Wouldn’t it be nice if the NHL could just flip a switch and make its franchise woes disappear? Just do it all in one fell swoop; sell, relocate, contract, whatever. Simply decide on a course of action and take proactive steps toward cleaning up this messy situation.
Think back to the lockout. The NHL had shut down under the auspices of a failed business model; owners said salaries were spiraling out of control and the league’s poorer teams couldn’t compete with clubs in major markets like New York, Toronto and Detroit with deep-pocketed owners.
But there was more wrong with the game than an uneven skating surface. And everyone knew it. Offense had dried up to historic proportions. Art Ross Trophy winners were having trouble breaking the 100-point barrier – just five players total had reached triple digits in the four seasons prior – and goalies were posting near-record totals –13 netminders had goals-against averages of 2.20 or lower in 2003-04, three posted sub-2.00 marks; 41 goalies had save percentages of .900 or better.
But despite the bitterness between players and owners concerning off-ice issues, sweeping changes were made to better the on-ice product. New rules were put in place to promote offense and excitement became the order of the day.
The rink was reconfigured, the shootout was installed, two-line passes were allowed, tag-up offside was reinstituted, the trapezoid (although likely on its way out) was brought in, line changes were forbidden on icing calls, goalie equipment size was reduced and the rulebook was reinterpreted to give offensive skaters every advantage.
The NHL was effectively re-styled, proving it is possible to make sweeping changes and come out better on the other side.
Here we are five seasons later and while the on-ice product is arguably the best it’s ever been, the off-ice product remains a quagmire of failing franchises and convoluted commerce concerns.
The worst of the lot is Phoenix, where the league has operated the team all season. With each passing day it looks as if Ice Edge Holdings will be unable to actually purchase the team at the reduced rate it got. Despite all the turmoil with the club, the Coyotes are having the best season in their history, battling for first in the West with an MVP-caliber netminder and an almost sure coach-of-the-year winner. Still, all the talk surrounding the franchise revolves around who might end up owning the team and if it will move.
For all intents and purposes, the NHL can’t find a suitable buyer for one of its top on-ice products and has gone back to begging at the feet of Jerry Reinsdorf. Reports say the league is thinking seriously about swallowing its pride and moving the team back to Winnipeg if Options A and B don’t work out.
Uhhhhh. I have had enough.
I just want to think about hockey, not the business of hockey. And if I’ve had enough, I’m sure you’ve had enough and you can be damn sure those owners who are propping up other teams have had enough.
So here’s what I would do: If there are teams in locales where it simply isn’t working, move them all to new hockey-mad markets.
And if they can all be done during one off-season, wouldn’t that be great? Beginning a season with hope and excitement – a la 2005-06 – would be better than another summer and season of failing franchises, unmet bottom lines and continued focus on what’s happening off the ice, rather than on.
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