Saturday, November 6, 2004

The Final Days Of The NHL


The NHL may be finally seeing where they fit in within the American sporting landscape. Not well.

The NHL All Star Game in Atlanta was officially cancelled….meaning that the deadline to even have a season is closely approaching. No one seems to care. The NHL owners insist they are better off with no season than one under the current contract. The players are finding jobs on European hockey clubs. The fans, well we just don’t care.

We have the NBA starting up….a great October of baseball….a bunch of undefeated teams in NCAA football….and a pretty interesting NFL season continuing. Soon, college hoops will be on the landscape.  With my sports plate kind of full...I really didn't have time for hockey anyways.

I like hockey…well, I like the NHL. But I don’t love it. I truly believe that the Stanley Cup playoffs are one of the most exciting things in sports.  I also believe that the NHL regular season is one of the most boring things in sports.  Does it matter??  Top seeds, unlike in other sports, routinely lose in the NHL what is the point of gaining the home-ice advantage??   Who wants to watch a game that ends in a tie??  Who can follow records that look like locker combinations [36-32-14-9]??  Who needs NHL highlights of someone who's name I cannot pronounce [or the announcers] crunching out my NBA or NCAA hoops highlights??  How many times does Detroit play Colorado in a season....since that is the only game shown on network TV??  Do I really need to see Barry Melrose's moosed hair butchering up the English language ["a-boot", "O-ffense", "Cal-GARY", "bean"]??  I mean, could I pick out Martin St. Louis....the leading scorer last year...our of a lineup??  Actually, I think I could only pick out Brett Hull out of any NHL lineup....and where is he playing this year??

Oh, nowhere.

One thing that bothers me is the prospect of using replacement players. Yeah, it is a touchy subject. I remember the replacement games during the 1987 NFL season…..and the replacement guys in the 1995 MLB spring training sites. Yeah, it sucks paying full price to watch people you’ve never heard of or people you wondered where they’ve been. But, this is the NHL. Would you even know who was a scab and who wasn’t in a NHL game????? So, let ‘em come in.

Yeah, that will irk the players who whine about these scabs taking their jobs. In the meanwhile,these NHL guys are going to Europe and stealing jobs from players over there….just to drop it all in case the NHL season does get underway.

Aside from my joke on not caring who is in these hockey uniforms…I think it is a mistake for the NHL to bring in replacements. I mean, it is not a strike…it is an owner imposed lockout. If they players refused to play up to their contracts…that is one thing. But it is the owners who are refusing to let the players play….so how can you justify them opening up the gates for cheaper players just because they feel like it??

The NHL has tons of problems…and both sides are correct. The NHL owners foolishly put themselves in this position by carelessly throwing money around gained from expansion fees….hoping that the NHL will lift itself up and get a huge television deal. They haven’t. While the Stanley Cup playoffs are quite interesting….the regular season is useless.  No network is going to shell out huge money to show a sport that no one cares to watch.  I mean, the Arena Football league and SpongeBob Squarepants get better ratings during the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. 

They also thinned themselves out due to expansion. The league went from 21 teams to 30 teams in just over a decade. Teams left Winnipeg, Hartford, Quebec and Minneapolis, and set up shop in Dallas, Raleigh, Denver and Phoenix. It is one thing that teams in the Sun Belt of Raleigh, Atlanta and Nashville are struggling…..but it is quite another when teams in Pittsburgh and Buffalo are filing for bankruptcy. Heck, of the “Original Six” franchises….only Detroit is really having tremendous on the ice success. The NY Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs can’t sniff the Cup finals…with the Rangers and Hawks greatly struggling.

The players must realize that the money just isn’t there. It is ridiculous to think that it costs just as much to go to an NHL game as it does to go to a NBA or NFL game. Heck, it is more expensive than a baseball game. So, unless you are a die-hard hockey fan or the team is the “en vogue” thing in your city…why would you go??? Of the four major sports…the values of NHL franchise rated 17 of the 21 worst in all of sports. Only the now-defunct Montreal Expos, almost-contracted Minnesota Twins, financially troubled Florida Marlins and MLB-lowlife Tampa Bay Devil Rays even break up this bad NHL trend. Heck, the Edmonton Oilers are only worth $36M. The lowest baseball team [Expos] will get 4 times that when it is sold to someone in the DC area. The lowest NBA team [Bucks] are worth $174M. The lowest NFL team [Cardinals] are worth over $550M.

In fact, the NHL franchise valued the most is the Detroit Red Wings [$266M]. That rates them just above the Detroit Tigers [Mike Illich owns both teams] in the sports hierarchy. Heck, it is better to own the Washington Wizards or Indiana Pacers than the Detroit Red Wings. One would think that about 10 teams could break out of the NHL and form their own league….leaving the bottom feeders behind. Teams like Detroit, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado, Boston,. Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles and Montreal could do well on their own. Heck, LA and Montreal have problems…but LA is a big market and Montreal brings history.

It is a business thing….and it must be fixed. Leagues like the AHL and ECHL are counting on hockey-deprived fans will move over to their leagues…where the players play hard and the tickets are much, much cheaper. Both leagues are in major markets….but also have many teams in very small areas as well.

Maybe those will be the only leagues left.

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