Brooks Orpik. Brooks Orpik was the man that scored the game winning goal in overtime to clinch Game 6 and the series win for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the upstart New York Islanders. With the “Dream Team” consisting of names like Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Neal, Kunitz, Letang, Dupuis, journeyman tough guy Orpik eliminated the Islanders. Kind of ironic that a guy who was named after Herb Brooks, derailed a “mini-Miracle” in the making.
If you read my last post, I mentioned that I was wondering if the Islanders were (a) ready to battle or (b) just happy to be there. I will admit after the Game One 5-0 drubbing, I thought they were in option b. I never saw the team I had watched the last month and a half of the season. Apparently and thankfully I was wrong. It turned out to just be a really bad case of the nerves. This Islander team did what I hoped, outside of actually winning the series of course. They made that statement that they were back. This is not the same old Islanders and this team is about to make some noise in this league for the next decade. They played their hearts out. They actually outplayed the Penguins in four of the six games. The Penguins know it too. This team has a lot to be proud of and I thank them for bringing some pride back to all Islander fans.
With that said, where is the ownership’s head on this? Will they continue the same old salary floor circumventing strategies, or spend a little money to bring in the last few pieces to take the next step? The fans more than proved “if you build it, they will come”. They will also blow the roof off the Coliseum. The Islanders have some big decisions on what they will do for next season. First of their issues is goaltending.
Evgeni Nabokov has been a stabilizing force for the Islanders goaltending situation. He only came to the team because Garth Snow put in a waiver claim for him, when he tried to sign with the Detroit Red Wings after his short stint in the KHL. Nabokov realized Long Island wasn’t really the Siberia of the NHL that it was portrayed to be. I am thankful for what Evgeni Nabokov has brought to this team. But to take that next step, due to age concerns and his consistent career playoff performance, the Islanders need to find a new top goaltending option. I wouldn’t mind him as a backup, but I don’t think he or the team wants to explore that option. The in house options of Kevin Poulin, Mikko Koskinen, Anders Nilsson, and Rick Dipietro (ha!) are not viable options right now. Then who you might ask? There are two top possibilities that should be on the team’s radar. Los Angeles Kings backup, 24 year old Jonathan Bernier or 31 year old Phoenix Coyotes unrestricted free agent Mike Smith.
Jonathan Bernier is one of the most talented backup goaltenders in the NHL. The only reason he is a backup is because Jonathan Quick is the starter. He was drafted by the Kings in 2006, 11th overall. This past season he had a sub 2.00 GAA and a plus .920 save percentage in fourteen games played. The Islanders would need to make a trade for him. If I could be so bold, may I suggest a possible trade scenario? Don’t worry, it’s not ridiculous. The trade requesting Nino Niederreiter, blue chip defensive prospect Scott Mayfield, and their 2013 1st round pick (15th overall) for Jonathan Bernier. The Islanders have stockpiled prospects over the last five years so, two prospects and a first round draft pick will not cripple this very young franchise. In return they get a top goaltending option who is only 24 years old. He is also a restricted free agent so the trade is a better option rather than giving up four or five first round draft picks. I’m sure something could be arranged that will allow the teams to follow the rules but still get this deal done.
I suggest upon completion of this trade signing Bernier to a seven year contract extension. His youth also fits right in with the rest of the team. To solidify goaltending I also suggest re-signing Evgeni Nabokov to a two year deal. Look at it realistically. Nabokov is 38 years old. Chances are outside of a team losing an established starter, he will be a backup wherever he lands. His best option backing up a top goalie on a top spending cup contender and maybe playing twenty to twenty-five games if he’s lucky. With the Islanders you could establish the first year, a 45 to 50 game work load for Bernier. Let Nabokov play the remaining 32-37 games. He would be a mentor to Bernier, still get a lot more games played than anywhere else in the NHL, and set up a possible post playing career with a selfless move like that.
Mike Smith is an unrestricted free agent once the Stanley Cup Finals end. There are pluses for Mike Smith as an option. Well, he is an unrestricted free agent and it will only take money to bring him to the team without giving up any players in return. He is seven years older than Bernier. He has some big game experience and is accustomed to being the number one netminder. This could also work as a stop gap for the goalie prospects the Isles do have and allow them to develop fully. The team could talk shorter terms of years in any contract. He is a goalie and his last name is Smith. Minuses? Last year was a step back for the Coyotes and Smith personally. That’s a possible black mark against him. He is likely to be courted heavily by many other teams, such as the Philadelphia Flyers. Maybe the Islanders run will be taken lightly by possible free agents such as Smith. They may want to take a wait and see approach to make sure the team was not a one year wonder. The biggest black mark as always? Charles Wang is the owner and demands the team be run around the salary floor. Please don’t short change goaltending.
When I was first starting this post I also had some dreams about making trades for Thomas Vanek and Bobby Ryan. Hey both guys are probably going to be traded, the Islanders have all that cap room, this little taste of success will push the team to spend a little more because they saw the huge reaction from the fans, and they have a cupboard overflowing with prospects. Then I read an article from Newsday‘s Arthur Staple, about how they plan on sticking to the prospects and not to expect any huge offseason moves. Reality check. This is the New York Islanders under Charles Wang. Salary Floor Circumvention City. Population: New York Islanders. Just a reminder, Alexei Yashin (retired), Tim Thomas (traded for his salary because they knew he wasn’t playing this year), and all time draft bust Rick Dipietro (now AHL goalie) all currently count against the salary floor.
This offseason is that critical point in time of what is the future for the New York Islanders. Even if the team is “staying the course”, they have to realize goaltending cannot be messed around with. Jonathan Bernier or Mike Smith are your two best options. Bring back unrestricted free agents Keith Aucoin and Evgeni Nabokov for two year deals. Brad Boyes played fine but everyone knew he was here for the year to give some of those prospects more time to season. Mark Streit is the captain and has been a good player for this team. It also seems to be his last few days with the team. Matt Donovan may finally be ready to make the jump to the NHL. John Tavares has arrived as an NHL superstar and the defacto captain of this team. Players like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee, will be fighting for a roster spot when training camp starts. Don’t mess around with restricted free agents like Travis Hamonic, Josh Bailey, David Ullstrom, and Thomas Hickey. Get them signed and ready to go long before September. Building through the draft has given this team the future they have been waiting for. The future is now.
The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are here! Cue up the Andy Williams for “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. The ultimate in heart and dedication, battling for “Hockey’s Holy Grail”. Where as we saw last year an eight seeded underdog can shock the world and raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. The odds on favorites this year are the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Both chock full of talent. But the thing is, the games need to be played before a champion is crowned. So called experts give their predictions because they supposedly know X, Y, and/or Z. It’s nice to watch and fill time on their shows, but all that we can do as fans is sit back, watch, and enjoy the greatest time of the year for a hockey fan.
For your humble author, this is a very different year. Why? Because my team is usually trying to figure out who they are going to pick in the upcoming draft. I have mentioned in passing my allegiance is with the New York Islanders. I am waiting for the laughter. Go ahead. Get it out. They deserve it after the way they have been run for a good majority of the last twenty-five years. You will never find a bigger critic of the team than me. But now something is very different. The New York Islanders have made the playoffs. That was very odd to say. I remember a time when making the playoffs was a given. I first fell in love with the great game of hockey in 1980 as an 8 year old kid with the legendary Miracle on Ice team. My Dad never followed hockey so this was very new for me. I stumbled upon a game towards the end of the season between the Rangers (a team I heard of) and this New York Islander team. I recognized Ken Morrow from the Miracle team. I became entranced by guys like Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Bobby Nystrom, and Billy Smith. I always contend this makes me a “pure” fan. Because unlike many fans, I was not “brainwashed” or influenced by someone else to like a team. I don’t know. Like I’ve said before, I am a little “unique”.
I admit I was very spoiled the first few years of my hockey experience. The last twenty-five years have been heartbreakingly torturous to witness. So much so, I have been e-mailing the team for years, well before this social media phenomenon. I used to interact with Customer Service Manager, Kerry Cornills. It would drive me nuts watching Milbury make horrible mistake after horrible mistake. I felt a need to let them know we as Islander fans that we were not happy. Figuring they were in their own world not realizing how bad they were performing. I came to the harsh realization, they knew, but really didn’t care. They were just there to try and make some money and winning was a secondary benefit. I understand winning helps make money, but spending money is also required , so this was something they were not very keen on doing. I am currently blocked on the New York Islanders Facebook page because I would say things like, “Maybe if you put as much effort into the on-ice product, as you did with your promotions, the team might have a chance to compete for the Cup”. Apparently the truth isn’t very much appreciated in that neck of the woods. Just ask Chris Botta.
Yes they made the playoffs in 2007, but the New York Islanders have not won a playoff series since 1993. That’s exactly twenty years! Players such as Pierre Turgeon, Benoit Hogue, Glen Healy, Ray Ferarro, Marty McInnis, Derek King, and David Volek were on that team. That was the last thing Islander fans had something to cheer for. They advanced all the way to the Wales Conference finals against the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadiens. Al Arbour was actually the Head Coach of that team! It was a long time ago
Now Garth Snow’s rebuild may have finally turned something around. The King of the Dumpster Divers has picked up some recent castoffs and turned them into gold. Players like Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, Thomas Hickey, Colin McDonald, Keith Aucoin, and Brian Strait. Most of those guys are not household superstars, but all have shown tremendous talent in playing their roles to build a competitive team. I still question some of his draft picks, and he seems limited by the salary floor neighborhood the team is required to live in, but he has the Midas Touch when it comes to finding the proverbial “diamond in the rough”. They have a few more moves to make. Pick up a couple of offensive wingers, re-signing a couple of impending free agents, and a solid backup goalie. They are much closer now and this team really seems to have finally turned the corner. Don’t “Milbury” this up.
The New York Islanders have earned the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference against the seemingly unstoppable Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Morrow, Fleury, Letang, Kunitz, Dupuis. Practically as close to a ”Dream Team” as one could get in this new NHL world. But this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These are not your same old New York Islanders. I was watching this team in April and was amazed at what I was watching. Actual crisp passing. Fast skating. Grinding. Not the same old boring dump and chase. They were actually outplaying some top notch teams. I wanted to cry. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a team with so much gidddyap in their step. I am a realist and know this is just a first step in what could be a great journey.
Remember, my first exposure to hockey was the Miracle on Ice team. The talent gap between the Soviet team and Team USA was far greater than what the Islanders have to face in Round 1 against the almighty Penguins. I’m thrilled to feel that excitement again of making the playoffs. Hopefully the Islanders aren’t. It’s time to make some noise. To let the NHL know, that they will not just go quietly into the night. This is the New York Islanders coming out party. Let’s hope some of the “Miracle Magic” keeps the party going for a very long time.
“Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into”. If you have an appreciation for very old school comedic, film you’ll recognize that quote from the old Laurel and Hardy films. This is how I can best express the current NHL realignment situation. Everything was resolved, not to my liking or that of many others, but it was resolved. Now there are media reports that have a Canadian based ownership group ready to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and relocating them to Quebec. Okay that’s not a problem. But how does this affect the realignment plan? Are they going to just have the Phoenix turned Quebec team just play in the “Pacific Division”? We just finally had the whole Winnipeg in the Southeast Division problem figured out. Now we have this before this season is up?
You can’t tell me Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, and the rest of the NHL power brokers didn’t know anything about this possibility. The Phoenix Coyotes are currently owned by the NHL! I get not being able to divulge everything for business reasons, but don’t put out realignment plans, required for approval by several parties out there, without having certain backup plans for possible events that may arise. By the way, is it just me or could Bettman and Daly really pass for Laurel and Hardy? Well at least if they decided to go to a Halloween party together, they’d probably win if they went as the duo. I find that very strange indeed.
I thought I was done with this whole NHL realignment thing with the final installment of my NHL realignment trilogy: “The Return of the Nordique”. To quote another movie, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in”. So here’s where we stand as of right now. The NHL realignment plan is as follows. Just click on the picture for a clear view.
If indeed the Phoenix Coyotes are sold to a Canadian based ownership group, and the plan is to move them to Quebec for the 2013-14 NHL season, a temporary alternate realignment plan must be adopted. Somebody will be upset, but I think the league, if they do adopt a new plan, will make it a very minor change until they expand to the thirty-two team NHL. The path of least resistance in this specific scenario to “not upset the apple cart” would simply be to swap the Colorado Avalanche out of “Division B” to “Division A” and put a new Quebec team into “Division B”.
Yes I am aware of where Quebec City is located. Of course I’d rather have them in “Division C” with Montreal, Toronto, Boston, “and the rest”, but this seems to be the easiest transition. I cannot see the NHL and and NHLPA adopting a whole brand new massive realignment before they even start with the already agreed upon plan. It took quite a while to agree on the last plan. Do you honestly think, all parties involved would welcome a whole new reboot after the last couple of years? Quebec is out of place in that more midwestern division, but it’s better than in a west coast arrangement. Colorado being in the mountain time zone, has the most flexibility to being in either division. That franchise still owes something to Quebec City for leaving, following the 1995 season. They could also allow the new Quebec franchise to adopt the the Nordiques name and uniforms. Their debt would then be paid back in full.
So this leaves the NHL realignment plan for the next couple of years. How will the Phoenix Coyotes move to Quebec work within that plan, and an inevitable post expansion thirty-two team NHL? Going by everything that has actually occurred, here are both scenarios that could work out in their alignment.
When I see the the new NHL playoff format, one name name comes to mind. Gorilla Monsoon. Now you might be asking either, “Gorilla Monsoon?” Or of course, “Who in the blue blazes is Gorilla Monsoon?!” Gorilla Monsoon was a former WWE Hall of Fame wrestler, turned announcer in the 1980s. Okay. But what does he have to do with the NHL? Absolutely nothing. But he loved to use the saying, “Close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
I think if you read my previous NHL realignment trilogy, you probably figured out I’m not you’re normal, run of the mill hockey blogger.
So the official NHL playoff system will be ALMOST like the “Old School” Divisional Playoffs. But not quite. The top three teams in each of the four divisions will earn the first six of eight playoff berths in the conference. Then the final two playoff spots will go to the next two highest point teams within the conference regardless of division. These have been described as “Wild Card” teams.
Hypothetically one division could have five teams qualify and three in the other. If that occurs the top seed in the conference would play the lowest seed, and the second best team would play the second lowest team. But then the rest of the playoffs would be divisional format?
That hurt to write so I can just imagine how painful that was to read. I am sorry on so many levels. I think Dion Phaneuf’s expression properly captures my feeling about this NHL Playoff plan. I really think the NHL needs a Timeout. They were so close to making the NHL Playoffs great again. Of course they messed it up! One problem with the Divisional Playoff format was sometimes teams in one division who finished in fifth place would have more points than the fourth place team in the other division and would not make the playoffs.
Okay I see where that is an issue. I won’t deny that. But there are problems with any format. If you look at the top eight in the conference they use now, the third best division champion in the conference gets the number three seed while there are teams from the other divisions that finished with more points, getting a lower seed because they finished behind another division champ. Some might say, “Why don’t they just have the top eight seeds by points get seeded that way?”
I am a big proponent of pure divisional playoffs. Maybe because I am old enough to remember the intense competition of those battles between intra-divisional rivals. The Patrick Division playoffs were some of the most hard hitting, blood feuds one could possibly hope for in professional sport playoff format. Each playoff game was truly a full out fight for supremacy and this would carry over to the next season. When you won the Stanley Cup every round was a grudge match. I have a big question about this coming playoff process.
What happens if the top eight teams in the conference are actually the top four in each division, but the top seed and the bottom seed are NOT in the same division? So you are going to NOT have the great intra-divisional match up in the first round because the seeding doesn’t follow your format? You’re watering down the quality of playoffs. I’d much rather watch my team play one of my huge rivals in that first round. Being that I’m an Islander fan, that’s been largely a hypothetical situation I could only dream about. That subject will be addressed in the future.
One of the big aspects to realignment and this new playoff format was to promote the divisional rivalries. Great idea! So why don’t you just go to Divisional Playoffs? They are so close, right at the edge, and just miss out on an incredible opportunity. I realize many younger fans can’t really remember the divisional playoff format. It has been quite a while since the NHL used them.1993 to be exact. Don’t get me wrong. The NHL Playoffs to me are the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Andy Williams reference). But these full conference playoffs have really been missing something without the required path to the Cup through your divisional rivals.
Those classic Islander-Ranger playoff series, during those long ago dynasty years were the stuff of legend. I still remember that overtime goal against the Rangers in 1984, to send the Islanders into the second round of the playoffs during their just short “Drive for Five” effort. The 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs (also unfortunately the last time the team got past the first round), where the Isles first took on the Washington Capitals and the infamous Dale Hunter(of whom I still loathe to this day) and his cheap shot from behind on Pierre Turgeon as he stole the puck away from Hunter to score a goal. A certain Denis Leary song started getting played on local radio stations in “honor” of “Dirty Dale” shortly after this incident. The Isles followed that series facing off against the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Those same Islanders defeated the Big Bad Pens WITHOUT Turgeon. Thanks in large part to the David Volek shot in OT in Game 7, to deny the Penguins dynasty.
The words of a just some “old guy” whining about the “good ol’ days?” Maybe. But I say to you, the playoffs have not had the same intensity they had when teams had to go directly through their division rivals to raise Hockey’s Holy Grail. I truly wish I could place that “feeling of intensity” inside all hockey fans to better understand what it is I am talking about. It’s one of those things that you can’t just talk about. It really has to be felt. Words cannot do it justice. If that were possible, fans would never know how they got along without it. More regular season games and divisional playoffs would take the rivalry level up that you may think you is already high, ten fold. The NHL has tried some new things. I like some. Some, I’m not so thrilled with. If they want this great product, do it right. Divisional Playoffs will bring back that “x-factor” that the league has been looking for. Let’s get that ringer.
Orr: BUF, QUE(Phx), MTL, TOR, OTT, CBJ, BOS, *TOR(Markham)
Howe: NASH, MIN, WPG, STL, CHI, DET, DAL, *KC
Gretzky: ANA, LA, SJ, VAN, EDM, CGY, COL, SEA(Fla)
36 Games: 6 games(3H, 3A) vs 6 ”Norris” Division Rivals.
46 Games: 2 Games (1h,1a) vs 23 other NHL teams.
Regular Season Time Zone Breakdown
82 Game 30 NHL Team Season
57 games in the Eastern Time zone.
18 games in the Central time zone.
4 games in the Pacific time zone
3 games in the Mountain Time zone
The eighteen games within the Central Time Zone against their “Norris” Division rivals could start no later than 7:05 pm local time. Some of those would not all start that late. There are games normally played as matinees on weekends and holidays every year. I’m sure an arrangement could be made to minimize evening weekend games in the Central Time Zone for the Red Wings. So in reality, only a portion of those eighteen Central Time Zone games would end around 10:30pm in th Eastern Time Zone. Remember, I’m bending over backwards to convince the Red Wings to stay in that division, and they have already sacrificed so much.
Below are the same breakdowns for a thirty-two team NHL, eighty-three game regular season. Playing five games against a team’s seven intradivisional rivals requires a one game home advantage for every series. To address this situation they could alternate home ice advantage each year. To determine that first year they could flip a coin, use lottery balls, give it to the team with the better or worse record.
Regular Season Time Zone Breakdown
83 Game 32 NHL Team Season
56 or 57 games in the Eastern Time zone.
17 or 18 games in the Central time zone.
5 games in the Pacific time zone
3 games in the Mountain Time zone
The Good Ol’ Hockey Game.
There is also a very interesting opportunity for the league as well. One of these “extra” games could be an outdoor game for every team. This makes that eighty-third game a very important game.. The potential financial, marketing, and philanthropic, bonanza would be off the charts. One idea that came to me is what I have named, “The Pennslyvania Puck Drop at Penn State”. The Pittsburgh Penguins against the Philadelphia Flyers ever year from Beaver Stadium. Alternating home ice advantage. Besides the incredible economic gains with an event like this, a lot of good will can be accomplished. Charities such as Hockey Fights Cancer, Penn State’s “Thon” that benefits the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and child abuse prevention could benefit immeasurably. The huge statewide event promoting Pennsylvania pride from all corners of the commonwealth, would be enormous. This would also be a great chance to grow the image of not only the NHL and hockey in general, but a great chance for Penn State to regain its reputation following the disgusting Sandusky scandal. Something that has so much potential, it would be crazy not to do it. Now take something like that in one location, but now place it all over North America. Think about it.
Blue Jacket Image Makeover
Now this step may seem completely superficial, but in the business world, how one markets their product or service can be the deciding factor in success or failure. Same goes for professional sports teams. This is a very simple change. Officially change the name of the team from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Ohio Blue Jackets. Some may say why? When a non-hockey sports fan hears Columbus, they automatically smirk and give that, “why is there a a major league sports team in what sounds like a very minor league town?” Look, I’m sorry. I have to agree with that sentiment. I get Columbus, Ohio is the capital and largest city in the state of Ohio(if you include the surrounding metro area). Columbus is also the fifteenth most populous city in the United States. “The” Ohio State University is based out of there. Sorry, I don’t really care for college sports, but some may get offended if I don’t include “the”. But the simple truth is when someone hears Columbus, Ohio outside of the state of Ohio, people don’t think of this great metropolis. I know when I hear Columbus, I think of two things. Number one. The Columbus Clippers, the longtime triple-A affiliate for the New York Yankees. I lived on Long Island for over thirty years, so that should probably explain that. Number two? The city that the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties” was based out of.
I’m not trying to disrespect the city at all. What I’m trying to do is better market the team. I think the team is on the right track. Historically speaking, they have been struggling on and off the ice. But I do feel once they do turn around their fortunes, which as of late may just be getting started, NHL hockey will be very succesful in Ohio. They placed the team in Columbus to bring all of Ohio together because it is the capital. It is in the center of the state. So fans from Cleveland and Cincinatti, usually very bitter enemies, would stand side-by-side, supporting Ohio’s team. They have the flag of Ohio on their chest! This point is to better market the team and the league. Nothing more. How hard of a change could that be?
The overtime loss. The bane of many a hockey fan’s existence. I propose eliminating the awarding of a point for an overtime loss. The NHL has tried to reason it for years, but never making much sense to many people at all. Hypothetically a team could go 10-0-72-0 and get the same amount of points as two of last year’s playoff teams. The Washington Capitals and the Ottawa Senators. Read that again, a team could hypothetically lose SEVENTY-TWO games in overtime and have the same amount of points as two of last year’s playoff teams. Now I realize that is a big improbability, but the fact there is just a chance of happening completely delegitimizes the OTL. I was watching Colin Cowherd, something I don’t usually do, but he made a great point. “When a team loses in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in overtime, they don’t get anything.” That rule should, but won’t be implemented at the start of the 2013-14 season. In conjunction with ditching the OTL point, I would extend the overtime period to ten minutes. If a team can get to the shootout after ten minutes, it truly was a stalemate. If you get to the shootout then you get the guaranteed point with an SOL in the standings. I find that many times a team can clamp down defensively in five minutes to get to the the shootut, which many argue is not a good representation of who actually won the game. It shows they have guys who are better at breakaways.
BREAKING NEWS! The NHLPA has approved the realignment and playoff format proposal introduced by the NHL. There may be some thunder stealing occurring, but that’s fine. All that much more for Power Play Paradise to prognosticate about.
When we last left our author, he was talking about how the Eastern Conference in the NHL realignment plan having many more questions than answers. The big points being the Detroit defection, too many teams within the conference, what seems to be inevitable expansion, and relocation of franchises. Including a never mentioned before by the NHL, Florida Panthers move. Now we find him trying to tackle how the Detroit Red Wings move to the Eastern Conference not only causes numerous problems there, but leaves a terrible void in the balance of power between the conferences.
Like I’ve said in my previous post on this issue, I completely understand and respect the whole good soldier aspect, travel problems, playoffs, and time zone issues that the Red Wings have been forced to endure. A question that doesn’t seem to be raised, is what is left in the Western Conference if Detroit, Columbus (don’t laugh they are still an established franchise), and hypothetically a Phoenix move to Quebec(which has been rumored of late) all go east? Let’s say for argument’s sake the Florida Panthers are moved to Kansas City, Seattle, or Las Vegas. Ow! That hurts just to write down! Vegas. I feel cold all of a sudden. How does the trading of three established NHL franchises, including an Original Six team, conference and NHL powerhouse, winner of eleven Stanley Cups, four since the 1996-97 season, equate to getting the Florida Panthers and two expansion teams in return? Especially, when all those possible towns have huge question marks about their viability as an NHL market. May seem to be just a “tad” lopsided. Yes the quotes are supposed to express sarcasm. Let’s take a look at these possible cities with a little history lesson of them as hockey markets.
Kansas City was awarded a franchise in 1972 and entered the league during the 1974-75 season, alongside the Washington Capitals. (Interestingly enough, the same year the NHL decided to go to the name divisions. That subject will be mentioned in future posts.) The Kansas City Scouts only survived for two seasons before they moved to Denver as the Colorado Rockies, which then moved in 1982 to become the New Jersey Devils. The Kansas City Scouts went 27-110-23 during their tenure and had very weak public support. It is nearly forty years later, and the city is hoping for another NHL franchise. The city so wanted a new NHL team to play there, they built and opened a state of the art arena, the Sprint Center in October 2007. There were plans early on when a local businessman was looking into buying the Nashville Predators and moving them to KC. That fell through. When the Penguins were negotiating for their new arena deal, they were flirting with Kansas City to gain leverage. The same with the Islanders, so much so, New York even played a preseason game at the Sprint Center in 2009. Since 2008, with the exception of this preseason because of the lockout, the Sprint Center has hosted NHL preseason games. The most recent in 2011, a sellout between the Kings and Penguins. This may be the perfect time to try hockey again in Kansas City. Very different time, but with any venture like this, and the city’s history, there is a lot of risk.
Seattle’s hockey roots are very old with the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915-1924. The won the Stanley Cup in 1917 against the National Hockey Association’s Montreal Canadiens. The Metropolitans were the first U.S. based team in history to raise Hockey’s Holy Grail. They also played in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1919 but that series was cancelled due to an outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Over the years the city of Seattle has had many minor league and junior league teams. Since 1985 the Seattle Thunderbirds have been playing in the junior level Western Hockey League and have produced NHL players such as Patrick Marleau, Chris Osgood, and Brendan Witt. So history, geography, and support of an NHL squad should work in the market. There is also a newly approved arena for the city. The NHL has recently sent people there to scout the city. You may have heard of this one guy in that merry little band. Umm….Wayne Gretzky?. Some may say, just move an NHL team like the Coyotes there now. The problem is the old SuperSonics’ building , the Key Arena, does not work for hockey. So any move will have to wait until some time in the second half of the decade. A wait I think the league will be more than willing to endure, for the greater good of the game.
This leaves us with the most disturbing of the cities rumored to be a candidate for an NHL franchise. Las Vegas, Nevada. From the previous tone of this, one could probably figure out that I’m not a supporter of this idea. Has the NHL learned nothing from the lessons of Phoenix, Atlanta, and what may be Florida? The current ECHL franchise based in Las Vegas is consistently just in the bottom half of attendance for the league. I get Las Vegas is fun. I’ve been there three times. It’s also a place many people get burned out after being there for a few days. The NHL has their awards show there now. I don’t have a problem with that. My concern is the long term feasibility of Las Vegas as an NHL city. It’s the middle of the desert. It’s a city based on tourism. Housing market has tanked there and the economy has been struggling, like many places across the nation these days. Saying all that, I do feel the city does have huge potential to engage in a very successful financial relationship with the NHL. Continue to have the NHL Awards show there. Have an annual NHL preseason game there. Possibly have an outdoor game there. (Don’t laugh. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers played there back on September 27, 1991 outside of Caesar’s Palace.) A neutral site regular season game might also work there every once in a while. The best chance for hockey in Las Vegas may be the AHL. The Los Angeles Kings’ top affiliate is all the way across the country in Manchester, New Hampshire. An affiliate in Las Vegas may work perfectly. They could just name them the Las Vegas Kings. Same uniforms, only difference would be a “V” instead of an “A” on the front of the jersey. L.A. King GM Dean Lombardi may want to give AHL President Dave Andrews a call. Just a thought.
I’m not trying to upset business. Just throwing some ideas out that may work, instead of what may be another misplaced NHL franchise. I adore the game of hockey and want to see the NHL succeed. Not only from an economic standpoint, but in the hearts and minds of sports fans everywhere. If you’re reading this blog, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The fact the NHL is considered fifth, sixth, or possibly seventh dog in the show, behind NFL, MLB, NBA(which really disgusts me), College football and basketball is beyond my ability to comprehend. That’s what these ideas are about. Yes hockey fans are not a huge group. But we are a very passionate group. Let’s show all those “non-believers” how amazing this game is. Broadening the horizons of the masses to try and make this world just a little bit better. Plus, I’m just tired of people giving me “that look” when I tell them that I like hockey.
So basically now that the NHL is definitely moving Detroit and Columbus to the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference will now have two less teams. When one looks at the histories and situations of the possible replacement cities to offset the loss of Detroit and Columbus, the Eastern Conference has clearly become the Alpha Dog in the forseeable future. Chicago and Anaheim are both having tremendous years, but will it be enough? St. Louis has something good “brewing”. But they have been just okay this year. L.A. is the defending Cup champs, but to take the mantle of Conference powerhouse? I’m not sure about that. Vancouver, always good in the regular season, but typical playoff collapse usually occurs. San Jose? Minnesota? We’re really starting to scrape the bottom of that proverbial barrel. What happens with Phoenix? Do they move to Quebec? Kansas City? Seattle when it’s ready? Or does the NHL continue to lose money in a failed experiment, just to prove Phoenix can work out of pure stubborness, or the fact they don’t have enough teams in the west? Are you beginning to see my point? This realignment plan is only good until the end of the 2014-15 season. Coincidentally enough, the same time Quebec’s arena opens and the New York Islanders move to Brooklyn. Imagine that? The real fun starts when the expansion and franchise relocation commences. To finalize this trilogy, Power Play Paradise will release the realignment and playoff scenario, that may have been a better option to what has been accepted. Coming soon to this blog …. NHL Realignment 3: The Return of the Nordique.
The NHL has released its newest version of league realignment, and it has met with mixed reviews. The plan basically providing more questions than answers.
It seems to try and address many teams complaints about scheduling, travel, and playoffs. But will it work? Let’s take a look. The big move is Detroit to the Eastern Conference in what is being called the “Central” Division. Columbus also follows but they go to the “Atlantic”. Ohio, not a state well known for much beach front property on the Atlantic Ocean. They then move both teams based in Florida, the Panthers and Lightning, to the “Central”. Okayyyy…..
Detroit has been the good soldier by playing in the Western Conference for a very long time, to offset the balance of power between conferences. They’ve endured grueling travel, though all the time zones, playing many late night west coast games, all to help the league out. I respect that and I am still hesitant about moving them. My reservation is still the balance of power between conferences. My other problem is with those two moves and the NHL’s future expansion and possible relocation plans, there will be too many teams in the Eastern Conference. They both go hand-in-hand. The league wants to have a thirty-two team league when everything is said and done. So this is what inspired the four division setup. Just like the “old days” that don’t seem all that long ago.
Over the course of the last few years the NHL has been speaking publicly about certain desires for the league’s divisional breakdown and what markets they want to include in their master plan. They have said they want….
- To reestablish NHL hockey back in Quebec.
- Introduce a second Toronto based team.
- Possibly expand to Seattle, Kansas City, and now the latest rumor Las Vegas.
Some of this seems to make sense, but there is some there that just doesn’t. Quebec, I’m all in. It was a sad day when the Quebec Nordiques packed up, moved to Denver, and emerged as the Colorado Avalanche. What made it even worse was the fact the first year in that city, they go on to win the Stanley Cup. Long time frustrated fans of a team with nothing but mediocrity for years, leaves town and raises Hockey’s Holy Grail. I have an old school, light blue Joe Sakic jersery hanging in my closet, about 10 feet away as I write this blog right now. It is the jewel of my collection. So that should illustrate how I feel about a new Quebec team. I suggest just bringing back the old name and jerseys. If you want to come up with a new updated look, that’s fine. Just as long as they remember the classics. Sorry about that tangent.
A second Toronto team? I’m not sure how I feel about that. I know there is probably more than enough support for it in hockey crazy Toronto. The Toronto Maple Leafs are not enough? What about all the other cities out there that don’t have one hockey team? I know I’m an Islander fan and speaking about too many teams in one market. If you were from the region, with all those people in the New York metro area, you would understand. Many Long Islanders never supported the Rangers, feeling a disconnect from “the city”. Remember the Rangers were not the first New York team either. An almost forgotten but very important New York Americans team was there before the “Broadway Blueshirts”. But that’s a story for another day. I might be behind a second Toronto franchise if there wouldn’t be too many teams in the Eastern Conference.
Think about it. In their most recent scenario of realignment they have sixteen teams already in there. This means there will need to be relocation of franchises to different markets and expansion teams to have it all come together. This also means tough decisions are on the horizon for the NHL. Adding a Quebec and a second Toronto team will mean eighteen squads. A possible relocation of Florida to Quebec, Seattle, or Kansas City seems to be inevitable. I know there hasn’t been any mention of that. Look at the hard facts. Florida has been struggling on and off the ice in a non traditional hockey market. The state of Florida does have a successful team with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many of their tickets sales the Panthers do get is because they sell many of their tickets well below normal value. That area of Florida has also been a notoriously fickle sports market.
I’ve heard rumblings of putting Columbus back into the Western Conference, but that doesn’t make much sense after only a couple of years of being in the east. They face the same issues Detroit has been complaining about for years, and it’s a much more tenuous situation due to the Blue Jackets’ on ice struggles and lagging support because of the team’s lack of success. My thought, in trying to channel my inner “Karnak”(Johnny Carson reference), is that the Florida Panthers are much more likely to relocate to Seattle or Kansas City, or please no, Las Vegas. My theory, for whatever that may be worth, is that the NHL may feel if they place an already established team in one of these cities, rather than an expansion team, there is a better chance for on ice success early on, and a better chance for hockey to stick in that market. They could then swap Columbus and Tampa and go without a second Toronto team. They could then make a Quebec expansion team, because it’s Canada. An expansion team will do just fine there. Here is a possible Eastern Conference configuration in that scenario I just hypothesized.
“Atlantic” Division: NYI, NYR, NJD, PHI, PIT, WASH, TB, CAR
“Central” Division: DET, TOR, BOS, MTL, BUF, OTT, CBJ, QUE
This alignment seems to work out nicely. But as you can see, there isn’t any Florida or second Toronto team in there. The NHL’s big decision? What do do they want more? Detroit in the Eastern Conference or a second Toronto team?
Just a theory.