When the NHL announced last fall its seven-year partnership that will see adidas become its official outfitter starting next season, your trusty correspondent asked commissioner Gary Bettman whether the deal would be extended by a year if there were another labor dispute. Bettman responded with a one-word answer.
“Really?” Bettman asked, with a good amount of offense and incredulity. Well, about as much offense and incredulity as someone who has shut down the game three times in the past 20 years could muster.
Any smug prognosticator convinced Las Vegas’ NHL franchise will be a laughing stock has a head start. It’s an expansion team, after all, and recent NHL history tells us brand-new franchises normally fall flat on their faces.
The San Jose Sharks joined the NHL 25 years ago and won a combined 28 games in their first two seasons. The Ottawa Senators arrived a year later and won 24 games over their first two years. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators… each of those franchises wobbled out of the womb like a baby calf. The 1993-94 Florida Panthers set the gold standard of modern expansion club respectability, and even they didn’t finish .500, going 33-34-17. None of those teams made the post-season in its first two tries.
It thus stands to reason Vegas, a market already inviting some skepticism of its ability to fill an NHL arena long term, is in trouble. History suggests teams take years to build their youth crop and field competitive clubs. If the Vegas fan base is as fickle as some perceive it to be, that’s a deadly combination of lack of winning and lack of interest.
But Vegas has something going for it no franchise has before upon its inception: the salary cap. Vegas is the cap era’s first expansion team, and it will have advantages every other new NHL franchise has lacked.
If Glenn Healy wants to escape the public scrutiny that has followed him around for the better part of the past 15 years as a broadcaster, he might want to avoid getting involved in politics. But surprisingly, that’s one of the career paths Healy is contemplating after being let go as the between-the-benches analyst for Hockey Night in Canada.
If Healy thought there were haters, and there were, when he was a broadcaster, that will pale in comparison if he does decide to dip his toe into the political waters. “There has been interest in the past in getting into the political side of things,” Healy told thn.com early Monday night. “When (former Canadian finance minister) Jim Flaherty was alive, I was approached about being an MP on a couple of occasions. The next chapter will come. I’m only, what, seven hours into this.”
So this is really happening. The NHL is rolling the dice on Las Vegas. It’s gambling on Sin City, placing its bet, doubling down, upping the ante, raising the stakes, going all in, looking to hit the jackpot, hoping not to crap out. There, we got that out of the way. That pretty much covers the betting analogies, so let’s never see them again for the next hundred years.
With its announcement that the league intends to expand to 31 teams by granting an expansion franchise to Las Vegas, the NHL finally exposed its worst kept secret. Pundits had been professing this was a slam dunk for the better part of the past 18 months, so there was no sense of surprise when Vegas franchise owner Bill Foley, who told reporters that he played “shiny hockey” on a pond when he was a kid when his father was stationed in Ottawa, was invited into the fold.
When Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are drafted into the NHL a week from now, their teams in the Finnish Elite League will receive a one-time payment of about $240,000. Assuming each player earns $50 million over the course of his NHL career – which is probably being conservative – the amount their teams receive represents about one-half of one percent of their career earnings.
The teams that choose Laine and Puljujarvi – almost certainly the Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets – stand to make millions in merchandising and ticket sales, particularly if each of them is a central figure in some long playoff runs. Meanwhile, the organizations that have basically developed these players from the time they were children, Tappara and Karpat, are receiving a pittance. That $240,000 is what Karpat will receive for losing Laine’s and Puljujarvi’s World Junior linemate Sebastian Aho to the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this week.
Not many good ideas are born out of beer league hockey dressing rooms. Trust us. But Jake Mednick and Thomas McCole have turned what seemed like an off-the-cuff joke into a booming business.
That business is Babsocks – a unisex, one-size-fits-all sock in blue and white adorned with the animated, disapproving face of Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “For a reason I can hardly remember, I joked about Babsocks being something funny to create,” Mednick said. “While I was joking, Tom knew I was on to something and he hustled to get a prototype made. . .We have been coming up with creative and goofy ideas for years but this is the first time any thing materialized.”
There’s one thing you have to keep in mind when it comes to this public relations debacle surrounding the cancellation of tonight’s viewing party in Tampa for Game 7 between the Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. And that is that the NHL is not the bad guy here. The league is basically taking a bullet for its broadcast partner, NBC Sports.
Think about it. Why would the league want to deter thousands of people from assembling in one place to celebrate their team’s playoff run and create a sense of community among fans that no amount of money can buy, unless it was being forced to do so? The truth is, the NHL would love it, absolutely love it, if every team in the playoffs held public gatherings for each one of their playoff games. It creates a buzz around the team and the product that is immeasurable. The days of Bill Wirtz not putting the Chicago Blackhawks home games on television passed a long time ago.
Conventional wisdom sticks…until it doesn’t. The Blues could never beat the Blackhawks in the playoffs, nor could the Sharks beat the Kings…but this year they did. The Arizona Coyotes named 26-year-old John Chayka as the franchise’s new GM today. Chayka is an analytics man who quickly found favor with Coyotes ownership and now he’s getting the keys to the hockey department.