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Howard Baldwin, ex-Whalers owner, offers critical look at ‘marginal’ NHL markets

By Greg Wyshynski

Howard Baldwin founded the Hartford Whalers, helped create the San Jose Sharks, and produced "Mystery, Alaska" (yea!) and "Sound of Thunder" (bleech!) among other films. He's seen businesses that work, businesses that fail. He's seen, and done, it all — including having won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins as their chairman in 1992.

Baldwin's been trying to bring back the NHL to Hartford for some time, and sees a "three to four year window" to aggressively petition for one. He recently spoke with Timo Seppa, managing editor of Hockey Prospectus, about that mission; but he also spoke candidly about the healthy of other markets.

From Hockey Prospectus, a few choice cuts from Baldwin, whose been in involved in team ownership since 1975:

Seppa: Some of the expansion worked, right? Like the California teams, and Dallas?

Baldwin: "San Jose. I did that deal for the league, San Jose. I loved San Jose. Dallas, yep. The team went bankrupt, but net-net, it's a good market. Phoenix is not a good market. Florida's not a good market. Carolina will always be marginal, I think. Anaheim, I think, eventually will be a problem.

"And if they ever go NBA, which they'd really like to, then it'll be a bigger problem. … They'll be fighting over dates at the building. I'm trying to think of where else. St. Louis is marginal, but they've always been marginal. It's fascinating, St. Louis. From the day they came into the NHL, I bet you they've had more ownership changes than any team."

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Seppa: They're working on another one right now.

Baldwin: "I know, I know. You're right, I know. Columbus. I thought Columbus would really be good. Again, I was on the board. I was so in favor of Columbus, because it reminded me of Hartford. Same as San Jose, you're the only show in town. If you want to go to a major league attraction, you better go to the Columbus…Blue Jackets. They could have come up with a better name, though!"

After a discussion about Columbus as a viable market, and how difficult that is to measure without having playoff success, the attention turned to the Florida Panthers:

Seppa: I don't think Florida was ever a good idea. That's a market like Atlanta, where people's attention is everywhere other than on hockey. They don't even have a fair shot, if the team's always out of the playoffs.

Baldwin: "Totally right, particularly in a warm weather market, like L.A. We lived in L.A. for 22 years. We still go back there a lot. L.A. is a really funny market, because there's so many things to do there. So if you're going to bill yourself as a major league team, you better be good. What turned L.A. around was Gretzky. What Bruce [McNall] did there, bringing Gretzky in there, all of a sudden that opened up all of hockey on the West Coast."

Plenty more from Baldwin on the Whale and the NHL over on Hockey Prospectus.

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