Monday, June 27, 2011

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

What the hell was the point? When the NHLPA and the owners went to war over labour issues in 2004 which ended up wiping out the entire 2004-05 season we were promised a different NHL. We were promised an NHL where it wouldn't be just the big market teams that could compete financially and that all 30 teams would have a chance to be a Stanley Cup contender. Here we are, 6 years later, and absolutely nothing has changed. The big markets are still the winners and the small markets are still the losers.

After the 2005-06 season where everyone was scrambling to figure out the new NHL and two small markets in Carolina and Edmonton made it too the cup final, things began to balance out. The Stanley Cup winners from then on where Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and now Boston. All five of them are high payroll/cap teams that (at least when they're playing well) tend to earn money (not as much as the Canadian teams except Ottawa) except for Detroit who can't sell out anymore because no one in that city can afford tickets. To make up for that though they are owned by Mike Ilitch (owner of Little Caesers) who doesn't mind losing some money to put a winner on the ice.

When you look at the teams that have been at the top of the NHL during that time period and at the bottom during that period the picture of the leagues landscape begins to take shape and it's drawn with dollars and cents (except for Toronto who are the kings of revenue and still totally suck).

Florida is rumoured to lose around 25 million dollars a year and they haven't made the playoffs in 10 years. Columbus is in the same range in terms of losing money as Florida and they've only made the playoffs once in 10 years, same with Atlanta (now Winnipeg). They were both swept in the first round. Phoenix went through an 11 year cap between playoff appearances and they were swept by Detroit this past year. Carolina has made it three times in the last 10 years (although one included a Stanley Cup victory). The New York Islanders have been awful for 15 years. The Dallas Stars are starting to fall now that former billionaire and owner Tom Hicks is desperately trying to sell off all of his assets and Buffalo was bad for a long line until new billionaire owner Terry Pegula took over this season. The only relative success story in this regard is Nashville where GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz would be Stanley Cup champions right now if they had bigger budgets, they're that good.

If we look at the consistent winners post lockout, they strikingly resemble the winners pre-lockout. The Philadelphia Flyers have only missed the playoffs once in a fluke awful season and continue to be at the top of the league standings, same with New Jersey. Detroit is still the model of consistency that they've been since the mid 90's, The Rangers big spending ways are starting to pay off in the form of regular playoff appearances. Montreal has once again become a league financial powerhouse and have only once. The Vancouver Canucks have only missed twice and are fast becoming a major financial power, same with the team they just lost too in the Stanley Cup final the Boston Bruins.

Now, with the salary cap going up to 64 million, this gap is going to be as bad as it ever was. Only 4 teams payrolls were higher then next years cap ceiling before the lockout (Detroit and the Rangers at 77 million, the Flyers around 68 million and the Leafs at 66 million). So it begs the question, what was the point? What the hell was the point of the owners and the players union going to war? The players are making more money then they ever did as a whole (the big stars made more before. Anyone else remember Bill Guerin getting a 9 million a year deal from Dallas?) then they ever had. And the poor owners and teams are still unable to compete with the big boys. With the CBA expiring after next season, are we heading towards another lockout or is the NHL going to become like Major League Baseball with only 6-8 teams who can compete year after year?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Backtalk Backlash

Roberto Luongo has always been your typical Canadian hockey player who always says the right thing with a smile on his face no matter what. Swedish players tend to be the same as Canadians in terms on steady personalities and always saying the right things. The Sedin twins are no exception to this stereotype as they have always taken the, at times, ridiculous criticisms they receive in good stride. All of that changed however in this year's Stanley Cup finals and if game 6 is any indication then they may live to regret it.

Roberto Luongo verbally toasted Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas twice in a 24 hour span after his game 5 shutout of the Bruins. He questioned Thomas' goaltending style and said that he would have stopped the shot that Maxim Lapierre took to give Vancouver the one nothing lead and then basically accused Thomas of not being a good sport and not complimenting him after he'd been “pumping [Thomas'] tires” from the beginning of the series. Roberto Luongo has never been much of a talker when it comes to another teams players so this was very out of character for him and karma may have caught up to Luongo for opening his mouth a little too early. He was lit up for 3 weak goals in a 3 minute span before being pulled in favour of Corey Schneider. Luongo was obviously feeling good about himself and wanted to deliver an “in your face” message to the world after hearing nothing but negative things coming his way from the media and fans and nothing more then gushing over Tom Thomas. He was sick of it and if he wasn't feeling the love from other people so he was going to give it to himself. Game 6 served as a slap upside the head that the job isn't over and that Thomas has clearly outplayed him in these Stanley Cup finals. Luongo needs to have the game of his life to offset Thomas if the Canucks are going to take game 7 and the Stanley Cup.

The Sedin Twins, Henrik in particular, barking back at Mike Milbury through the media for calling them “Thelma and Louise” was also quite interesting. Daniel basically called Milbury a child for name calling and Henrik made light (not that there wasn't already a pretty big light) on Mad Mike's tenure as GM of the New York Islanders and how that franchise still hasn't recovered from it. While I found the comments to be highly amusing, it's also an indication that the Sedin's have been totally knocked off of their regular game and that they're way out of their comfort zone in these finals. The Bruins have bullied, bruised, and battered the Sedins during their 3 home games in this series and if they manage to do it again in Vancouver during game 7, then it wouldn't be a surprise if we see the Bruins hoisting the Stanley Cup on Wednesday.


Well, I think that we saw how this all worked out! It'll be interesting to see what happens with Luongo longterm in Vancouver

Thursday, June 9, 2011

NHL continues hypocritical ways

Aaron Rome. A plugger on the blueline for the Vancouver Canucks and the recipient of a four game suspension from the NHL for his late hit that knocked Bruins winger Nathan Horton right out of the playoffs. Interim head of NHL discipline Mike Murphy decided to come down hard on the Canucks number 6 defenceman instead of the usual slap on the wrist that they've been giving out all year long. There is no question what so ever that the hit deserved a suspension as it was a dirty, late hit delivered by Rome but it's the severity of the suspension that's strange. Now the question becomes if this is going to become the norm for the NHL or if Rome got such a hefty suspension because he's a plug on the backend and not a star?

Playoff suspensions have always been less severe then those handed out during the regular season because the league never really wants to handicap teams during the dance. This was never more evident then during the 2007 run to the cup for the Anaheim Ducks. In the Western Conference final Chris Pronger was given a 1 game suspension for driving Tomas Holmstrom's head through the boards from behind. In the Stanley Cup finals against Ottawa he was given another 1 game suspension for decapitating Dean McAmmond with his elbow. In the 2009 Stanley Cup finals, Colin Campbell rescinded a mandatory one game suspension for instigating a fight delivered to Evgeni Malkin and even just this year Alex Burrows got away with biting the finger of Patrice Bergeron (although if Bergeron is going to stick his finger in Burrows' mouth then he risked it). If we go back a little ways this modern culture may have been instilled during the 1996 Western Conference finals when Claude Lemieux ran Kris Draper into the boards from behind which resulted in serious injuries and Lemieux received a measly 2 game suspension. Ron Hextall and Dale Hunter received long suspensions due to actions during the playoffs but didn't miss any playoff games as their teams were eliminated in those games which they were eliminated.

Whether it's been Brian Burke, Colin Campbell, or Mike Murphy the NHL's head office has shown that, especially during the playoffs, that they're more then willing to get tough with 3rd and 4th liners in terms of suspensions but the stars get a free pass. This, unfortunately, will never change. Why? Because the TV executives at NBC will not like it if a centrepiece for the product they're trying to sell is healthy but not on the ice. Along with them Bettman probably doesn't like getting on the bad side of some of the owners that employ him who The league has shown that it couldn't care less what CBC or it's paying fans think so that leaves these two groups as those who the head office is trying to please. This Aaron Rome is just more of the same and now he's lost the chance to be on the ice if the Vancouver Canucks win the cup because of a head office trying to make an example out of a depth player to excuse their lack of action the rest of the year.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quebec City: Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, then you know that the Atlanta Thrashers long anticipated move the Winnipeg has finally happened. The Winnipeg Jets/Falcons/Moose have made it seven NHL franchises in Canada and one of the sunbelt franchises that has been hemorrhaging money has finally moved North of the 49th parallel. As soon as that happened, the topic of Quebec City immediately was brought up during the Winnipeg press conference and gave Gary Bettman another reason to not want to be in that room.

A lot of people are assuming that if the Phoenix issue continues to disintegrate that they will instantly move to Quebec City. Unfortunately of the people in the provincial capital of Quebec, it's really not going to be that easy. The NHL will be loathe to move yet another franchise from the deep south up north, especially one that they've fought so hard to keep where it is and a team that is one of a very few in a major Western market. They already have Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, and Columbus in the Western Conference even though they're all on the eastern side of the continent. Also Phoenix is one of the largest markets in the league and NBC (who basically treats the NHL like it's toy because they're willing to fork over some dollars) will not be pleased with losing such a large audience.

A difference between Quebec City and Winnipeg is that Winnipeg has an arena while Quebec City does not. Le Colisee is an absolute dump and was a big reason why the Nordiques skipped town back in 1996 so there's no way an NHL will play in there. There is a plan to build a 400 million dollar arena in the city with Quebec City covering 200 million of the costs and the rest split between the provincial government and probable team owner Pierre-Karl Peladeau. These groups are so bound and determined to get this done that they're trying to pass a bill through the Quebec legislature (or National Assembly as it's called there) ensuring that there can be no challenge to Quebecor's deal to manage this proposed arena. Quebec City mayor Regis Lebeaume was re-elected on a platform based on bringing the NHL back to Quebec City and has chosen to work with Peladeau to get that done. However even with all of this, the arena is supposedly on schedule to open it's doors in 2015 and one has to wonder if that will be too late. Right now the iron is red hot in terms of the possibility to move NHL franchises up North but with the lack of an arena until 2015 this gives Bettman another 4-5 years to fix up Phoenix and Florida. One thing that isn't smart is underestimating the resourcefulness and determination of Gary Bettman so I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see these franchises somehow skating by to the point where they can keep them in their current markets.

Another potential option for the NHL that has had rumblings recently is the possibility of Seattle as an NHL market. They to do not have an NHL quality arena and lost the NBA's SuperSonics to Oklahoma for this reason but they are a large American market. So if Seattle decides to build a new arena around the same time as Quebec City and a rich man like Paul Allen (owner of the Seahawks, Mariners, and Portland Trailblazers) get's convinced by the league that it's a good investment, where do you think they'd rather have a team? An American market that has a metro area population of 3.4 million on the Westcoast where they're desperate to have teams (especially if it's Phoenix that's moving) or a small Canadian market with a metro area population of 716,000? Doesn't take a lot to see which way the numbers swing and in who's favour.

Now, one could also argue that 4 years from now the NHL would be more willing to move Phoenix or Florida because the blow would be softer then if they moved two franchises to Canada in rapid succession. However, I believe that the reasons above outway this and that I will be very surprised if there are 8 Canadian NHL franchises in the near future.