American Hockey League Tattoos
Bill Jezior, Philadelphia, Pa.
Bill Jezior, Philadelphia, Pa.
The Ottawa Senators drew family and friends for a game against Arizona Tuesday night. Even though the number was dismal, empty seats are nothing new in Ottawa.
When the members of the Arizona Coyotes looked up into the stands during their 7-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night, they could have been forgiven for being a little confused. They would have been excused if they had thought for a moment they were actually playing at home instead of the Canadian Tire Centre, or whatever it is they’re calling the rink in Ottawa this week.
That’s because the game drew an announced crowd of just 11,061. It was a number that was, by some accounts, a generous one. It was also a low-water mark for the arena and it was believed to be the lowest attendance figure recorded for a game in Canada since late in the 1995-96 season, just before the Winnipeg Jets left town.
What does this prove? Well, a cynic might suggest it shows the Coyotes are just as popular on the road as they are at home. But it’s much more troubling than that. Low attendance in Ottawa is not a novel concept. In fact, it is following a trend that has been established over the past couple of seasons. So, 11,061 for a Tuesday night against Arizona is troubling in a Canadian market. But just as troubling was the fact the Senators came almost 1,000 short of a sellout for their season opener, which just happened to be against their most hated rival. Then they came almost 400 short of a sellout for home game No. 2 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, attendance has been robust in every market but one. Generally speaking, almost every game since then has been sold out in every Canadian market with the exception of the nation’s capital. So we have to wonder whether or not fans in Ottawa have reached their breaking point here. The Senators have what they refer to as a Dynamic Pricing Structure for single game tickets, so it’s fair to assume the games against Toronto and Montreal were probably the most expensive of the season.
There’s a good chance that if there is a breaking point for fans, it has been reached in Ottawa. Ticket prices and an arduous journey out to a suburban arena are usually cited as the two most prominent factors when it comes to the Senators trouble filling the arena. (The resurrected Canadian Football League team, meanwhile, has sold out 25 of its 27 home games so far.) And tickets for hockey games are just like anything else when it comes to a free market economy. In reality, there is absolutely no connection between the fact that Bobby Ryan will make $7.25 million this season and Senators’ ticket prices. The cost of tickets to the consumer is the function of one principle – supply and demand. Hockey tickets cost as much or as little as the market will bear. And in this case, the market has quite obviously sent a message with its feet. And part of the problem then becomes perception. If there is low attendance, then fans who might otherwise feel a need to get their tickets early will realize they can probably get their ducats on the secondary market or by simply going to the box office on game night. So if the weather is bad, traffic is nasty or you’re just not feeling it, you don’t go to the game. And that kills demand.
But Ottawa is not the only market in Canada that seems to be softening. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association claims the World Cup was sold out, but there were swaths of empty seats, right up to Canada’s two-game final against Team Europe. The luxury boxes at the Air Canada Centre were a barren wasteland. The secondary market was flooded with inventory, which drove down the cost to a small fraction of the face value.
And consider that there are reports of soft ticket sales for the World Junior Championship in both Toronto and Montreal. The latter is of particular concern, largely because it was so dismally attended when the event was split between the two cities two years ago. The same fans who haven’t seen their team win a Stanley Cup for a quarter of a century are still not willing to pay top dollar to watch teenagers play for world supremacy. With Canada not playing any games in the preliminary round in Montreal, expect to see enormous swaths of empty seats prior to the medal round.
Canadians love hockey. A lot. But there comes a point where it doesn’t seem reasonable to continue it as an open-my-wallet-and-take-all-my-money unconditional love. The Senators appear to have reached that point. And it should be a cautionary tale for other teams who think occupied seats are a given just because people are watching NHL hockey.
The Stars don't know exactly when they can expect Sharp’s return, which means yet another player has been added to Dallas’ growing injury list.
The Dallas Stars are going to be without Patrick Sharp, but they don’t know just how long the veteran winger will be on the shelf.
Sharp, 34, was forced to leave Thursday’s game against the Kings during the second period after being walloped along the boards by Los Angeles blueliner Brayden McNabb. Early in the frame, with Dallas on a power play, Sharp took a pass from Devin Shore and stepped over the blueline with Jeff Carter giving chase. In order to sidestep Carter, Sharp moved along the right wing boards where he was met with a solid jolt from McNabb.
No penalty was called on the play, and the replay shows that McNabb caught Sharp about as square on the shoulder as possible.
Regardless of how clean the hit may have been, though, Sharp immediately grabbed his head and was slow to get to his feet. He remained out on the power play for another 20 seconds before leaving the ice, but after heading to the bench, Sharp left the game. The Stars later announced he wouldn’t return due to “concussion-like symptoms,” and Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Sharp’s absence will go beyond Thursday’s game.
“Sharp will be out,” Ruff said, according to Mark Stepneski. “He missed the rest of the game on the hit but I don’t know what the time frame is.”
And even if Sharp is diagnosed with a concussion, that won’t make his timeframe for return any more clear. Unlike other injuries where it’s easier to gauge recovery times, a concussion can sideline a player for a few games or for months at a time.
The good news for Sharp, though, is that he doesn’t have a long history of serious head injures. In October 2010, Sharp, then with the Chicago Blackhawks, was forced out of the lineup with what was at the time called a “slight concussion,” but he returned after missing just one game and hasn’t missed any time with head injuries since.
The timing of the injury is brutal for Dallas, especially after an off-season in which seemingly none of their key top-six players could stay healthy. Already, the Stars are without Jiri Hudler (flu), Ales Hemsky (groin), Cody Eakin (knee), Mattias Janmark (knee) and Jason Dickinson (hip), so losing Sharp — and possibly Patrick Eaves, who also left the contest Thursday after a blocked shot — would be another serious blow to the dynamic Dallas offense.
Through four games this season, Sharp had mustered just one assist but had put 10 shots on goal.
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Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr played his first NHL game 50 years ago today and even though expectations were sky high, he exceeded them.
In the grand scheme of things, it turned out to be a nothing game between the two worst teams in the NHL, the first of a mind-numbing 14 games the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings would play against each other that season. The Bruins would go on to win the game 6-2 and it would give them a 1-0-0 record, the only time in the 1966-67 campaign the Bruins would be over .500 en route to a last-place finish in the last year of the six-team NHL. The Red Wings never made it over .500 that season and finished second-last.
It was the first game of a long and painful season for both teams. The Bruins would ultimately finish out of the playoffs for the eighth straight year and the Red Wings would also miss to begin an epic string of futility. They would make the playoffs only twice in the next 17 years and it would be another 21 before they would win a single playoff series.
“I don’t even remember that game, isn’t that a shame?” said Peter Mahovlich, who suited up as a 20-year-old rookie for the Red Wings. “I was probably so excited just to be playing myself.”
But the real excitement on Oct. 19, 1966 was for the NHL debut of Bobby Orr, who earned his first NHL assist 50 years ago tonight and started on his quest to change the game forever. And long before the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid came along, Orr knew first-hand what it was like to be hyped to biblical proportions. In fact, going into his first game, Boston Globe writer Tom Fitzgerald did his best to put the expectations into perspective, writing: “Boston hockey fans can help a lot if they contain themselves in their appraisal of the lad. They must not expect that Bobby immediately will be a combination of Eddie Shore, Doug Harvey, Jack Stewart and Dit Clapper.”
The funny thing is, Bruins fans had every right to expect that of him because that’s exactly what Orr became. He wasn’t immediately a combination of all those players, but he got off to a pretty good start with 13 goals and 41 points, which was good enough to win him the Calder Trophy. And with 102 penalty minutes, Orr did show a fair bit of Eddie Shore and Jack Stewart, sending a message that he would not be physically abused. Only five players in the league amassed more penalty minutes than Orr did that season. Only seven other 18-year-olds in NHL history have more PIM in their rookie season than Orr did, but Orr was the first to break 100. (In fact, Orr’s toughness and his defensive play in his own end were so overshadowed by his greatness in other areas that they are often overlooked.)
Meanwhile, Orr redefined the defense position and distinguished himself as the best player in the world by a fairly significant margin. In fact, it could probably be argued that at no time in the league’s history was the chasm between the best player and the rest of the league as wide as it was as when Orr was in his prime.
Covering Orr’s first game as a Bruin, Fitzgerald had this to say about the debut: “The high point of the occasion for the house full of fans, and for the other Bruins for that matter, was the calm and really major league job turned in by Orr, placed on as tough a spot as any boy ever to break into the NHL.
“Although he did not score a goal, the lad with the blond whiffle did everything else expected of the best at his position. Bobby demonstrated that the critics who doubted his defensive savvy were dead wrong. He played the position like a veteran; was very tough in dislodging opponents around the net; blocked shots; and made adept plays in moving the puck from his own end.
“It was an individual triumph of a kind that bosses of the Boston team were hoping for, but this long-hailed rookie unquestionably exceeded all of their anticipation.”
And he would go on to do that again and again in his 12-year career, the last three of which were marred by injury and a nasty divorce from the Bruins. But Orr crammed more greatness into those nine years than almost any other player in the history of the game has done throughout his career. Orr is certainly the greatest defenseman of all-time and, depending upon your perspective, the greatest player ever to play the game. He scored one of the game’s most memorable goals and did almost as much for hockey in New England as Gretzky did for the game in California.
And it all started 50 years ago tonight. The Bruins plan to honor Orr at a ceremony at their home opener tomorrow night, not far from where it all began in a nothing game between the NHL’s two worst teams.
Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
The top two picks from the 2016 draft aren't the only rookies worth talking about. Here are our picks for the most impressive performances from players other than Matthews and Laine.
The 2016-17 NHL season may become known as the Year of the Rookie. It's still very early days, but there are a number of first-year players playing big roles, and impressing in big ways.
A total of 29 teenagers began the season on NHL rosters, and two of them already have scored hat tricks. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine went No. 1 and 2 in the 2016 draft and so far they've not disappointed. Matthews made headlines by scoring four goals in his first game, and Laine bested Matthews on Wednesday by scoring three goals in a Jets win over the Maple Leafs.
But they're not the only rookies worth talking about. Here are our picks for the most impressive rookie performances so far -- from players other than Matthews and Laine.
Zach Werenski has carried over the momentum from his dominant AHL playoffs, in which he stepped in for his first pro action right out of the University of Michigan. He played seven regular season games for Lake Erie and was a crucial reason why it won the Calder Cup. Now he seamlessly has transitioned to the NHL with the Jackets, already playing major minutes and toiling on the top power play. He has been an elite prospect since even before the Jackets drafted him eighth overall in 2015, so none of this is a fluke. Werenski is a stud and a legit Calder Trophy candidate. Or, he at least would be in a non Matthews/Laine year. (Matt Larkin)
He’s ninth in rookie scoring, the third-highest scoring first-year player on his team, and currently sits second-last among freshmen in plus-minus, but Mitch Marner is everything the Toronto Maple Leafs could have hoped he’d be, and more. Auston Matthews scored four goals in Toronto’s first game this season, but there were large swaths of that game when Marner was the best player on the ice. His skill level is breathtaking. There have been shifts where he has controlled the entire ice surface. And when you have that kind of skill, it’s only a matter of time before the numbers start coming. Some players are rushed into the NHL, but not Marner. There would be nothing, absolutely nothing to be gained by sending him back to junior hockey. The kid is where he belongs. (Ken Campbell)
The acquisitions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers marked two big steps forward for the Florida Panthers’ blueline, but it’s the development and play of Mike Matheson that has impressed most early in the season. Matheson, 22, spent the entire 2015-16 campaign in the AHL after finishing up three years at Boston College, and the 2012 first-rounder has come a long way in one short pro season.
Averaging more than 20 minutes per game, Matheson looks more than capable of handling a top-four role in Florida, and his offensive instincts have been on display early. His opening-night overtime assist was a thing of beauty and he’s scored in back-to-back games against top Eastern Conference competition. Maybe this could have been seen coming, though, after Matheson was named top defenseman at the 2016 World Championship with a remarkable two-goal, six-point performance in 10 games with Team Canada. (Jared Clinton)
Travis Konecny was so far off the Calder Trophy-race radar, he wasn't included in Bovada's pre-season odds. But he's looked perfectly capable of sticking in the show after his first four professional games. Konecny jumped straight from junior to the Flyers this season, and is already getting important minutes on the second line with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. He's yet to find the back of the net, but he has four assists in his first four games, and is averaging over 15 minutes of ice time per game. And the goals will come. The 2015 first-round pick scored 23 goals in 31 games last season after being traded from Ottawa to Sarnia. If he continues to get put in a position to contribute offensively, there's no reason to believe he won't. (Ian Denomme)