Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Atlanta's Move to Winnipeg: The Good Side

by NiNY

This is a story about accepting that the water under the bridge is, in fact, under the bridge.

For any of the myriad reasons already floated, the NHL in Atlanta was not going to work. My colleague KiPA points out that it was the owners and league that doomed the Thrashers, not the fans - and I agree with him. But, regardless the reason, the team failed in Atlanta. You can throw a bunch of maybes out there. Maybe with different owners it would have been better. Maybe with a better lease situation it would have been better. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But the facts on the ground were not conducive to that franchise thriving in Atlanta.

So, fish or cut bait.

The NHL cut bait.

Bettman talked about 'righting a wrong' in his comments about the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg (technically pending the board of governors' vote, which I have to think will be a rubber stamp affair - surely the best ownership options were already floated in Atlanta and, barring a new ownership option emerging, there's nothing at all in the way of an 'aye' vote). And that's interesting because he was basically echoing the comments he made at center ice of the Xcel Energy Center before the Minnesota Wild's inaugural season home opener. "We never should have left" or words to that effect.

Whether the NHL, under Bettman, is a stronger NHL than it was before Bettman is an argument for a different day (maybe a future HTP Good Side/Bad Side?) But if Bettman and the league realize that, at some point, you can't get blood from a particular stone and move on - and at the same time find a market they think will be more viable than the one they're leaving (and that's all they have right now: a prediction) then that's okay with me.

This is also a story about economics.

Having already invoked the North Stars, right up front, the situations are a bit different. The North Stars were moved by their owner, seeking a better deal for himself. The Jets, unable to keep up in the pre-cost-certainty NHL, and completely unaided by the Canadian dollar, were unable to afford to stay. The Wild came to St. Paul as an expansion franchise, while the Thrashers are a relo. The Canadian dollar is much stronger vs. the US dollar now. I would wonder if the Jets would have survived before in a post-lockout NHL featuring cost certainty, but I wouldn't want to get started on the maybes. I'm sure it hurt both fanbases equally when the North Stars and Jets left, but there are slightly different economics.

And economics is key here.

The Thrashers played to an average of 13,469 this season, or 72.6% capacity. The MTS Centre in Winnipeg seats 15,015. 13,469 is 89.7% of 15,015. So Winnipeg need only fill its building to at least 90% of capacity to immediately make sense from the NHL's perspective. Even beyond the initial honeymoon period, this should be easy to accomplish particularly given the parity in the league (again, back to the provisions of the cost-certainty that the league won during the lockout) and the fans' painful memory of losing a team once already.

Economically, corporate sponsorship is a concern for long-term viability. I'd say that's the one material issue to be overcome. I'm reading that they might name the team the Manitoba (something) instead of the Winnipeg (something) to appeal to a broader potential sponsorship base. So, while this is still absolutely an outstanding issue to be watched, it appears as though the pertinent parties are sensitive to it which is a step in the right direction.

But the main thing when looking at this from an economics standpoint is to compare what the NHL has in Winnipeg/Manitoba to what it is leaving behind in Atlanta. The comparison would be at least as favorable to Winnipeg if it was Phoenix that was moving, but the math works when it's Atlanta just the same.

If you believe that the long-term economics in Atlanta with the current set of circumstances just didn't work, then you also have to believe the long-term economics in Winnipeg are at least as bad in order to think this is a bad move for the NHL. And, to me, that dog just don't hunt.

The NHL was staring at a failure. And a two-time loser at that. If it was going to relo a team, it had to be to a place that would go bananas to get one. Winnipeg is as good an option as there is, and you get a little extra heart string tug given their history vis-a-vis the NHL.

So, the economics are solid and the NHL took the opportunity to accept its failures and move on. It has a built-in audience in Winnipeg and one that is extra-motivated to make it work long-term.

Hey, if nothing else, Selanne's a UFA. Maybe he'll want to *finish* his career back where it all began...

Atlanta's move to Winnipeg: The Bad Side


Stop me if you've heard this story before. NHL puts team in a city, city ends up not being able to care for said team, NHL abandons city, moves team to somewhere else. Down the road, however, the NHL fails to learn from the past and puts another team in said city. Said city again can't keep the team and loses it.

I speak of Atlanta, of course, and if we're not careful and lucky, the same could be said of Winnipeg.

Remember when the NHL had a team in Winnipeg? I bet you probably do. Remember what happened to that team in Winnipeg? Yeah.

Hopefully, the circumstances that led to the Jets leaving Canada won't happen to the new franchise in Winnipeg, whatever it will be called. (Doesn't seem like they'll go back to the Jets, which is another point in my favor. If you're going to put a team back there, how do you NOT call them the Jets? Will anyone take the new name seriously? How many jokes will there be that still refer to the team as the Jets?) There's no real guarantee of that though, is there?

I'll concede the point that it's good we have another Canadian team back in the league. But it never should've come to this. The relocation of the Thrashers speaks to the incompetence of commissioner Gary Bettman, his staff, the Atlanta "owners" and most of all, their greed. When the Coyotes reached a deal to stay in Phoenix for another season, did Bettman even pause before looking to move the Thrashers? Was he not content with the league as it was?

More importantly: Did he even put in half as much effort to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix as he did to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta? Like when he wanted to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh a few years ago?

One of the beat writers for the Penguins, Dave Molinari, blogged after Pittsburgh's regular season finale in Atlanta that some of the arena workers believed the Thrashers' days were numbered. That if the Coyotes didn't move to Manitoba, the Thrashers would. It's a bit startling, and disconcerting, how quickly and rapidly a deal to move the Thrashers was completed. Talk about a rebound relationship. We know how those usually end.

Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a fabulously scathing article on the whole situation. You can find that here.

And Schultz is absolutely correct. The city, the fans, didn't fail the franchise. The owners and (mis)management did. That's a testament to how little the NHL cares about character or integrity in prospective owners, they just want their money. (I know, tell that to Jim Balsillie; Bettman seems to have a vendetta against him.)

Relocating a franchise is a blackmark on a league. It's a sign of a lack of due diligence in determining the key factors that a team needs to work. Don't tell me hockey in the South can't work. Look at Carolina and the atmosphere they had for the All-Star Game. The playoff crowds in Nashville and Tampa. If the right ownership group, the right personnel and the right managers are in place, hockey can work anywhere.

Don't get me wrong. I hope the new Winnipeg team succeeds, even thrives. But the circumstances surrounding this mess leave me unhappy and disgruntled with Bettman and the NHL.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Aeros Success At Odds With Wild Consternation

by NiNY

One of the common themes in the griping about the Minnesota Wild by its fans as well as league cognoscenti over the last few years is that, in addition to a sub-par product at the NHL level, the developmental cupboard was dangerously bare.

So, it's hard to reconcile that theory against the Houston Aeros' run to the AHL's Calder Cup Finals this season.

I mean, if the kids actually are alright, then what, exactly, are we worried about?

Maybe nothing.

Then again, maybe not.

And that's really the thing. According to aeros.com, the average age of the players on the roster is roughly 25. So, young kids. That and the intangibles that go into operating as a team - the ability of the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts - in all sports but especially in hockey. Together those things mean that sometimes what's on paper, and even as a result of rational, informed analysis fails in the face of actual output.

And that's okay.

Analysts analyze. Operators operate. There aren't that many Jack Ryans who can do both.

So, to the extent that we need people analyzing and prognosticating whose function is a separate function from those who would actually carry out the tasks being analyzed (and we do, I'm not running an anti-media campaign here) I think the analysts can continue to ply their trade - even, maybe especially, when they're wrong.

Because this is just different shades of the same entertainment color, right? Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't provide some service to society. No, with hair like that he's there for entertainment. To further our society's need to live vicariously through sports. Nothing wrong with it. But nothing wrong - from an entertainment value - with being wrong either.

So maybe the Wild has a better crop of young players than we thought. Certainly, there's a chance that some of them will be better for this run alone. Does that make the casual Wild fan feel better about the future? Who knows. But if it gives the casual Wild fan some little extra nugget of entertainment, then it's all good.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Weighing the options: Realignment


With the near-imminent-no-really-it-hasn't-happened-yet-but-totally-will-soon news that the Atlanta Thrashers will move to Winnipeg, talk of realignment has begun to pick up. After all, we can't rightly have Winnipeg (location: not eastern Canada) in the Eastern Conference, right?

Supposedly, for some unknown and probably stupid reason, realignment doesn't appear imminent for 2011-12, however, the conferences will look different for the 2012-13 season. So let's take a look at some of the likely candidates to move East.


Pros: For the most part, the pros of moving East will be the same for any team. The biggest and most obvious is the travel ramifications. No more multiple trips to Vancouver, Phoenix, or southern California. More trips to Buffalo, Carolina and New York. Detroit is one of the few teams in the West who actually plays in the Eastern time zone. (I believe Columbus is the only other one?) That will save money on travel costs and also energy for an increasingly-aging team.

Detroit's large fan base will be able to see more of the Red Wings' road games. (Though if they're that die-hard, they'll watch them no matter where they play. But I digress.)

More intense rivalries could be created with teams like Washington and Philadelphia. It would result in most of the Original Six teams being in the East. It would be NBC's dream come true, because they'd have even less reason to show teams in the Western Conference.

Cons: Never mind that Chicago-Detroit rivalry. Who needs tradition? It would also hurt the other 14 teams in the West, as they would lose a major, major draw. None of the teams in the East would be happy either, as they would have to deal with a major, major opponent in earning division titles/playoff spots. It would create illogical divisions. It's bad enough Washington is in the Southeast Division; who north of the Mason-Dixon line will join them?

Diagnosis: As a member of the East, I don't want Detroit in the conference at all. Word is though they'll be the favorite, because they were such a "good soldier" in the last realignment that saw Toronto move East. Ken Holland is buddy-buddy with a lot of NHL higher-ups, so they'll probably whine their way into a move because they can't cut it in the West any more.


Pros: Again, the travel and money costs. But also, the Blue Jackets need help. Moving them East will, I believe, help them competitively because they won't have to deal with the crazy traveling. The East seems a little more wide-open at the bottom of the playoff picture, which could keep the Blue Jackets alive in the playoff race for longer. And if that's one more fan base who actually has reason to be excited as the year winds down, that's a major plus. Whereas Detroit will always be in the chase.

An instant rivalry with Pittsburgh will result. Penguins fans basically make Nationwide Arena their home away from home as it is. Columbus is the closest NHL town to Pittsburgh, and the Penguins need a rival they can actually beat. (They can't beat Philadelphia or Washington any more.) And since Pittsburgh is always on national TV, sometimes Columbus could be as well, which - gasp - would create more exposure for another team that isn't Pittsburgh, Washington, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, the Rangers or Chicago (or as my friend calls them, the NBC 7.)

Cons: They're not Detroit.

Diagnosis: They're not Detroit, so they're not an actual candidate.


Pros: In addition to what was said in the first paragraph on Columbus, there is one other major pro for Nashville to move. The Predators are one of the few NHL teams who could be considered in the southeastern part of the United States, so moving them to that division makes all the sense in the world.

Cons: The NHL does not do things that make sense. Nashville would be the only team who plays in the East that isn't in the Eastern time zone. Also, Nashville isn't Detroit.

Diagnosis: Nashville isn't Detroit, so the Preds aren't an actual candidate.


Pros: Screw it, why the hell not?

Cons: They're not Detroit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In Killer, Boogeyman, Minnesotans Saw Themselves

by NiNY

It hasn't actually been that quiet of a week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown.

Minnesota said good-bye to two of its favorite public figures in former Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard and, today, former Twins standout Harmon Killebrew.

In a great piece, what else do you expect from him, Steve Rushin observed how ill-named Harmon "The Killer" Killebrew was.

Likewise, in countless twitter shout outs and in the tireless work by Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, we heard a common string of epithets about Boogaard all speaking to how nice the man was, in direct contravention of his on-ice personae.

And I'm assuming the outpouring of love and respect and well-wishes for Killebrew will at least match what Boogaard's untimely passing brought about.

These two men garnered the love of Minnesotans for their play on their respective fields, no doubt. But their demeanor and personality off the field was what really endeared them to Minnesotans.

First, there was Boogaard. By all accounts gracious, humble, generous of time and energy and caring off the ice. His selflessness ironically mirrored by his massive frame, as though he realized that, in being so big, he literally had more to give than others.

Some athletes wear that mantle better, more comfortably and more naturally than others. For Boogaard it almost seemed like he viewed his success in hockey as a vehicle for his desire to serve the community. That's remarkable. And to be cherished. And, sadly in Boogaard's case, to be remembered - fondly.

And, of course, Mr. Killebrew. By all accounts a gentleman - from the era when being a gentleman meant something, too. Humble, genteel, himself a philanthropist with his time and fame. Quiet, eschewing of the spotlight. It's hard to think of today's sluggers mirroring Mr. Killebrew's "aw shucks" demeanor with any amount of credibility to their performance. While he was an All-Star (13 times) on the field, he preferred to "wash dishes" off it.

And it's those qualities that caused the love affair Minnesotans had with these two men. Minnesotans are themselves a quiet, reticent, kindly people. We're Garrison Keillor, Minnesota nice and a blue ox. We take to ice fishing, for God's sake. Talk about a demonstration of a desolate, austere personality.

I've lived away from Minnesota for half my life. When I go back now I am struck by the friendliness. People hold the door for you and then say "have a nice day!" before you even say thank you. Motorists observe the rule about stopping for pedestrians in a marked crosswalk. Pedestrians observe and utilize the marked crosswalks!

If you spent a day in NYC and then time warped to Minneapolis/St. Paul and spent a day there you'd feel like you woke up in Pleasantville - before Tobey and Reese got there.

Looking out for your fellow man, no it's not everywhere practiced by everyone, but it's darn close to it in Minnesota.

And it's a quiet, unassuming, "no thanks necessary" kind of friendliness, to boot.

So it's no wonder that these two men were idolized in Minnesota. The Killer and the Boogeyman were just Minnesotans' kind of guys, I guess.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger madness

Update: Never mind, apparently the posts are still here. Disregard this one!

Apparently, blogger.com was down for a while, and an unfortunate side effect was my two most recent posts were deleted. (At least, I assume that's what happened. *casts shifty-eyed look at NiNY*) So in case anyone was curious what happened to my rants on the Sharks and Jaromir Jagr rumors, that's what happened, I didn't delete them myself to get them out of cyberspace.

(As far as you know. Bwahahahaha.)

(And yes, I know no one actually cares or probably even read them.)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I hate the Internet


The Internet is good for only two things: Porn and up-to-the-second sports news/scores. OK, three things: Porn, up-to-the-second sports news/scores, and more porn.

The rest is garbage, particularly when it pertains to, uh, sports. The Internet provides an avenue for dopes (including yours truly) to spew garbage about sports. Specifically, horseshit rumors about one's favorite team. Especially when they're the same goddamn ones every summer.

News came out that the Penguins would like to invite the franchise's second-greatest player, Jaromir Jagr, back to Pittsburgh this summer as the team recognizes and organizes a reunion for the 1991 Stanley Cup-winning team. There will be a golf gathering, a dinner, and I don't know what else.

The goal, according to an accredited (albeit douchy and lame) writer (Rob Rossi), is to mend any broken fences with Jagr. The two didn't part under the most pleasant of circumstances, though a large reason for Jagr's trade to Washington was financially-based. After the fence-mending, the Penguins hope to one day retire Jagr's No. 68.

Somehow, the morons on the Internet - and radio talk shows - took this to actually mean general manager Ray Shero will try signing Jagr to a contract for this season. I'm sure Eklund has already given this e4 status. Or J17 status. Bingo. Whatever.

You know, because that's what makes sense. Any time you can bring in a 39-year-old player who hasn't been in the NHL for three years when you didn't want to sign him three years ago, you have to do it, right?

Could it happen? Sure. Will it? I'd say it's pretty darn unlikely.

Jagr still seems to have some pep in his step. He had 71 points in a full 2007-08 season with the Rangers and 15 points in 10 playoff games. This season in the KHL, Jagr posted 51 points in 49 games.

That doesn't mean he can still find success in the NHL. Unfortunately, that's not going to stop the Internet from blowing up with baseless rumors of Jagr's return to the Penguins.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blow them up?


What people don't know about the San Jose Sharks logo is that after it bites the hockey stick, it tries to swallow it and chokes to death.

That was courtesy of @sportspickle, the humorous sports web site/Twitter account, after Detroit's victory in Game 6 Tuesday to become yet another team to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0 in the series.

My joke: If the movie "Jaws" was patterned after the San Jose Sharks, no one would've died.

I also need to figure something out. Is San Jose the Washington of the West, or is Washington the San Jose of the East? Also, does anyone expect the Sharks to actually win their Game 7 with Detroit? I certainly don't, and I'd love for someone to give me any reason why I should change my mind.

So let's think about something. If, indeed, Detroit pulls off the stunner-that-really-isn't-a-stunner, does general manager Doug Wilson pull a Chief Brody and blow up Jaws, er, the Sharks?

It's strange. San Jose has a Hart Trophy winner (Joe Thornton), a two-time 50-goal scorer (Dany Heatley), a five-time 30-goal (and one-time 40-goal) scorer in Patrick Marleau, a Norris-caliber defenseman in Dan Boyle, and a Stanley Cup-winning goalie in Antti Niemi.

Then there's the USA's second-greatest centerman, Joe Pavelski, plus a possible Calder winner in Logan Couture. Ryane Clowe is an excellent agitator/power forward. Devin Setoguchi is a competent top-six forward.

Why does this team suck?

The following is a phrase I'll probably only ever use once and this one time only: I agree with Jeremy Roenick. Patrick Marleau is gutless. He does lack heart. The same apparently for a lot of Marleau's teammates. The Sharks should stop worrying about what an analyst says - he's paid to give his opinion, and his opinion is what we got, I see no reason why there was an uproar over it - and start trying to figure out how to close out a series.

If San Jose crashes and burns Thursday night, doesn't Wilson have to change something? His problem is Marleau, Thornton, Heatley, Pavelski and Boyle are all signed for the next three years. That's his core, but if his core continues to fail in the postseason, then clearly it's not a core that can succeed. Those five guys are the veterans, the expected point producers.

Failure in the 2011 postseason does not belong on Couture's shoulders, or Clowe's, or even Niemi's. Niemi was fabulous in Game 6, but the woeful team in front of him laid down like dogs.

Maybe Wilson doesn't change anything this offseason even if San Jose loses Game 7, which we all know it will. But if I'm a Sharks fan, and this team doesn't reach the conference final, I question whether that roster is capable of being winners.

There certainly isn't any evidence that they can win.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dropping off


Did everyone enjoy that thrilling first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs? I hope so.

Because the second round is about as anticlimactic as the opening round was exciting.

Granted, there's only one series in the second round that is officially over. Although two other teams are not just on the brink of elimination but might as well play with golf clubs instead of hockey sticks.

The first round saw three Game 7s just in the East, a fourth in the West, and a slew of wild comeback games, particularly in the Los Angeles-San Jose series. The remaining drama in the second round mainly stems from the question, "Will they screw up again?"

Of course, one team has already answered that question in the positive (negative?), and in resounding fashion. Once again, Washington crapped out of the playoffs in spectacular fashion, becoming the first No. 1 seed to be swept in one of the first two rounds of the playoffs since the NHL switched to this format for the 1993-94 season. I forget the stat I saw, but only two or three No. 1 seeds have been swept period since the switch.

Will the Capitals have company? Will Boston blow another 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia? It's very difficult to believe such a collapse would happen in consecutive years involving the same teams. Could San Jose, also with an extensive history of underachieving (OK, let's be honest, choking) in the playoffs, let its 3-0 lead slip away?

I doubt it in either case, but I also wouldn't bet against the Flyers or Red Wings erasing that kind of deficit. Even with Philadelphia's comical goaltending situation. (How many times does a guy have to be pulled before you stop playing him? The problem is, Brian Boucher might be the best the Flyers have.)

Our last hope for an exciting second-round series is Nashville winning Game 4. It's primarily because of Pekka Rinne that the Canucks aren't the fourth team to have won a series' first three games this round.

We've had plenty of overtime games - 15 of the last 16 nights of hockey have gone to extra time - but we have just one last chance at a back-and-forth series. Then the hope that someone pulls a Chicago and forces at least a Game 6.

Of course, if your team either didn't qualify for the postseason or has already been eliminated, all you have left is schadenfreude. That is, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.

And if you're a Penguins fan, this second round - with one more win by San Jose and Boston - will be the best. Second round. Ever.

(Well, almost. It'd be at least top five.)