(will be published at http://www.sportsblurb.com/hockey/penalty.asp on January 3rd. A "cleaned up" version of my last few posts...)
Happy New Year to everyone! There’s been no shortage of hockey news over the past few weeks – Rory Fitzpatrick and the All-Star controversy, the ongoing World Junior Championships (with this morning’s USA vs. Canada semifinal game at 9:30EST live on Center Ice) – but probably the biggest news item over my break was the never-ending franchise instability in Pittsburgh, and I have more than a few thoughts about this mess:
The notion that a traditional hockey market - Pittsburgh - could get shafted with a move of the Penguins frosts me. Yes, I'm cynical: I'm taking NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's supposed grand attempts to keep the franchise in
1) Moving the team from Quebec was not due to lack of support - Le Colisee in Quebec packed in fans to well over 90% capacity in their final season, and the natural rivalry they had with the Canadiens was both ugly and beautiful and made the NHL a better place. The NHL wanted out of a so-called "smaller" market and wanted rich American owners to improve their “footprint” in the United States (see also erstwhile 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 (Panthers, Florida circa 1996). A true test would be moving a rotten team like the Phoenix Coyotes and seeing if a
Forgive the bitterness - and sincerely, I mean no offence to
Team success is cyclical - you can't uproot decades of tradition for the quick dollar. You will lose millions of fans (who will as a result hang you in effigy), you might gain a few fans in the
Admittedly, I feel like a curmudgeon railing against the last decade-plus of poorly considered expansion, but it is absurd to create franchise after franchise in cities where a professional hockey game is just another night out rather than a borderline obsession. One or two experiments would have been acceptable, but we’ve already gone past lunacy – why consider it again? Relocation seems to boost franchise values in the short-term causing salaries to go up league-wide, thereby making the smaller (often also home to the more diehard fans) market clubs struggle to make ends meet. Meanwhile the “novelty act” teams are lousy for a few years and the shine is off, leaving an empty house in a brand new arena. Capitalism at work? Yes, perhaps, but not a valid excuse for me – to me it is short term gain (debatable) for long-term alienation.
It was fantastic and heartbreaking last year for me to attend QMJHL games at Le Colisee in
The Jim Balsillie in-then-out saga was distasteful as well (assuming that it actually is over...). With the NHL having a history of looking for exactly the kind of franchise owner that Jim Balsillie is/would be (outrageously loaded with cash, head of a company with strong branding and inventors of a wildly popular product), why is he suddenly persona-non-grata to Mario Lemieux and Gary Bettman? On the surface there seemed to be no reason to shut him out and if it were anyone else but Balsillie I'd like to think the NHL would be begging him back and altering the deal to his liking.
While I've come to believe that Mr. Bettman really is protecting the existing Canadian teams (if not a little late), if he can help it there is no way in hell he will allow a team to relocate to
Yet today, when a team could be owned by one of the wealthiest men in
Yet another chapter in the hypocritically run NHL - once again the recipe could be to try to force hockey upon unsuspecting fans. And then other fans around the league, as well as announcers and players will - for years to come - complain about the schedule and how "nobody wants to see our team play Kansas City/Las Vegas/Nashville/Columbus" eight times a year. Jets, Nordiques, Whalers...are the Penguins soon to follow in their footsteps? Think long-term, Mr. Bettman.
I think I miss the John Ziegler days.
Other brief thoughts: All-Star game balloting ended last night and I for one still hope that Fitzpatrick made the top two, although it seems likely he’d decline the invitation, (no) thanks in part to the backlash from such NHL celebrities as Wayne Gretzky and Don Cherry…get off your pedestals – we’re talking about one starting position for a completely meaningless game (I seem to remember how little you enjoyed Mike Ramsey’s hipcheck in the All-Star game, Wayne…it’s an exhibition, right?) that happens to be giving the NHL a lot of press. Actually at this point, most of the fun has been taken out of the Vote For Rory campaign…
[edit: the ever-bitter Tyler at mc79hockey.com captures my feelings about the formerly-great-one very nicely. Load it up and search for "Wayne"]
Those of you with the Center Ice package should be tuning into this week’s World Junior Championship games. Sadly, they’ve only been telecasting
This weekend I’ll be scouting a few Ontario Hockey League games including taking an up-close look at 16-year old wunderkind John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals – although he won’t be NHL draft-eligible until 2009, he’s leading the OHL in goals with 32 in just 34 games. I’ll have the weekend report next Wednesday.