It has to be more than a little jarring for fans of the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils - people used to rooting for consistently competitive teams year in and year out - to see their clubs flopping around like Mike Ribeiro or Maxim Lapierre this season.
But the truth of the matter is that both organizations were due for a letdown. In fact, virtually every team in the NHL has undergone some degree of significant turbulence in the past decade; the only possible exceptions - in the regular season, anyway - are the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks, but that’s what makes their prowess all the more impressive.
That’s the challenge facing every franchise: staying in the hunt for the Stanley Cup - not just once in a while, but each and every season. Obviously, that is a high-wire act even the most skilled balancers have trouble with sometimes.
I have no trouble answering your questions, though. And since there ain’t no party like a mailbag party (not that I’m saying that’s necessarily a good thing), let’s get it started:
Hi Adam. Do you think that if each NHL franchise raised ticket prices a few dollars, they would have enough money to pay for airfare to teams of the opposing conference? I’ve noticed Western Conference teams aren't playing the East that much in order to save on airfare.
Dillon Eng, Anaheim
Hold on a second – are you a plant for the owners, or have you forgotten how the 2004-05 lockout was supposed to be for the fans’ sake and address the costliness of watching an NHL game?
As we know now, that talk from Gary Bettman and the owners was nothing but the lippy-est of lip service. Have NHL ticket prices come down across the board? No, they have not. Have they been raised in many - if not most - circumstances? Yes, they have.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m all for a more balanced NHL schedule that, ideally, would see every team play one home game and one away game against all 29 other teams. But I’ve spoken to enough people in the league to know there are a significant number of owners who comprise the league’s power base - all of them situated on the East Coast - who will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid an increased travel budget.
Raising ticket prices wouldn’t give owners any added incentive to travel west more frequently. Instead, it would tell owners they can continue to soak the paying customer more than they have already.
Adam, I am a diehard hockey fan. As I write this, I'm watching the Pens and Flyers on the NHL Network and am sickened by the refs letting Jody Shelley and Deryk Engelland fight to the point that blood-spatter experts would wonder what’s going on.
I love a good, hard-played game and I hoot and holler for fights, but don't you think that fight should've ended when Shelley's blood was running down his face a lot? Shelley is one of my favorite bad guys (wish he was in L.A.!) but I think that went on too long. Glad to see him back in the game, but not so much blood next time, please.
Mary Marenoff, Los Angeles, Calif.
I’m going to assume you’re a relatively new reader of my stuff and you aren’t aware of my views on fighting. As always, I have to start off by saying that the idea of banning fights is impossible in any sport - but since it was founded, the NHL always has forfeited its responsibility to keep the game as clean as possible, in part because people at the highest levels of the league don’t have enough faith in the game itself to draw people in and keep them as fans.
Because of that absence of adult behavior, we’re now at a point where no clean hit goes without a follow-up scrum and face-wash-o-rama. And now we’re going to debate how many units of blood have to get spilled before we get uncomfortable with the idea of repeatedly slamming fists into other people’s heads?
I’m not blaming you, but that kind of thinking is just ludicrous to me. As I’ve said countless times, I’m OK with players fighting - but only so long as the league punishes them as every other league does: with an immediate ejection from the game and a suspension. Anything less is simply the tacit promotion of a philosophy modern society left behind long ago.
Adam: All the GMs in the NHL are North Americans. My question is, why are there not any European GMs? With that being said do you think a guy like Nicklas Lidstrom could bridge that gap? He certainly seems like a fairly competent guy who could handle the job (and it isn’t like an owner would have to worry about his English-speaking abilities).
Matt Landers, Binghamton, N.Y.
Good question - and one I’ve asked for some time. Ask hockey people about the distinct lack of Euro GMs and you’ll get the same pat answer: most European players head home after their NHL careers end, so they’re not on the radar when owners look for a new GM.
I’m not buying it, though. You’re telling me former St. Louis Blues assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen or Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson are somehow less qualified to take the reins of a team than Brett Hull was? Not a chance.
Lidstrom doesn’t strike me as the type of player who would ache to get back in the game right after he retires. But I’d be the last person to tell him he shouldn’t go for it if his interest was genuine.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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