Friday, July 29, 2005

Predators owner: Blame Canada

Nashville Predators owner Craig Leopold was interviewed by the Nashville City Paper, and had some less than complimentary words for Canadians who aren't fond of the fact that Nashville has an NHL team.

"Canadian reporters were always talking about it. All of the bad raps against us are contributed to somebody in a Canadian market. Let’s face it. Canada is still upset that Nashville has a hockey team. That’s just the way it is, and we have to live with that. Logic, common sense says I would not be on the executive committee, the audit committee or the negotiating committee if anybody was thinking that Nashville would be contracted. It was never discussed. It was a non-possibility. It was frustrating because I know where ground zero of where those rumors always started. If the sun shines, you can’t have hockey. I’m a little bitter about that. I’m tired of hearing about it. Dallas is accepted as an NHL franchise. They are successful on the ice with a good program. That is what we are trying to do here. San Jose is not discussed. Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup. I think there will be stability in that market. Once we have some winning seasons and the fans stay with us like they did the first couple of years this market is going to be one of the best in the National Hockey League."

Now, he probably does have a legitimate gripe in that wouldn't be unfair to say much of the Canadian hockey media (and in truth, most Canadian hockey fans) throw darts at the "southern NHL teams" for being the supposed weak links of the NHL. I imagine for someone like Leopold, who's trying to grow the game in a market that hasn't exactly embraced the team universally, such comments are very frustrating.

But...

The NHL has too many teams. Period. The league grew too much too fast, with Commissioner Bettman chasing that elusive "Nascar market" that would bring the NHL their big TV deal that would make all the owners rich. And it's hurt the quality of the game.

It's no coincedence that almost all of the recent expansion teams play a defensive (read, boring) style of play. And why shouldn't they? They have to compete somehow. Unfortunately, in markets like Nashville and Atlanta (who probably should be playing a run and gun style with their talent), where fans understanding of hockey is not what it is in the stronger cities, this becomes all the hockey they know. They think hockey is just that boring, most of whom having never seen the league when 5-4 games were not a rarity.

The 100 or so player jobs created by the introduction of the Wild, Blue Jackets (Columbus has, quietly, become one of the best U.S. hockey markets, by the by), Predators, and Thrashers are mostly filled by players who wouldn't be seen as NHL calibre otherwise. They're not exclusive to those clubs, and their effect, even as fourth liners getting six minutes of ice time per game, should not be understated.

So contraction seems to be a pretty logical step to improve the game. It doesn't appear that such a measure is on the horizon, as Bettman, for better or worse, is stubbornly standing by his "30 team NHL" vision. Probably because eliminating teams would be admitting he was wrong in putting them there in the first place. And as we've seen, conceding defeat in any form is not exactly Gary Bettman's strength.

But if we are going to contract teams, where do you snatch them from? One would think the cities with the least amount of fan support. And it just so happens that, with the exception of Pittsburgh, who have been a mess unique to themselves, those teams lie in sunny, warm climate markets. Phoenix, Florida, Atlanta, Anaheim, Carolina, Nashville. All beautiful cities I'm sure. But hockey markets? I'm not convinced of it. Does that mean I'm part of some big Canadian conspiracy to eliminate hockey from those who come to games in shorts and sunglasses, as Leopold seems to suggest?

There is certainly a lingering bitterness in Canada over the loss of two Canadian teams in the last 10 years, and that might be why some endorse contraction with such a smile. But is the overall point that eliminating some clubs would improve the state of the NHL moot because some people in Winnipeg have alterior motives when suggesting it? I sure don't think so.

In the case of Nashville, you have a team that has seen their attendance go down ever year since coming in the league. They finished with the third lowest attendance average for the last NHL season with 13,157, behind only Pittsburgh and Carolina. This despite having their best season, which included a playoff birth. I'm sure I'll get hate mail from people in Nashville who say that there are a lot of hockey fans there and I'm being unfair to the market. Unfortunately, the numbers tell a different story.

With this new, united NHL still wet behind the ears, I'm willing to give the 30 team NHL a try. Maybe, with the promise of a renewed initiative to eliminate obstruction (I know, I know, but let's all hold our laughter and give them the benefit of the doubt) and the CBA seemingly leveling the playing field, the Nashvilles and Phoenixs of the league will finally get behind their teams fully, not just when they're winning, and show us angry, bitter Canadians that we're wrong about you not deserving franchises.

I hope that's what happens, because hockey is a great game, seeing it live in person is the best way to view it, and everyone should have the ability to do so, whether it's 90 degrees outside or there's a blizzard. But I'm not exactly holding my breath.

1 Comments:

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Roshan said...

I dunno, I think what should happen is teams like the Predators, the Thrashers, The Panthers, should move to Canada. Having seen what can happen (with the Jets & the Nordiques), Canadians wud cherish these teams and make it work. My picks for possible cities : Hamilton, Halifax, Victoria & ofcourse Winnipeg & Quebec.

 

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