Sunday, January 06, 2013
So we have a deal…
Sunday, November 04, 2012
A word on the NHL Lockout
Monday, May 14, 2012
Into The Crystal Ball: 2012 Conference Final Edition
Friday, April 27, 2012
Into The Crystal Ball: 2012 Conference Semi-final Edition
Monday, April 09, 2012
Into The Crystal Ball: 2012 Playoff Edition
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators: The Senators rediscovered themselves with speed and defence but the problem is so too did the Rangers, who not only possess the better goaltender but better overall personnel. This should be quick. Rangers 4, Senators 0
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals: About the only thing going in Washington’s favour is that Nicklas Backstrom is back in the lineup. Unfortunately, that’s all they have going for them. The Bruins won their Cup last year wearing down skilled teams like the Capitals, and, considering Washington’s goaltending woes and Boston’s prowess in net, there’s hardly any reason to think Boston won’t make quick work of the Caps. Bruins 4, Capitals 0
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils: The Devils re-enter the playoffs after a one year hiatus, the Panthers after eleven years, so guess who will be rustier. The good news is that these ain’t your father’s Devils, so the Panthers should be able to put up quite a fight, and you have to ask questions about Ilya Kovalchuck’s mental toughness on the Devils’ side. Still, the Devils have enough playoff moxie- and greater depth- to see them past the Panthers, though it will be tough. Devils 4, Panthers 3
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers: You know times are different when it’s the Penguins- not the Flyers- being accused of dirty play (with one of those accusations coming from the Flyers), but such are the times we live in. It’s no secret that the Pens haven’t been the greatest of sportsmen in recent weeks, and you have to wonder if they can bury the antics long enough to let their skill shine through. Pittsburgh has made gains this season- no longer are they just Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and some spare parts, there’s some genuine depth in the form of James Neal (40 goals), Chris Kunitz (26), Pascal Dupuis (25), Jordan Staal (25), Matt Cooke (19) and Steve Sullivan (17). The Flyers, though, can match Pittsburgh’s depth, with Claude Giroux (28 goals and 93 points), Scott Hartnell (37 goals), Jaromir Jagr (19), Wayne Simmonds (28) and super rookie Matt Read (24). Philadelphia has also received better rearguard play (slightly) and ostensibly has the better goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov, but Bryzgalov has been up and down whereas Marc-Andre Fleury is a proven playoff goaltender. I lean Pittsburgh’s way because of it, but this will be very close. Penguins 4, Flyers 3
#1 New York Rangers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils: Their first meeting in the playoffs since Sean Avery’s buffoonery with Martin Brodeur should play out much like the last time- minus the antics. In 2008, the Rangers disposed of the Devils with their superior depth, and this time they have even more of it to call upon with the additions of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, not to mention the fact Broduer himself is a shadow of his former self. It adds up to the Rangers becoming the first team since the 1985 Edmonton Oilers to start a playoff year 8-0. Rangers 4, Devils 0
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #4 Pittsburgh Penguins: Skill vs. braun, antics vs….well, more antics; and two Conn Smythe goalies going head to head. Paper suggests that this should be a runaway for the Penguins, but so did it for the Canucks last year in the Cup Final and we all know what happened. The way this looks, it’s déjà-vu all over again- the Penguins come in skilled but ansty while the Bruins come in tough and stingy. Close series but again a Bruin win. Bruins 4, Penguins 3
#1 New York Rangers vs. #2 Boston Bruins: You have two great defensive teams with great goaltenders squaring off for the Eastern final, one that uses speed (Rangers) and one that uses braun (Bruins). In fact, it’ll be so stingy that the first team that gets to four goals gets to win the series. In this case, the Rangers should do it since they have the firepower (the series’ only forty goal man in Gaborik) the Bruins do not, but it will be very close. Rangers 4, Bruins 3
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings: The Kings were supposed to be world-beaters this season with the addition of Mike Richards to the team while the Canucks have been world-beaters- with or without Daniel Sedin. On paper, this is an even matchup (which should count for something) but Los Angeles is far too inconsistent to take seriously. Canucks 4, Kings 2
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks: There’s a saying: beware of the good team that had a bad year. There’s another saying too: beware of the bad team that had a good year. While the Blues don’t qualify as a bad team, there’s no doubt they’re overachievers, basing much of their success on the backs of goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott and coach Ken Hitchcock’s defensive scheme than raw talent. The Sharks, meanwhile, return many of the same players that dominated the West for years, and, while they haven’t dominated like in years past, they still have plenty going for them in these playoffs. St. Louis has made a lot of strides, but the Sharks’ playoff savvy should see them past the green Blues. Sharks 4, Blues 2
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks: Lost in the hoopla about the Coyotes’ imminent turn to Quebec City is the fact that this is the Coyotes franchise’s first division title in their history. Won’t mean much in this series since the ‘Yotes are outmatched against Chicago, but not by much. Phoenix finally has the skill to match their work ethic, but the ‘Hawks are a deeper bunch. If Jonathan Toews returns, this could be a quick series, otherwise it’ll be a long one. Blackhawks 4, Coyotes 2
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings: Now that Alexander Radulov is back in a Predator uniform this series becomes much more interesting. The Predators come in much more structured and poised than previous incarnations and now they finally have the firepower to compete with Detroit, who are a fading bunch heading into the postseason. The Wings still have more skill, but they have questions in net whereas Nashville does not, and the Predators can now say they’ll win the blueline battle. It’ll be very close but this time the Predators have the upper hand. Predators 4, Red Wings 3
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #7 San Jose Sharks: Hard to believe that with virtually the same cast in both cases that this won’t go the same way that it did last year- in the Canucks’ way and quick. Might even be quicker considering the Sharks aren’t as good as they were last year and the Canucks are better. Canucks 4, Sharks 0
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks: This will be the year the Predators vanquish their playoff foes, as they’re the team on the rise and their foes will be the ones on the decline. This time, it’s the Blackhawks, who, while stronger than a year ago, still have a ways to go before they’re back as Cup contenders. Nashville, however, is already there, with a deeper blueline, a great goaltender and finally some forwards they can hang their hats on. Predators 4, Blackhawks 2
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #4 Nashville Predators: Amazingly, the Predators’ run will match them up against every team that defeated them in the playoffs, and the Canucks will be their last test. I know I said this would be the year they would vanquish their playoff foes, but it only came with the qualifier that the team be on the decline. Vancouver isn’t on the decline- far from it, actually. This is a better Canuck team than the one that Nashville played a year ago- they finally have size in their top six and have actually filled it out, combined with a talented bottom six- so while Nashville should provide a fight, they’ll see they still need a few pieces to really get over the hump. Canucks 4, Predators 2
Stanley Cup Finals
#W1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #E1 New York Rangers: 1994 rematch, with the Canucks this time with home ice, and prospects of a much more even series. The two teams are a clash of styles- the whirling dervishes of the Canucks against the workmanlike, stingy Rangers- and both play it so well that this series will go back and forth. In the end, though, the Canucks have been here before and will want to atone for last season’s mistake, and they can play the defensive game as well as the Rangers, whereas the Rangers can’t score with the Canucks. It’ll be a close series but this will be the ultimate revenge for 1994. Canucks 4, Rangers 3
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Time for Brian Burke’s swan song
Fast forward to now, following a heartbreaking 2-0 loss to the Washington Capitals in a frustrating weekend that saw the Leafs not score a single goal. Since achieving such lofty heights early in the season, Toronto now sits a season high eight points out of the playoffs, being closer to the last place Montreal Canadiens (still hard to swallow) by being just four points up. The Leafs have won a league-worst five times since the All-Star break, with two of those victories coming against the hapless Edmonton Oilers, fired Wilson and have a team that looks nothing like the team everyone thought was supposed to take the ice at the start of the season.
What makes this season worse is that- should the Florida Panthers qualify for the playoffs (a likely scenario at this stage) the Leafs will remain the only club to have not qualified for the playoffs since The Lockout. Toronto’s streak of seven straight non-playoff years will be the longest active drought. Only five players currently play in the National Hockey League that have ever played a single playoff game for the Maple Leafs- Matt Stajan, Steve Sullivan, Tomas Kaberle, Nikolai Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Three others- Adam Mair, Karel Pilar and Danny Markov- are also still active but are not in the NHL, Mair being stuck in the American Hockey League, Pilar skates in Sweden and Markov skating in Russia.
There’s only one person to blame for this mess and that’s General Manager Brian Burke, whose quest to remake the team has turned one kind of mess into a different kind of mess. The team Burke inherited from John Ferguson Jr. was one of virtually unmovable veteran has-beens that had outlived their usefulness, and while Burke has done a great job moving those parts, instead of replacing them with something resembling a competitive hockey team, the result is another hodgepodge of parts who haven’t executed quite the way that it was planned.
Coming into the season, the Leafs’ primary strength- as is the case with all Burke teams- was supposed to be its blueline, and with players like Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Calle Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, John-Michael Liles and promising youngsters Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie and Jake Gardiner, there was little to doubt that assessment. It has remained the team’s strongest component, but it still isn’t coming as advertised- Phaneuf has been dominant but is often stuck on an island with mismatched partners, Komisarek has been a defensive liability all season and has been in and out of the lineup, Aulie was inexplicably traded for a career minor leaguer, Gunnarsson has been effective enough to play but has regressed this season, Schenn has also regressed and Liles has been a relative disappointment. Only Franson has come as advertised and Gardnier has been a pleasant surprise, but that’s been it for the bright spots on the Leaf blueline.
The rest of the team has been much worse. Lupul was a pleasant surprise, and part of the blame for the Leafs’ recent struggles has been his absence, though the slump began while he was still with the team. Kessel has recorded another 30-goal season with 34 goals so far and could still hit 40 by season’s end, an impressive feat given that he doesn’t have much help up front. Tim Connolly was signed to be Kessel’s help, but all he’s done is prove why the Buffalo Sabres let him walk last year. Mikhail Grabovski has put together a solid season as a dependable second-line player but just got re-signed inexplicably at a first-line rate. Nikolai Kulemin has slumped badly this year after a career year last year. Clarke MacArthur has quietly put up 19 goals this season and Tyler Bozak has quietly put up 38 points but neither fill the role as solid top six threats. Joey Crabb and Matt Frattin have been pleasant, bottom six surprises but that’s been it for the bright spots on forward. In net, there doesn’t need much to be said- neither James Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson have been consistent, quality netminders all season long and, although Reimer looks more like a No. 1 goaltender than Gustavsson does, it’s debatable that Reimer is close to that status as the season winds down.
We could move from here and discuss what the Leafs need to do this summer- find a legitimate No. 1 centre, acquire a veteran goaltender that can fill in as a starter while Reimer develops, do something with Komisarek, etc.- but I’m here to suggest something else: it’s time for the Leafs to start seriously looking at other options at GM, and think outside the box.
I have a friend who is a Blue Jay fan. We were talking about the Leafs yesterday and he suggested that the Leafs follow the same path that the Jays did and hire a “nobody” as a GM, the reasoning being that in a big market, you “establish” your name. While it’s debatable whether or not it will work for the Jays (though the path looks nice), it did get me thinking- this did work in hockey; and one only needs to look at the league’s most successful franchise of the past twenty years to see how.
In 1997, the Detroit Red Wings decided that little known Ken Holland would replace their old GM tandem of former great Jim Devellano and Scotty Bowman. Coming off their first Stanley Cup since 1955 the move was risky, but the move paid off- Holland not only repeated the following year, but wound up winning again in 2002 and in 2008, proving his capabilities in a cap-less and a capped world. His teams have never missed the playoffs and have been a Cup contender in every season, including this one.
Now, Holland did have a long career with the Wings already and he did have some help in the front office with the great minds of Bowman and Devellano at first, but this is still unmistakably Holland’s team that he alone built. It speaks volumes that in a hockey fishbowl that is Detroit the team decided to pass the mantle to a relative unknown instead of hiring a “proven” commodity to lead the team, and not only has Holland managed in that environment, he’s thrived. An unknown has nothing to lose- if he fails, you chalk it up to a lack of experience and let him pursue other opportunities, while if he succeeds, it’ll be the greatest “little guy” story ever.
Obviously the first reaction for Leaf fans at this suggestion would be consternation- for a franchise that now has the longest Cup drought in NHL history, logic would dictate it’s better to have someone that “knows what they’re doing” than to give the reins to someone who, presumably, doesn’t. However, we’ve had four seasons of Burke, someone who should “know what they’re doing”, and all he’s shown is that he just seems to be making things up as he goes along, and isn’t giving the team much of a foundation for the future. What else explains the decision to trade two first round draft picks for Kessel? It might be true that was a miscalculation whereby the team did much worse than Burke expected, but the truth is this mistake is costing the Leafs big time, and the youngsters Burke has assembled on his team weren’t drafted by him- Gardiner was an Anaheim Duck pick, Kulemin came from Ferguson (as did Reimer), promising youngster Joe Colbourne was a Boston Bruin pick, and Schenn was a pick from the Cliff Fletcher interim days. Burke’s own picks, headlined by Nazem Kadri, have proven to be flops thus far in their careers- of the top 10 picks in the 2009 Draft (where Kadri came from) only Kadri and Dallas Stars pick Scott Glennie (who went eighth) are not NHL regulars. It may still be true that the Leaf picks can still pan out- Kadri is, after all, 21- but considering the Leafs could have selected Jared Cowan (a fixture on the Ottawa Senators’ blueline) or Marcus Johansson (a fixture on the Capitals’ forward corps), it’s hard not to think Burke could have done better with his pick.
Is it time to get rid of Burke if Toronto doesn’t make a surprising push to the playoffs this season? I’m thinking he may deserve one more year to see if he can right the ship, but I am thinking now’s the time to start the conversation about finding a replacement. Burke has now had four years for this team to start showing signs of life, and every year the team winds up performing the same- show some flashes of brilliance only to flounder to mediocrity by season’s end. Four years of this is unacceptable- five years is reprehensible. It’s time we start thinking of replacements, and instead of finding another Burke, let’s find another Holland- because a guy with nothing to lose is sure doing a lot better than someone who will find out he had everything to lose.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
DG's Hat Trick- October 23, 2011
Here’s how it will all shake down:
- Washington Capitals
- New York Rangers
- Buffalo Sabres
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Montreal Canadiens
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Boston Bruins
- Winnipeg Jets
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Carolina Hurricanes
- New Jersey Devils
- Florida Panthers
- Ottawa Senators
- New York Islanders
Don’t be fooled by the Rangers’ ranking as a No. 2- the Eastern Conference is weak, with only two real contenders for the Cup in Washington and Tampa Bay. The rest of the teams are essentially competitive playoff teams right down to the tenth-ranked Flyers. The Leafs and the Flyers are the odd teams out in this equation because both have way too many question marks to guarantee a playoff berth, with Toronto banking on the perpetually fragile Tim Connolly to be Phil Kessel’s setup man and Philadelphia trading most of its offence for Ilya Bryzgalov, who has elite level talent but has a tendency to choke at the biggest moments. The Jets- the old Atlanta Thrashers- make a return to the playoffs in their first season in Winnipeg, as the Thrashers were on the rise last season. As for Pittsburgh, their position is fluid- since Sidney Crosby has no set return date and Evgeni Malkin is still feeling the effects of his knee injury, the Penguins’ performance depends on how much service they get out of both players. If neither are available for a lengthy amount of time, Pittsburgh could miss the playoffs entirely but if they are only ineffective for a short period of time, the Pens should be comfortably in the playoffs. Sixth, thus, is a reasonable compromise, since I believe the Penguins will have a healthy Crosby and Malkin sooner rather than later. The Sabres are the East’s darkhorse- the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Erhoff gives Buffalo a formidable top three on defence with super youngster Tyler Myers, meaning it will be even more difficult to score on Ryan Miller and the Sabres.
- San Jose Sharks (President’s Trophy Winner)
- Vancouver Canucks
- Detroit Red Wings
- Los Angeles Kings
- Anaheim Ducks
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Nashville Predators
- St. Louis Blues
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Dallas Stars
- Edmonton Oilers
- Calgary Flames
- Phoenix Coyotes
- Colorado Avalanche
- Minnesota Wild
San Jose wins the West because the Martin Havlat trade gives them a dimension their top six hasn’t had in a while- speed. Before Havlat, this was a slow, plodding group, and with big bodies such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, he’ll have even more room to operate. He is fragile, though, but should play enough to be effective. The Canucks should also be in the thick of the Western crown chase, since only Christian Erhoff is gone from the team that dazzled the NHL last year, though Erhoff’s absence will be felt. Los Angeles also jumps into this mix with the addition of Mike Richards in the offseason, giving Anze Kopitar badly needed support and solidifying the Kings as the most physical team in the West. Detroit should win the weak Central in its sleep, but age has caught up to this group so don’t look for them to be serious Cup contenders. St. Louis jumps into the playoffs- barely- because they’re a young team that is on the rise, enough to push out a declining Chicago Blackhawks team. The Nashville Predators also sneak into the playoffs, since, although they suffered major losses in the offseason, Barry Trotz always seems to make it work, so I expect him to make it work this season. Finally, the Edmonton Oilers should make significant strides- their youth should start rounding into form and though it won’t pan out entirely this season, the Oilers should start to make some noise.
(8) Winnipeg 4, (1) Washington 3- The Caps have had numerous problems with upstarts in recent years, and the Jets will be no exception.
(7) Boston 4, (2) NY Rangers 2- Boston is built for the playoffs, and the Rangers just won’t be able to handle their size.
(3) Buffalo 4, (6) Pittsburgh 2- The Pens have no offensive depth go up against a team with a stacked defence. Ain’t going to happen.
(4) Tampa Bay 4, (5) Montreal 2- Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis will show Montreal why they need real offensive depth and not has-beens whose best years are behind them.
(3) Buffalo 4, (8) Winnipeg 1- The Jets don’t have any gamebreakers, making them easy pickings for the Buffalo defence.
(4) Tampa Bay 4, (7) Boston 3- This will be another classic series because both teams are very evenly matched. The Lightning will have learned from their mistake last season and play more offensive, a game Boston can’t keep up with, and can now match them physically with Simon Gagne’s presence.
(4) Tampa Bay 4, (3) Buffalo 3- Another classic series, the Buffalo defence against the Tampa offence. The Lightning will advance since the Sabres can’t match their scoring depth and Tampa’s defence is at least competent enough to stay with Buffalo, but it will be close.
(1) San Jose 4, (8) St. Louis 0- Yeah, the Blues beat the Sharks in this same capacity in 2000 but this is a different Sharks team- they know how to win and should easily dispose of the upstart Blues.
(2) Vancouver 4, (7) Nashville 2- A replay of last year’s second round series and should play out exactly the same- Nashville will have the hunger but won’t have the horses to compete with the Canucks.
(6) Columbus 4, (3) Detroit 3- The upset pick of the West, since the old Wings will show the hockey world that they’re firmly in decline whereas Columbus is a team on the rise.
(4) Los Angeles 4, (5) Anaheim 3- The Battle of Los Angeles should be a lot of fun, since both are bruising outfits that love to score. The Kings should win the day since they’re deeper, but barely.
(1) San Jose 4, (6) Columbus 1- Years before, the Jackets’ speed would have won the day. Not anymore, because now San Jose can skate with them, and should all the way to the next round.
(4) Los Angeles 4, (2) Vancouver 2- Should be an evenly matched, close series which is doom for the Canucks, who always wilt under pressure. This time it should be no different, especially against the physical Kings who will hit them out of the playoffs.
(1) San Jose 4, (4) Los Angeles 3- Rematch of last year’s first round. Should be closer this time since the Kings have added horses, but it’ll still be San Jose’s day- the Sharks now have speed Los Angeles can’t match, though this could go into overtime of Game 7. It’s that close.
Stanley Cup Final
(W1) San Jose 4, (E4) Tampa Bay 2- This will be the first ever Cup Final where no combatant will be north of the 40th parallel, which should make hockey purists nuts. Once they get past their prejudices about hockey in warm weather climates they’ll realize these are two vibrant hockey markets with very good teams- this should be a competitive, offensive series, only going to San Jose- finally- because the Sharks have that much more depth.
SKEPTICISM ABOUT SHANAHAN: If there can be a complaint about Brendan Shanahan, the league’s new disciplinarian, it won’t be because he’s too shy to make a move- in the last ten days of the preseason, Shanahan issued nine suspensions totalling 60 games, with another two game suspension handed out on October 8 to bring the season total to 62 games. To put that in perspective, last season the league didn’t hand out its 62nd game in suspensions until February 9, which represents a refreshingly aggressive approach in a league that desperately needs it. Shanahan has buttressed his approach with flashy videos (okay, they’re not really flashy) explaining why the suspension is what it is, giving him an air of accountability his predecessor, Colin Campbell, did not have. Furthermore, Shanahan is expressive and eloquent enough that his explanation is persuasive, another quality Campbell lacked.
However, I have my doubts and it’s pretty obvious what they are. So far, none of the players Shanahan has suspended- aside, maybe, from Buffalo’s Brad Boyes- has been anyone of real impact, and undoubtedly a player of impact will do something silly that requires action. The main complaint against Campbell was that he was hesitant to do anything in these situations or “softened” the blow to ensure the team he plays for isn’t punished that much. What will Shanahan do if Tyler Myers, Chris Pronger, Alexander Ovechkin, Milan Lucic or any other impact player with a history of discipline problems do something that calls for action? Will Shanahan again waver, his explanation ringing hollow?
The other part- and I’ve been saying this for years- is that the NHL still doesn’t have a set standard for infractions. Yes, Shanahan is persuasive in his arguments and you generally believe the call he made is the right one, but even he is showing signs of erraticism. The suspensions for hits to the head have varied- Clarke MacArthur received three games, Boyes received two, Brendan Smith eight and James Wisniewski 12. In Wisniewski’s and Smith’s cases, the victims were injured whereas in MacArthur’s and Boyes’ cases they weren’t. Wisniewski is a repeat offender so his case is a special one, but Smith, MacArthur and Boyes can be compared. First of all, if MacArthur and Boyes committed the same offence, they should receive identical suspensions and they didn’t. Second of all, if the standard is that injuries add to a suspension, why did Smith get an extra five games and Pierre Marc-Bouchard, another player without a record, only received two games for his offence (which was different, granted, but it still had the same result)? If the theory goes that if Bouchard’s victim, Matt Calvert, wasn’t injured that Bouchard wouldn’t be suspended, then shouldn’t Smith’s suspension be five games at the very most (which is three games, MacArthur’s suspension, plus two)? Simply put, these questions shouldn’t be asked, because randomness is the antithesis of discipline- if no two offenses receive the same punishment (or any punishment at all) then it can’t be a deterrent since players won’t know if the action will receive any discipline. If they don’t know they won’t care- and it’s business as usual again.
(I feel like I’ve written that before…I hate sounding like a broken record but the league never seems to learn…sad really)
Yes, it’s still early and Shanahan is new to the job, but there are still reasons for scepticism. His approach is refreshing so he deserves a chance, but unless he proves otherwise, there’s no reason to believe anything, unfortunately, has changed.
6,306 SHOW UP IN DALLAS- ANOTHER TEAM IN TROUBLE?: The hawks always seem to be circling teams in the South, and no, we’re not talking about Jonathan Toews.
This time the target are the Dallas Stars, who on October 10 drew a paltry 6,306 fans to a home game against the Phoenix Coyotes. The game itself was pretty staid with a dramatic finish, with Sheldon Souray’s point shot in the final seconds redirected home by Loui Eriksson to knot the score at 1 with Mike Ribeiro netting the shootout winner later in the night. The initial story was how the win showed a resiliency in Dallas that was absent in the team’s collapse last season but the real story was the lack of fans in the stands.
It may be true that the Texas Rangers were down the I-20 walking off the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, but that’s small potatoes for a team in Dallas that has been unstable for years. Ever since Tom Hicks put the team up for sale in 2009, the Stars have joined the cavalcade of teams- mostly, but not all, in the South- that are having financial problems. Hicks blames it on being “south of Pennsylvania” whereas the fans blame Hicks’ penchant for overpaying for veteran free agents in the Stars’ heyday for the Stars’ financial problems.
There could be some truth to Hicks’ statements. In Dallas’ Stanley Cup year, their payroll was $36 million (all figures U.S.). A year later, the payroll jumped to $46 million, enough for another Cup final run. Three seasons later in 2002-03 the Stars’ payroll jumped to $69.5 million, with it gaining $13 million for a $78 million count by the time the lockout hit. That’s an astronomical rise in such a short period, a rise that may have proven to be unsustainable. It’s worth mentioning that before the lockout the Canadian dollar was nowhere close to parity which affected the Canadian teams’ ability to compete financially, so the Canadian dollar’s rise against the greenback is a factor in Dallas’ competitiveness- the moment parity happened was when the Southern teams started really getting into trouble, because now the Canadian teams regained their financial muscle. Having said that, Dallas is the fourth largest market in the United States, too big to lose, and the team’s lack of success may have something to do with the team’s poor form as of late at the gate- this was a team that essentially grew hockey in Texas, an impact not felt anywhere else in the South.
It will still restart the rumblings about the viability of teams in the South, and will ask whether or not the Stars join the conversation. We won’t need to get into that debate- it’s been hashed and rehashed one too many times- but it brings the salient point that something does need to be done concerning the viability of franchises as a whole across the league. The current economic model, while better than the haphazard one that preceded it, hasn’t produced the results it was supposed to; and, as The FAN 590’s Bob McCown noted on his radio show, the NHL doesn’t have a lot of places to stick these struggling franchises. You have Quebec City, Kansas City and a whole lot of “maybes” and that’s it. Is it time to talk contraction? It may be the only option left.
One thing is for sure- this summer, the current collective bargaining agreement expires. You can bet we’ll be in for another long fight as the Southern teams look for financial sanity in a league that has yet to produce it. The sad part is that I’m not sure the NHL can survive another long stoppage- can a struggling league handle another lost season when it already lost one six years ago? All this because the league didn’t get it right the first time- and could pay the price the second time.
BONUS HIT: A story out of Russia sees the Kontinental Hockey League potentially adding a team in Italy. The team, Milan’s Rossoblu (the “red-blues”), was told by the KHL that they have “the organization to join the league”. However, there’s already a lot of scepticism (as noted by Alessandro Seren Rosso) about the viability of a team in Italy, namely the lack of proper facilities (the Rossoblu have an arena that sits 4,500 and draws 1,000), regionalism (Italian hockey fans- and sports fans in general- tend to gravitate towards teams in their own country, not ones from distant lands that they do not know) and the lack of available talent that could compete at the KHL level. However, the KHL has said for years that it wishes to conquer Europe, and perhaps a team in Italy represents the kind of “outside of the box” thinking that could prove to give it a productive legacy. This will be a story to follow in the coming months.
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