly declared that they do not want the Coyotes any more and has stated that an empty arena is preferable to having them play there. In response, Bettman stated that the Coyotes have no future in Glendale and need yet another new arena in the area to play in. A potential new arena in Tempe was cancelled. The Coyotes have turned to the Arizona State Legislature for assistance but it is doubtful that a financial bill will pass. There has been rumors that the Coyotes have been talking to Portland and Seattle (two much better hockey cities) about relocation. A more sensible solution would be to move the team to Quebec and then expand the NHL right away by two western cities. The NHL does not want to move any western team east because it would create more league conference imbalance but the solution I have suggested is probably the best way to resolve both the Quebec and Arizona problems.

3.    The Fate Of The New York Islanders

The Islanders play in the worst arena in the NHL with obstructed seats and bad ice, that they can’t sell out and need a new arena to survive. There is no way that the Islanders want to remain in the Barclay’s Center or return to a smaller seating Nassau Coliseum. Hartford, which is finally making an effort to get back to the NHL wants to turn the Islanders into a returned Whalers, but it would embarrassing for the NHL for a team with such a glorious history as the Islanders to disappear. The best hope for the Islanders would be constructing a new larger arena solely for them. A couple of places have been cited but nothing concrete has been committed to.

4.    South Korea

Bettman and the NHL Board recently closed the door on “unglamorous” Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics. But now has come unexpected, unbelievable news. From virtually out of nowhere, South Korea has improved its national hockey team to be good enough to be promoted to the top echelon of the World Championships. How good is this team? Next year South Korea will be competing against the very top “traditional big 7″ teams in a major international tournament for the very first time. Most likely they will just get their feet wet, lose every game, be demoted, and thanked for an historical break-through try. But if unexpectedly they do ANYTHING at that tournament that is going to be extremely embarrassing for Bettman and the NHL.

Pulling out of the Olympics in South Korea has really put Bettman and the NHL between a rock and a hard place now that South Korean hockey has improved. What if the unknown South Koreans are good enough to beat the any of the “big 7″ teams, especially Canada and the United States, are good enough after 45 years of stagnation to expand the “big 7″ at last into a “big 8″? Bettman who has brought back the World Cup after over a decade of dormancy and wants to expand and improve international hockey can hardly reject South Korea on one hand and then not be pleased at South Korea’s progress. South Korea has the potential to be a major new market not only for international hockey, but for the NHL itself. If the South Koreans are that good, Bettman will be forced to invite them to send a team to the 2020 World Cup. Pulling out of Pyeongchang so quickly has damaged the NHL’s entry into a major new hockey market.

5.    Improving International Hockey Quality

Sticking with international hockey problems for the moment, Bettman and the NHL have to finally start facing up to the problem of improving the quality of international hockey honestly. In fairness to Bettman, he is not to blame. This problem has been around long before the USSR challenged Canada in 1972. Bettman himself recognized this problem by creating hybrids “Team Europe” and “Team North America” for his revived World Cup instead of inviting any “B-Level” countries. In the 45 years since 1972, the “big 7″ have not grown into a “big 8″ or more. Specifically, improving international hockey quality should mean getting the large group of countries stuck at the “B-level” of play (There are about a dozen of them. I’ve listed them in other articles. Now South Korea has joined them.) finally over the hump so that they can compete equally with the “big 7″ teams and be able to win major international tournaments like the Olympics, the World Championships, and the World Cup.

Back in 1972, after the Canada-USSR match, there were boasts that hockey would “become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer”. But hockey can hardly match soccer’s global reach and status if it is stuck at a narrow base of 7 countries. If Bettman wants his World Cup to start getting the status of soccer’s World Cup, the “big 7″ have to be expanded, hopefully at least to a “big 16″. Another practical reason to do this is that the NHL probably wants to expand to 40 teams within the next two decades. Each time there is expansion, the critics complain that the league gets “watered down”. But if the quality of play in the “B-level” countries were improved, there would be a huge new glut of talent to draw from. And improving the quality of play in these markets will probably increase attendance and interest in hockey bringing in more money for both international hockey and the NHL.

6.    Hamilton/Southern Ontario

Quebec is not the only Canadian problem for Bettman and the NHL. When he was hired, Bettman was probably told by the Canadian franchise owners of the NHL to preserve their monopoly in Canada. They have welcomed back Winnipeg and are willing to accept Quebec City with proper ownership. But for the new 10 franchises that the NHL wants to create in the next two decades, at least one of them HAS to be a new southern Ontario team, either in Hamilton, second Toronto, London, Kitchener, or Oshawa. Bettman must start convincing the Canadian NHL owners to accept a new southern Ontario franchise and to set an acceptable compensation package for Buffalo and Toronto like Los Angeles and New York have done in the past.

7.    Balancing The Conferences/Realignment

If the NHL reaches 32 teams, they can realign into an NFL structure; 2 Conferences with 4 Divisions that have 4 teams. This is also an ideal structure to expand the league to the next symmetrical numbers of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division). But one of the problems is WHERE these teams are located. Right now Quebec wants back into the league and Hartford is making noises about returning too. This will tilt the conference imbalance still further. The recent NHL expansion was a failure. The NHL probably wanted an expansion of four teams; Quebec and three western teams, making the league a balanced 34 team league of two equal 17 team conferences, set in the NFL structure listed above and a commitment to becoming a 40 team league. Instead the NHL only got Las Vegas, Quebec is still out of the league and the NHL has not been able to realign. And no eastern team wants to be shifted west unless it was for a short, temporary period. This problem has to be resolved as soon as possible.

8.    Future NHL Expansion

If Bettman and the NHL can be placed between a rock and a hard place by South Korea, they are already in one because of NHL expansion. As noted above, the recent NHL expansion was a failure. It was probably the first time in the history of North American “big 4″ sports that there was no competition between rival cities for a new franchise and the NHL had to settle for what it could get. Of 16 potential bidders, all dropped out except for fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City, probably because the $500 million expansion fee is considered too much for an NHL team by the business world. In contrast, there were 11 bids for an expansion team, including three from Houston alone back in 2000 when the expansion fee was $80 million.

How is the NHL going to expand if nobody wants to bid? And the league cannot solve its realignment/conference balance problems unless the league expands. One solution is to hold out, let time pass until the business world accepts a $500 million expansion fee. But how long will that be? The other loss of face solution is to refund some of the money to Bill Foley and then set a lower expansion fee that the business world will accept. Obviously the second solution is going to churn the stomachs of Bettman and the NHL governors but if they want to realign and expand quickly, it may be the only solution.

 

Las Vegas Admission Did Not Solve The NHL’s Expansion Problems

While everyone should be extending a warm welcome to the NHL’s newest franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights and wishing them well, let’s not forget that the admission of just Las Vegas represents a serious failure for the NHL. This is not the expansion that the NHL wanted. It is only the expansion the NHL could get.

Before the announcement of expansion last year, there was wild speculation about what would happen. There were newspaper stories and websites all over the Internet that even before expansion was formally announced, Las Vegas, Quebec City, second Toronto, and Seattle were “done deals”. Clearly the NHL expected to move beyond the symmetrical 32 team barrier to which the NFL is committed to and begin expanding to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams.

This implies that not only was expansion on the table, but probably realignment into an NFL structure of 2 conferences with 4 divisions with 4 then 5 teams in each division. Realignment into an NFL structure not only makes things easier for the fans to understand, it also makes it easy to expand the league to 40 teams (5 to a division) and then to 48 teams (6 to a division).

Before the official announcement of the terms of the expansion, there were all kinds of rumors and expectations. Cities were said to be awaiting NHL expansion for years since the last one in 2000 when Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Columbus were added. During that expansion there were 11 bids submitted including 3 from Houston (who somehow failed to land a team). It was expected to be the same this time.

In 2010, Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford and offered them terms for readmission, the first sign that the NHL wanted to expand and was probably committed to realignment and becoming a 40 team league. Winnipeg came back by the franchise shift from Atlanta but Bettman was confident that both Quebec and Hartford would seriously consider getting readmitted to the NHL. There was also frustrated Hamilton, fresh from its Phoenix Coyotes misadventure or the second Toronto “done deal”. There was Las Vegas and the other “done deal” Seattle whom the NHL had serious discussions with. There were the failed bidders of 2000, Houston and Oklahoma City. Kansas City had built the Sprint Center in hopes of getting a team. Portland, another hockey hotbed and perhaps the equally good Milwaukee might be induced to submit a bid. And there was the possibility of any surprise bids from other cities. So the NHL announced expansion in rosy expectation.

But the excessive terms, particularly the $500 million expansion fee ruined the NHL’s plans. The terms attracted more public denunciations from investors than bidders. 16 potential applicants were said to be interested, but only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec stayed to the end. Probably the NHL had wanted an expansion of 4 teams; Quebec and three western cities to made realignment possible, consummate their unofficial commitment to Quebec, and balance up the conferences.

To make matters worse, the Quebec bid was submitted by Pierre Karl Peladeau, who had made many enemies on the NHL Board. The NHL loved the Quebec fan base and the new arena, the Videotron, but could not abide Peladeau, who made public racist statements about one of the NHL Board members, supports a Quebec separatist political party, and is just too untrustworthy to be admitted as an NHL partner. The Quebec bid has been “suspended” indefinitely until Gary Bettman can find a suitable franchise owner.

So the NHL only got Las Vegas in the end, probably the worst expansion in “big 4″ North American sports league history. This may be the only expansion where there was no competition by rival cities for a sports franchise. The NHL is still unbalanced, nor can it realign into an NFL structure. In the end, the Las Vegas expansion is only a baby step.

Still worse is that the Arizona Coyotes are now potentially without a home in the immediate future. A sensible solution would be to shift the team to Quebec but that will only unbalance the league further. And now Hartford, so long dormant has announced plans to upgrade the XL Center and made an open attempt to lure the New York Islanders who have arena problems of their own. The NHL wants Hartford back but does it want to lose the Islanders and their glorious history? And if Hartford is granted an expansion franchise instead, that only makes the conferences more unbalanced.

But the biggest problem is that the business and investor world has said that an NHL franchise currently is not worth a $500 million expansion fee. So what do Gary Bettman and the NHL Board do now? Refund some of the expansion fee money back to Bill Foley and Las Vegas and then announce a new expansion with a smaller admission fee, more in tune with the market value of an NHL franchise, or do they keep their $500 million fee, announce more expansion and wait in vain for bids that may never come?

 

At the awards banquet, Bettman claimed that the NHL is no longer interested in expansion. Obviously they have to revise their strategy. Both options could result in an embarrassing loss of face for the NHL. Refund money back to Bill Foley and set a cheaper expansion fee means a climb down. And holding to a $500 million expansion fee resulted in only two bids by fanatics with no competition between rival cities. That’s humiliating enough. What if expansion were announced and NOBODY bid?

But a 31 team NHL is no more suitable than a 30 team league and this holds true for both the NBA and MLB as well. All three leagues have to get to at least 32 teams and realign into an NFL structure for future development. And in the NHL’s case there is pressure on them to bring back both Quebec and Hartford and balance the conferences. For added spice, there is also the ugly Arizona Coyote situation that could mean a franchise shift.

The admission of Las Vegas is not the end of the NHL expansion but only a transitory phase, further complicated by the situations in Quebec, New York, and Phoenix. The dust has definitely not settled. The admission of Las Vegas is only the end of a bad expansion episode. The real drama has yet to occur.