As ideas go, it’s creative, somewhat provocative, for some even emotive.
For many in the hockey world, though, it’s simply a negative.
A group called Ice Edge Holdings made news last week when it was revealed its plan to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes included a short-term fix to play a handful of “home” games in Saskatoon, Sask.
The NHL-hockey starved folks of the prairies would be asked to ante up cash for tickets that would be priced perhaps double or triple what they pay (or more frequently, don’t) in the desert. And chances are, those games would sell out, in the short-term.
As a band-aid, cash grab/subsidy, it might meet its objective – maybe.
But it just feels so wrong.
A hockey team and community have a relationship with a deep emotional attachment. As soon as the team suggests it start dating other cities, the connection is doomed; trust is broken.
As for the “other woman/man,” the concept of a sexy suitor may sound exciting, but the titillation would soon wear off. The reality is rarely as sweet as the fantasy.
The result would be a team sinking deeper in quicksand from which it’s already struggling to escape and a mistress left feeling used.
Simply put, the NHL either belongs in Phoenix or it doesn’t. The market needs to prove to the hockey world it can play in the big leagues – which it has failed to do so far – or give someone else a chance.
The concept of neutral site games isn’t foreign (well, actually it is in Europe) to the NHL. In my experience, these games are typically duds. The league experimented with them in the early 1990s to middling results.
While I’m not a supporter of the season opening in Europe, the logic is apparent. Tap into an underserved market with vast potential before the Russians stake their claim.
Saskatoon is a different beast. The NHL will never set up shop there.
What makes team sports so compelling is the emotional investment. Sure, as hockey fans we appreciate the artistry and respect the talent, but this isn’t ballet. It’s blood and sweat and ‘heck-yeah, we want to see our team beat the tar out of the opponents, both on the scoreboard and in the alley.’
There are certainly scores of NHL fans in Saskatoon, but their allegiances are spread across the league. Some support Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Detroit…one or two may even like Phoenix.
But there is no cohesion, no unifying force; and after the initial thrill of NHL hockey wears off, the games will be devoid of spark.
I witnessed that phenomenon last fall when the NFL’s Buffalo Bills played a game at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. The metropolis of T.O. is brimming with NFL fans, but only a fraction support the Bills. The result was an atmosphere limper than a Rangers power play.
More importantly, we doubt this concept – which could hasten the death of hockey in Phoenix – will ultimately appeal to an NHL hierarchy which is doing its level best to achieve stability in the desert.
And the NHLPA may not be supportive of a plan which would see some of its members lose home games, having to travel more extensively and spend more time away from their families.
We applaud Ice Edge Holdings for trying to find a solution and respect the creativity. Sounds like the NHL’s executive committee did likewise on Thursday when it didn’t categorically reject the group’s “incomplete” application to become franchise owners. We’re guessing, however, the league’s power brokers will conclude two cities, one team is a love triangle it could do without.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly in the off-season.
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