The NHL’s deadline for applications for expansion teams has come and gone and we now have all the cities that will be up for
review to become the 31st and 32nd teams within the National Hockey League.By the word “all” I of course mean TWO. You read that correctly. TWO cities have submitted expansion applications to join the NHL. Is this a joke? A major professional sports league, the highest level hockey league on planet Earth calls for expansion bids and TWO cities get in applications. That’s a very curious situation. Hmmmm. Maybe it had something to do with the $500 MILLION DOLLAR EXPANSION FEE. The NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL Board of Governors severely overestimated their brand and the reality of the world these days. What makes this worse is Las Vegas is of course one of the two cities. The other is Quebec City. The latter is news I am very happy about. Seattle, which has been a major target for the league didn’t even submit an application.
Once again the NHL continues to take a great game and league and continue to mismanage it. They have done some good things with the league over the last 25 years. Some of the expansion has worked. The play on the ice is good. The outdoor games have been a huge success. This was the time to learn from the last 25 years and really put this league in its rightful spot in the sports world. While I and other hockey fans like me love this game, many people just don’t get it. You might as well say you like to kick puppies or get the obligatory “ohhh they fight”. I rack that up to a bad job of the NHL in marketing the league and this great game. So since the NHL powers that be seem to not be up to the task in properly realigning the NHL in a way that makes sense and will best secure the league’s and the very game of hockey’s future, Power Play Paradise will have to do it for them.
With expansion we first look at and applaud the NHL for their gambles on San Jose, Tampa, Anaheim, and Nashville. Carolina’s and Dallas’ relocation resulted in Stanley Cup championships for both franchises. Colorado moving out of Quebec back in 1995 has also reaped rewards for their team as well. Ottawa, Columbus, and Minnesota have also done well within their markets. The new Winnipeg, formerly failed Atlanta experiment, continues to sell out with a fan base that is thrilled to have NHL hockey back in the province of Manitoba. This leaves us with the two resounding failures of NHL franchises. The Florida Panthers and the Arizona Coyotes. Ticket sales are abysmal and the hockey has been largely lackluster. Dale Tallon, the GM of the Panthers is on the right track, but it doesn’t seem to be helping ticket sales in South Florida. Like with any good business after the last couple of decades, it is now time to move on from both cities. Desert hockey does not work and if you saw my last post about Las Vegas, you know my ardent opposition to an NHL franchise in Sin City.
Well if I’m so smart, then what should they do? I don’t claim to be a genius, but here’s a plan that I think will best work to market the NHL and the game itself, but still recognize the new nontraditional markets, respect rivalries, and geographic proximity. Before I start listing all the moves, please be patient, because I will explain how things will be hammered out to make it all make sense.
First of all I would give expansion teams to Seattle and Quebec. That’s with a much lower expansion fee. You would place the new Seattle team in the Pacific Division. Quebec would be placed into the Atlantic Division. I would relocate the Arizona Coyotes to Wisconsin, probably Milwaukee, but Madison is something to be looked at as well. They would be moved into the Central Division. I would relocate the Florida Panthers to Kansas City and also into the Central Division. I would move the Colorado Avalanche to the Pacific Division, because they are in the Mountain Time Zone. I would then swap the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets divisions by putting Tampa in the Metropolitan Division and Columbus in the Atlantic Division. Now as you can see some of those statements are highlighted. They link up to past posts talking about the reasoning and the history of those cities. Below is a picture of this very alignment. It makes a whole lot more sense than what the NHL seems to be concocting.
What does this blog post accomplish in the grand scheme of things? Probably not much. But it is an outlet for this true hockey fan’s voice. Maybe it can get some people talking and maybe the right people will at least get the message. It’s very frustrating to see those who are entrusted with the NHL and the game of hockey, are seemingly misguided and have to continue to learn the hard way. We all want the same thing. For the NHL and the great game of hockey to be celebrated and appreciated for the grand spectacle that it is. Even if it’s just done by one lone blogger, one post at a time.
It’s been over two years since my last post. Where have I been? What have I been doing? Well I started teaching Electronic Media at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. I’ve been a little busy plus I just started an MFA program in Communication Design so I can remain there. But now like the legendary Phoenix rising from the ashes, Power Play Paradise has returned. Just in time for NHL expansion and hopefully relocation. A big theme of this blog has centered around NHL expansion and realignment.The NHL has just stated it’s looking to expand the league to 32 teams. I believe two years ago Power Play Paradise made that prediction. Looking at the way they realigned the league with 4 divisions and the 30 teams, it seemed obvious that 2 more teams were on the horizon. But of course like always when dealing with Gary Bettman, there are very disturbing grumblings of a worst case scenario. Las Vegas, Nevada is the leading candidate for an expansion franchise. I heard those same things a couple years back and went into some detail about that being a horrible idea. Why? The fact that it’s main industries are gambling and tourism. How about the fact that it’s Las Vegas, Nevada which is in the middle of the desert. We all have seen how wonderfully Arizona NHL hockey has done. So well that Glendale, Arizona is trying to get out of its fifteen year agreement after only a couple of years. Great. Now we can relocate the team to Kansas City or Wisconsin. Both much more appropriate and deserving areas, than Las Vegas or Arizona.
Do you want some more reasons? Okay. How about the fact that the Las Vegas population is very transient. Many come from all over and not many people who live there live there that long. How are you supposed to build a fan base that way? The fact that Las Vegas already has so much to do there and will people actually consistently go to NHL hockey right by casinos? How about this “great marketing strategy” Las Vegas plans to use to bring in fans? They are counting on people from other cities to watch their hometown teams in Vegas as part of the tourism experience. Being an Islander fan, expecting your team to make money by focusing on the other teams is always a losing proposition. Television market size. A factor always used in all sports when looking at league expansion. Currently Las Vegas is the number 41 TV market in the United States. Seattle is 14, Kansas City is 31, and Milwaukee(Wisconsin) is 35. So if you’re looking for potential television viewers, Las Vegas is behind all those other cities I feel should have an NHL franchise before Las Vegas. That would also make it the second smallest NHL television market in the United States. Buffalo is currently the smallest and they’re not going anywhere.
Proponents of this failure of an idea point to the the over 10,000 deposits of season tickets. My question is how many of those were corporate interests that would benefit from a new NHL franchise and how many were actual fans that would continue to come to games? Once the novelty wears off after a couple of years, what will numbers be then? Any expansion team will struggle on the ice. That generally doesn’t bring the fans through the turnstiles. To Las Vegas, this is just another stunt show. They don’t care about the NHL or the game of hockey. They care about the next show they can make money on and when it fizzles out they’ll be done with it. There needs to be some substance and real analysis of any decisions made about expansion.Don’t just go for the shiny neat little token. Not to mention it is Las Vegas and you always have to worry about the gambling aspect and its possible effect on NHL games.
Now even with all that reasoning I do actually believe Las Vegas has a role with the NHL and the expansion of hockey in this
country. I know, what? It comes down to one very big truth about Vegas. You don’t marry Vegas. Ever visited there? It’s fun for a few days then you’re burnt out and ready to go home. It’s the epitome of a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Don’t try to make Las Vegas what it is not. So what great role do I see Las Vegas playing? Everything but an NHL franchise. Make it the official playground for the NHL and hockey. Just don’t give them the NHL franchise. Give them an AHL franchise. Here’s an idea. Add one regular season game to the NHL season so there are now 83 games. Have 16 regular season neutral site games in Las Vegas, always Eastern versus Western Conference teams. They can host the NHL All-Star game, NHL Draft, preseason games, an outdoor NHL game, NHL Board of Governor’s and NHLPA meetings, charity all-star and alumni games, NHL fan conventions, NHL sponsored clinics and tournaments, NHL fantasy hockey drafts, continue having the awards show there, get USA Hockey to make it their headquarters for the men’s, women’s, and junior teams. They can practice there and have all their games there. Plus you can also have the single greatest ice show ever produced with some of the biggest figure skaters based there instead of running all over the world on some tour. The profits, the game of hockey, the NHL, and Las Vegas’ profile will be far more successful if you do all that, but not give the city the NHL franchise. A franchise that will fail and eventually relocate within a decade of opening, completely destroying hockey in that town, and making the league a laughingstock by trying to be the first major league to have a Las Vegas franchise.
Recent press reports say that the NHL is looking for a $500 million expansion fee and a $1 million application fee. So now
you’ve priced out many cities across North America. One such city is Kansas City, Missouri.They are a city that should be towards the top for an NHL franchise. Lamar Hunt Jr. the Kansas City Chiefs and ECHL Missouri Mavericks owner has scoffed at the fee. He is an owner of an NFL team. The top league for marketing, money, and success. That should tell you something there when an NFL owner has a problem with that kind of expansion fee. There are roughly, only about a third of current NHL franchises even worth $500 million.Gary Bettman and the NHL are either completely delusional or intentionally stacking the deck so Las Vegas does get a franchise.
Many of these decisions seem to center around Gary Bettman. He’s had some successes and failures. Arizona, Atlanta, and South Florida have been resounding failures. I’m trying to avoid a fourth with Las Vegas. There is a way to resolve expansion, realignment, and relocation to make the NHL the most sensible and most marketable league it can be, while still bringing in great profits, but respect the history and expand the game to new markets. That solution will come in my next installment of Power Play Paradise. The Phoenix has risen and he’s not happy.
The New York Islanders have largely been an absolute torture to follow for a majority of the last twenty-five years. 1993, 2002, and 2013 being the exceptions. Since July 2006, Garth Snow, the retiring backup goalie, who swooped in on Neil Smith and plucked his GM job from him, after just over a one month tenure, has been engaged in a team rebuild through the draft. Because the Islanders have had less than stellar records, this usually results in pretty high selections in the NHL Draft. Charles Wang has also cash strapped Snow by requiring him to stay around the “SALARY FLOOR”.
Among the more creative ways of accomplishing this, by having long retired player Alexei Yashin’s and recently acquired non-playing goalie Tim Thomas’ contracts counting towards the floor without either of these gentlemen playing for the team. I guess some would refer to that as “creative accounting”. Others may refer to that as circumventing the salary floor. We could get into the laundry list of issues with the New York Islanders such as the Rick Dipietro selection and fifteen year contract. Countless bad draft picks. Seemingly never ending incompetence and negligence in an effort to maintain bargain basement policies.
I don’t have a problem with building through the draft. A championship team is properly built that way. But once a team’s cupboard is as overflowing with young talent through a seven year effort (yes I said seven years), there has to come a time when a team needs to add those last few pieces to the championship puzzle. When a team such as the Islanders have as many prospects as they do, they can afford to give a few of those up and draft picks for established players. All of these great prospects will not be able to play for the team. There is a roster limit.
Let’s take a look at the moves the Islanders have made. Plus some moves they maybe should have made but didn’t. First on that list is trading away Mark Streit to Philadelphia for the since released Shane Harper(not shedding a tear about that one) and a 2014 4th round draft pick. I’m actually okay with this deal. Streit was going to become an unrestricted free agent. He got a four year $21 million contract from the Flyers. He has been a good player for this team and wore the “C” with pride and class. But he was 35 years old and seemed to be losing a step. I wouldn’t have been upset to see him here for a couple more years but four more seems to be a little too long. Plus for that much money, where he is at this stage in his career, I don’t think so. There are plenty of guys that will be up in that time period to play defense for this team. We got a 4th round pick for somebody we were going to lose anyway. I’ll take it.
Now let’s address the “Nino Situation”. This is a little more in depth a predicament than simply trading your 2010 fifth overall pick for gritty forward Cal Clutterbuck. The fact Garth drafted him where he did has always been a problem for me. Where he was ranked and if you look back on that draft some of the other guys Garth didn’t choose, to select Nino Niederreiter, will always have me shaking my head. Shall I list some of these names? Jeff Skinner, Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brett Connolly, Brendan Gallagher, and Alexander Burmistrov. That’s right now. Give it a few more years and we’ll take a look back again. Ugh. A word used after many an Islander draft.
I don’t have a problem with Cal Clutterbuck as a player. He’s a hard checking, aggresive, high energy guy the Islanders need. He was also John Tavares’ teammate in juniors. He’s only 25, so age isn’t an issue. He can also get you some points. He has some skill. So you may ask what’s the problem? The problem is that the team could have gotten Clutterbuck in another deal, that didn’t involve Nino Niederreiter. Nino and our first round pick is what LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi wanted for future NHL elite goaltender, Jonathan Bernier. Are you kidding me?! You don’t give up a guy you want to trade and your 1st round pick for a guy that would fit right into exactly what you are doing in this rebuild, for the next decade? Snow may be king of the dumpster divers, but his other GM functions have been sketchy at best. If you regularly read my blog I was ready to trade Nino, a defensive prospect, and their choice of Poulin, Nilsson, or Koskinen. Maybe even throw in the pick if they had to, but getting a 2nd rounder in return. Nino and the 15th overall pick could have brought in Bernier and you don’t pull the trigger on that? Then you trade that same guy for Cal Clutterbuck?! Sickening.
I wanted to re-sign Evgeni Nabokov to a two year contract as a super backup for Jonathan Bernier. That ship has sailed with Bernier in Toronto. I am not comfortable with Kevin Poulin as the backup. There is a reason they gave him a two way contract that allows the team to move him up and down with Bridgeport. I’d prefer a tandem with Nabokov and maybe looking into a trade for Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. Try a 45-37 split with Halak and Nabokov. Garth should be inquiring on his availability and the price for his services.
The Travis Hamonic, 7-year, $27 million deal, is a wise investment and locks in a big part of this defense for a long time. It’s time to bring back restricted free agents Josh Bailey, Thomas Hickey, the recently traded for Cal Clutterbuck, and the recently KHL bound David Ullstrom. Obviously not to the size of the Hamonic deal, but all fair in years and compensation to each of their unique and valuable talents.
This leaves us with the 2013 NHL Draft. I’ll admit when they first made the pick of Ryan Pulock I was upset they did not select Nikita Zadorov. I have learned more about Pulock, and his 100 mph slap shot, and I feel much better about him coming to the team. The rest of the draft, like for so many other teams, contains lots of question marks. A couple of goalies, an undersized offensive superstar, and the rest. We’ll see what happens.
Here we are post draft and free agent signing day and the Islanders are better in some ways, but may have not addressed enough needs to compete in the new NHL. Remember, realignment has the Islanders in a new eight team division with the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Capitals, Penguins, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets. A very much improved Blue Jackets team. You also include Detroit in the Eastern Conference, the new playoff format, and a full 82 game season, I’m not sure if the Islanders can make it back to back playoff appearances. The simple truth is this team will continue their frugal salary floor ways until they move to Brooklyn. Hopefully with an arena change there will be an ownership change in the form of Mikhail Prokhorov. Then maybe, just maybe, these next twenty-five years will not be an era of torture but one of redemption.
By a vote of 4-3, the Glendale City Council agreed to the fifteen year lease that will keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona. I’m sure Bettman and Daly are thrilled. I’m sure the small handful of fans are thrilled. But is this in the best interest of the NHL, and hockey as a sport in North America? This also begs the question how does this affect realignment? The Seattle rumors were rampant the last few weeks, but any return of Seattle NHL hockey will need to be put on hold for a few years.
Well, if you have followed this blog you know my assertion that it’s inevitable that the Florida Panthers will move due to their lackluster results on and off the ice, the defection of Detroit and Columbus to the Eastern Conference, and a new 32 team NHL on the horizon. They are the odd team out. Seattle will get a new team. It’s a matter of when and not “if”. Quebec also seems to be ready for a return. So if you remember my “Realignment and You. Uh oh. Now What?” post, I included a Phoenix Coyotes realignment scenario. Here it is.
PERMANENT POST FLORIDA MOVE TO KANSAS CITY, PHOENIX COYOTES REMAIN, and EXPANSION.
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.