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Friday, April 13, 2007

League Optimization: NHL    

I've been thinking today about how so many major sports franchises are mismatched with their cities.  Hockey in Miami?  Basketball in Memphis?  And so forth.  So I thought I'd evaluate each of the four major leagues and present some ideas... just fooling around, for the most part, seeing what would look good from a fan's perspective rather than an economic one.

Since it's playoff time, and nobody will care about hockey in a few weeks anyway, I'll tackle the NHL first.  This is a league that has at least four teams too many, and not enough teams in places that actually care about hockey (hrmphCANADAharumph).  Further, you have three teams in the New York market, two of whom have trouble drawing fans, so one of those teams has to go.

Let me reiterate that I'm not attacking this from an economic standpoint.  I'm not an economist, don't pretend to be, and don't give a hoot about whether teams are profitable vs. in the right location.  I'm looking solely at whether teams are truly succeeding in their cities, and whether their fans' potential for support is enough to justify the team's existence.  After seeing what's happened in Buffalo and Pittsburgh this season and last, I think looking at your fan base's potential, and their performance during the good times, is a much better way to approach market feasibility than arena age, luxury boxes, and so forth.

Excused from the list, despite suckage

Chicago:
Easily the worst franchise in hockey.  They have been gutted like a fish by that piece of shit Wirtz.  But you can't move them.  Chicago's too big.

Boston: Same reason.  The team is atrocious, but it's too big a hockey town when at its best.  And the place still fills up for Habs games, which is somewhat stunning to me.

Nashville, Carolina, Tampa: They get a bad rap, like hockey doesn't belong there or whatever, but they have supported those teams.  Hockey's thriving in those places.  Atlanta too, but they're not safe.

The Chopping Block


Seven franchises could safely move or fold, all in questionable hockey cities.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Washington Capitals
  • Phoenix Coyotes
  • New York Islanders
  • New Jersey Devils (they have no fans!!!)
  • Florida Panthers
  • Atlanta Thrashers
Blue Jackets
There is absolutely no reason for this team to exist.  At least visiting teams have a good time visiting Miami.  Who wants to go to Columbus in February?  They haven't done well enough for anyone to care all that much.  In fact, the most notable event in their history was when Espen Knutsen killed that girl by accident with a stray puck.  This team has everything you want in a contraction candidate.  FOLD

Capitals
I can't in good faith offer up the Caps for contraction or relocation.  Washington has supported hockey in the past, and we are capable of doing so again.  But that is a long, LONG way away right now.  Ted Leonsis is absolutely killing hockey in DC.  Nobody gives a shit about the Caps, and at $35 a pop just to sit in the upper level, how could we be expected to?  I'm sure the economics of the situation are such that prices are where they ought to be, but it says loads that nobody's coming out to see a guy of Ovechkin's talents.  I say it'd be shrewd of Leonsis to give back a little money every night in order to revive his dwindling fan base.  Otherwise, the economic arguments (fans pay the high ticket prices when the team wins) may not work out as well as Ted hopes.  I honestly don't think he should be daring us to stay away from Verizon Center.  SPARED, BUT NOT FOR LONG

Coyotes
The best thing this team has given Phoenix is air conditioning.  Fastest growing city my ass, those fuckers belong in Winnipeg.  Seriously, can anyone think of a single reason why we shouldn't shove a big fat "Return To Sender" sticker on the Coyotes?  I hope the Great One is secretly gutting the team with the intention of moving it back to Canada as a contribution to preservation of national heritage.  MOVE

NY/NJ: Islanders
Between the Isles and Devils, one of these two has gotta go.  The Isles are the natural choice, given recent history.  But much as the Isles are woefully mismanaged, I kinda like them where they are.  Their fans have a lovable sort of "why me?" mentality.  They have a franchise identity dating back to the 70s and 80s... Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, all those Cups.  They're likely to support a good, competent team.  Besides, this is my list.  SPARED

NY/NJ: Devils
Devils fans, on the other hand, could give a rat's ass about their team.  Despite being a legitimate Cup contender pretty much every single year since about 1994, they can't sell out the Meadowlands unless the Flyers or Rangers are visiting.  Given how far out of his way Lou Lamoriello goes to alienate everyone in a 50-mile radius, I can't blame those fans either.  Further, they've only been in New Jersey since the early 80s, so we're not talking about uprooting an institution of any kind.  So I'd move them to Portland, and rename them the Oregon Trails.  ("You lost two oxen.  Scott Gomez got two minutes for roughing.  Patrik Elias got dysentery and died.")  MOVE

Panthers
If a hockey team folds on the beach, does anybody care?  FOLD

Thrashers
Yeah, they won the division.  Yeah, they count Lil' Jon as their unofficial mascot.  Doesn't matter.  That city doesn't give a shit about sports.  The Braves are the only team that sells well, and it's mostly to do that obnoxious, racist chant all night.  They've got no business having any of their teams, let alone a fledgling hockey team.  However, I can't fold them at this point, because that'd leave us with an odd number of teams.  So we have to move them.

Now, I really enjoyed that part up above where I put the Coyotes back in Winnipeg.  I want more of that feeling.  Quebec City should get its hockey team back, since they were so loyal to the Avalanche even after they'd moved.  And doing that would leave Denver without hockey again, despite having proven itself to be a very worthy hockey city.

So I propose moving the Thrashers to Colorado, calling them the Avalanche, and restoring Les Nordiques to Quebec City.  Everybody wins... Denver gets better players, Quebec gets their team back, and we don't have to deal with shitty Atlanta being in the league.  MOVE

New Alignment

While I'm at it, let's rename the divisions back to what they were in the first place: Norris, Patrick, Adams, and Smythe.  Old-time hockey!!!  I think the following alignment makes a bunch of sense:

Adams
Patrick
Norris
Smythe
Boston
Rangers
Detroit
Los Angeles
Montreal
Islanders
Dallas
Anaheim
Ottawa
Philadelphia
Chicago
San Jose
Toronto
Washington
Minnesota
Oregon
Quebec
Carolina
Winnipeg
Calgary
Buffalo
Nashville
St. Louis
Edmonton
Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay
Colorado
Vancouver

Summary

This'll never happen.  Union concerns about lost jobs and whatnot.  And the thrust of this proposal is moving teams back to Canada!  Ha!  Still, as a genuine hockey fan, I think the league you see above looks a hell of a lot stronger than the one you see here.  It preserves all the key rivalries, both geographical and practical.  It puts the two best young teams on the planet, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, in the same division.  It even puts Detroit and Colorado in the same division, which could get ugly.  (That's good.)  And it returns hockey to Canada in a significant way, since America generally has no need for it.

There wouldn't be any huge shifts in talent via the contraction dispersal draft... you're looking at Rick Nash, Olli Jokinen, Nathan Horton, Fredrik Norrena and Jay Bouwmeester moving to the five worst teams in hockey, Sergei Fedorov landing somewhere new and making you say "hmmmm," unsigned entry draftees becoming the property of new teams, and the rest just adding to depth.  Still, the league's talent level would be that much better, which really has to help.

Well, this is what I think they should do.

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2 Comments:

  • Jeff:
    I find your ideas fascinating, and I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Seriously- this is a great idea.

    By Blogger Alex, at 10:50 AM  

  • Upon reflection, I think what makes this list so intriguing is that it restores some of the exoticism to hockey. Baseball, football, basketball... they're the big three, they have been for my entire life, and they will continue to be. But then there's this other thing going on under the radar, with ice and pucks and other weird shit. 4OT playoff games. Legalized fighting. Goalies with decorated masks. French accents. It's weird! In the same way that Canada is like us, except not, hockey is like regular sports, except not.

    That exotic/eclectic feeling is reflected in this exercise. Stick a team in Quebec City. Don't call them Portland, call them Oregon. Screw you, Atlanta. And so forth. Everything's just a little off, just like hockey.

    The league really ought to embrace its innate oddity, instead of just trying to duplicate what the NBA did.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 10:06 AM  

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