21 December 2006

March of the Penguins

"Hockey Hopes Lifted Here" - Kansas City Star, 21 December 2006

The notion that a traditional hockey market - PITTSBURGH - would get taken up the rear sideways by a Gary Bettman-stylized shattered composite Easton blade puts me in a rage.

I'm taking Bettman's supposed grand attempts to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh with a grain of shit - I don't buy it. Kansas City??? Didn't we go through this once before? Yay - meet the latest whore outpost for a franchise that will have invested little hockey time but will buy a preformed entertainment package all ready to *market* and *sell* to potential fans. Hey, instead how about someone local bumping off David Glass and restoring a once-proud franchise?

Pittsburgh was a member of the first expansion in nearly 30 years in 1967 and was a solid and longtime member of the AHL when that league was not far below the NHL in terms of talent (the ill-named and factually incorrect "Original Six" era was an incestuous sham of a league, with a few families owning shares in all six teams and intentionally shutting out any other ownership possibilities or for that matter anything that might make the league more viable. Stubborn bastards.).

Moving them and treating them like a fly-by-night outfit when they are on the precipice of potentially years of greatness is sickly reminiscent of the Quebec move in 1995. This is not to say Denver wasn't/isn't a good market for hockey - it has been. But that entire Marcel Aubut soap opera reeked for many reasons:

1) moving the team from Quebec was not at all due to lack of support - IIRC, Le Colisee packed 'em in to well over 90% capacity their final season, and the natural rivalry they had with the Canadiens was uglyand beautiful and made the NHL a better place. The NHL wanted out of a so-called "smaller" market and wanted rich American owners. See also wanna-be Hall of Famer Gil Stein and his offensive courting of Wayne Huizenga (Panthers) and Michael Eisner (Ducks).

2) Nearly any city will support a great team (see also Panthers, Florida circa 1996). The test is moving a wet shit-bomb organization like the Phoenix Coyotes and seeing if a new city will support them (although I know one in Southeastern Manitoba that would with no qualms).

Honestly - no offence to KC. My ire and offence is aimed squarely at the money-hungry non-fans that run the NHL. As much as I would love more teams in Canada (not more teams, move some of the wasted experiments back up north), even Pittsburgh is just wrong, very wrong.

If Bettman had been commissioner in ~1978 who's to say he wouldn't have moved the Red Wings to Houston? Detroit sucked a bag of rocks for ages and was playing in an old stadium (read: NO LUXURY BOXES!! WE NEED MORE CORPORATE SUITS PAYING OUR BILLS!!!). Time to move the franchise!

Team success is cyclical - you don't uproot decades of tradition for the quick dollar. You lose millions of fans (who will as a result want to kill you), you MIGHT gain a few fans in the new city but when that team inevitably sucks - as all teams eventually do - you have no generational backing for or love of hockey, so they'll spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere.

I sometimes feel like a curmudgeon railing against the last decade+ of poorly considered expansion, but it is absurd to have franchises in cities where it's just another night out rather than a borderline obsession. this boosts franchise values in the short-term (YAY! We're Anaheim/Florida/Atlanta!), causing salaries to go up everywhere, making the smaller (often also home to the more diehard fans) cities struggle to make ends meet. Then those novelty act teams suck for a few years and the shine is off the turd.

It was glorious and heartbreaking last year for me to attend 2 QMJHL games (Patrick Roy-coached Quebec Remparts, led by now-Nashville Predator Alex Radulov) in Le Colisse in Quebec. Awesome arena which will never be built again because there weren't luxury suites. Sightlines are amazing (like Boston Garden, Buffalo Memorial Aud, Maple Leaf Gardens) and steep, Nordiques banners still hung from the rafters above. Marc Tardif. Peter Stastny. Jimmy Mann (kidding). A beautiful thing.

Oh yeah - there were 9500 people there. For junior hockey. But they weren't supportive hockey fans, no.

Jets, Nordiques, Whalers...now the Penguins? What can you do? "They've all gone, we'll go too" I suppose is the thinking. It can't be Nashville every night, Mr. Bettman. Think long-term. Pittsburgh needs the Penguins. And the NHL needs Pittsburgh.

God, I truly miss the John Ziegler days.

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