There hasn\'t been a lot of smile about for either the Senators or the Leafs over the last few seasons. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Everywhere in Canada except one place, not a single seat has gone unsold since the lockout. But when your arena is miles out of the city and your team has generally been a disappointment the past two seasons, it does present some challenges.
So it goes for the Ottawa Senators, who have put up some shockingly bad attendance numbers this season, selling out just two of 13 home games so far. But what is more shocking about their numbers is their two worst crowds of the season have come against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. In Pittsburgh’s only two visits this season, the Penguins drew 17,014 on Oct. 8 and 17,039 Thursday night. Two nights before, the Senators drew just 17,406 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, which means there were more than 1,700 empty seats.
A lot of that has to do with a pricing structure that charges top prices for those games, but the fact people aren’t willing to shell out big dollars for those games is telling. Through 13 games this season, the Senators are averaging 18,000 per game in the 19,153-seat Scotiabank Place. They haven’t sold out a game since they attracted 20,154 against Boston Oct. 24 and they’ve played seven home games since then.
There are some real trouble spots when it comes to attendance this season, but to see the Senators struggle to put people in the seats is out of the ordinary. They have one of the larger rinks in the league and they’ve been mediocre the past two seasons, but it certainly puts the notion that hockey-mad Canada will pay anything to watch a game to rest.
THIS LOOKS MESSY
The Toronto Maple Leafs lose when they fall behind early in the game. When they get an early lead, they lose. When their goaltending is poor, they lose. When they’re goaltender plays very well, they almost always lose. When their goaltender plays well, they lose. They lose in shootouts; boy do they lose in shootouts. They blow leads late and get behind too early. When they don’t show up, they lose and when they play really hard, they still lose. The nights they play really well and they’re in the game, they almost always lose. They lose on the road; they lose even more at home.
All of which indicates a severe dearth of NHL talent and that is something almost impossible to overcome in today’s NHL, no matter how good your coach is or how hard your team works. If GM Brian Burke has made one mistake since he came to the Leafs, it’s that he thought the rebuild could be accelerated. Having Phil Kessel and all his talent in the lineup doesn’t mean much if there is inferior talent around him. Let’s face it, the Leafs could be just as bad without Kessel in their lineup this season.
And Burke can bury as much money in the minors as he wants, but that won’t solve anything. There are no shortcuts to becoming a contender and the Leafs are learning that lesson the hard way. The fact they don’t have a first round pick for the next two drafts has just made that process all the more difficult.
WHAT WAS THAT?
The GMs apparently got some sort of slap-down from the league at their meetings in Toronto last week when it came to lifetime contracts. Given Duncan Keith is reportedly on the verge of signing a 13-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and Marc Savard appears to be ready to sign a seven-year extension with the Boston Bruins that will take him to his 40th birthday, it sounds as though they really took the NHL’s words to heart.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.