Big League Dogs to Small Town Pond??

Where will this couple go if the Coyotes can’t get into Tempe/ Photo via Arizona Coyotes

We’re well aware the issues with the Arizona Coyotes over the better part of a decade now. It’s been added to thanks to the story about possibly sharing the new rink built for the Arizona State hockey team while they await their arena in Tempe to be build.

You know– the arena they don’t actually have yet but how the hell could they lose to themselves since they were the only bidder for the grounds that Tempe put out there– oh wait, they are losing out on it due to lack of support form the city.

Some of the uproar about the move varies from the arena being very small for NHL standards to people pointing out the effort the NHL has put in to keeping the team in the area through all the ownership issues and money problems. To which, I can see their point. First, the new Arizona State arena only is slated to hold 5,000 people in there. Fun fact– only two AHL arenas (Utica and Belleville), two ECHL teams (Glen Falls and Trois-Rivieres), and two SPHL arenas (Vermilion County and Birmingham) hold less than the new arena. Optics don’t look at this too kindly for a top-level NHL team.

Secondly, the NHL has gone all out to try and make the Coyotes works in Arizona– rightly or wrongly. The owners have come and gone from this franchise, all citing being in Glendale as the reason for their shortcomings in the stands. While that could be true, Glendale has over 250,000 people living there so it’s not like it’s some out of the way hamlet with no people– hell, it’s even considered part of the Phoenix-metro area that consist of almost five-million people. You’d have to think there’s some kind of marketing scheme that’d be able to get 17,000 people into Gila River Arena on a gamely basis.

The debate about trying to keep the Nordiques, original Jets, and North Stars in their area could rage on forever– but at the time you could see the NHL’s strategy in order to boost league revenues and interests beyond the markets they were in– Quebec City and Winnipeg being the two smallest at the time. That said, the NHL has been consistent in trying to keep teams in their current markets– Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Ottawa, Buffalo, Nashville– they’ve all had the NHL intervene with finding owners to keep the team in the area or being the medium to bridge a gap for a new arena– looking at you next, Calgary. So, the fight they are putting up now with the Coyotes (and have been since 2008) is consistent with what they have been doing– so I’m not shocked.

For me, the biggest play will be what happens if the Arizona State deal does work and the Coyotes actually do get granted the land to build in Tempe. Since Gila River is no longer an option since the Coyotes will get the boot after this season and it’ll be 3-4 years before any new arena will be done; owners and players probably aren’t going to be too happy with a team playing in that small of an arena. Will it be a ruckus crowd?? Perhaps, if the ticket prices are right– hell, you get enough die-hards into that building; it might be the toughest place to play by year two.

Of course, that’s if everything were to go to plan and the history of the Coyotes dictates that there’s always going to be a wrench thrown in there. All the while, people in Houston get their hopes up and lick their lips at the possibility of getting this team in their area– an area I’m sure the NHL owners would love to be in.

While this does suck for fans of the Coyotes and it drains the nerves of other fans– you can’t deny how interesting and entertaining from the outside this really is. For 14 years it’s been a “will they, won’t they” situation and has amused me for that time span. Wherever the cards may fall– this could be the final season of it and we should enjoy it while we can because stability will ruin this whole bit.

Hack Journalist Says Flames Will Be Moved

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There’s many reasons I loathe Eric Francis, the former morning zoo DJ trying to be a legitimate columnist. NBC Sports’ Sean Leahy says that my feud with Francis is one of his favorite one-sided feuds. However, his latest column for the Calgary Sun just adds to my point that this man is a lacky for Flames management.

For the bullet points, Francis says that the time is now for the ownership group for the Flames to sell the team to Tilman Fertitta in Houston so that the Flames can move. This is after the Flames and the city of Calgary talk of a new arena is at a stand-still and after the new of Seattle being the next expansion destination.

Francis says that the Flames have outgrown the town of Calgary. A “town” of over 1.4 million people. A professional sports team has outgrown it. I’ll let that sink in because you can’t believe someone can be so pompous.

And not just Houston is thrown out there, Francis also throws out Quebec City because, why not?? Francis went so far as saying it’s going to be three years before the Flames are in Houston– which is an insane timeline when you think about how slow things can move in sports, though it did take three years for the Carolina Hurricanes to be sold.

Oh, and it should be said that the new prospective ownership in Carolina has a clause in their agreement that would prevent the new team from relocation for seven years. Therefore, the idea Francis has– given the fact that the NHL will want to have some stability in a strong Canadian market– is really far-fetched. Not a shock, but worth pointing out.

It should also be noted that the Toyota Center in Houston is more than 2,000 seats less than the Saddledome– though it has 31 more luxury seats, which the NHL salivates over. Also, Quebec City is HALF THE SIZE OF CALGARY– so who why would the NHL want to not only go to a smaller market that will be divided with the Canadiens and throw the conference alignment out of whack??

Of all the points that Francis made, there’s only one I can agree with and that’s the idea of getting an Olympic bid for 2026 being the only way Calgary gets a new arena. And if Mayor Naheed Nenshi is putting all his eggs in that basket, it’s a terrible game to be playing. The IOC is quite the crooked organization and you can bet what they have in mind of a new arena is much more absurd than what the Flames have put forth and would cost much more to the people of Calgary than the Flames plan.

Should taxpayers pay for new arenas?? I’m not a economist, but I’m going to say no. Especially in a sport like hockey in Canada were it’s just a license to print money in most casts– the ownership should have capital to be able to build an arena on their own dime. The Flames are valued by Forbes to be worth $430M with a revenue of $129M…which I think is a little more than enough to start putting together a self-funded arena.

There’s no question the Flames need a new building. It’s a highly outdated facility and while they tried to upgrade after the flooding, it was just putting a new coat of paint on an old barn. Unlike baseball and to an extent football, there’s no appeal in an old arena for hockey. It starts to get run down, nickel and dime the team to repair things to keep up-to-date with technology in the sport, and especially for an arena designed in the ’80s, the appeal isn’t as it was for places like the Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens.

With all that said, I’m putting this at a 3% chance of the Flames actually going through with selling and then having the team relocate in the time-span Francis puts it at. The NHL will want to put a clause in any new deal that keeps a team in town for the time being and for the new owners to adapt to the climate. Yet, if the Flames are sold– it could wake up people in the town and those in city council to maybe get a little nervous of a move– hopefully not getting nervous enough to sell their constituents down the river to pay for a new arena.

At the end of the day– Eric Francis is a hack. Eric Francis is sucking from the teat of the Calgary Flames management to keep in their good graces so he can keep writing garbage columns. How any competent news organization gives him the page space or TV time is beyond me because there are too many good talent in Calgary going unused thanks to old hacks like Francis sticking around.

TEPID TAKE: Seattle’s Application and the Houston Threat

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On Thursday, the NHL said that any Seattle-based ownership group would be allowed to submit an application for an expansion team. This comes after the news that the city would renovated the Key Arena to the tune of $600M. Obviously, Seattle has been a highly coveted market for the NHL for a bit, especially with their proximity to the Vancouver area– so why not service the Pacific Northwest.

Honestly, I’ll never understand the market or the hype behind it– but since they do show support for the other teams in the area; why not muddy the waters further with this investment??

Yet, while this was an area that all but assured a team in the future– whether it be through expansion or relocation– it still seems far off, as it the timeline appears to be around 2020-21 for this team to actually put blades to ice. Granted, that’s less than three years away and less time than when Vegas actually got things approved– but still, 2020 seems far away and we still have an upcoming labor dispute looming, which would be just a fantastic time to get into the NHL business, right??

And, let’s not kid each other– this is something that will happen if the right person comes along. Or any person with the $650M expansion fee and rights to use that building. The NHL loves the idea of even divisions and conferences, thus Seattle is the one needed to even it all out again.

But there’s also the trickle-down theory of who this could affect in the long-run. First, the existing Seattle team– the WHL’s Thunderbirds– may have a harder time getting people into the rink. Sure, it’s 20 miles from Seattle proper and would have less expensive prices all around, who knows if the support would still be there for something that’s not the NHL. It works in Canadian markets, sure– but will it work in a market like Seattle?? Time will tell.

Another thing this affects is potential moves for owners wanting to get out. When Gary Bettman met up with Tilman Fertitta in Houston, this signaled a new market for ownership group to go to in order to get what they may want from their hometown. With the idea of Seattle going the expansion route– Houston will take over the Western side of things (hello, Coyotes) and Quebec City will look for the new Eastern team to come along– which may not be any time soon.

While the threat really is just a leverage situation– it did give us great memories of an owner like Daryl Katz hob-knobing with the Seattle brass to get the things they wanted from Edmonton respectively. I don’t know if Houston will have the same cache that Seattle did; but there’s probably not the same amount of teams visiting Houston that we had visit Seattle.

The only big thing is the nickname idea– which I’m sure people have already started. The Metropolitans would be great to give the team a heritage boost being named after the first US-based team to win the Stanley Cup…if it wasn’t already a division in the NHL. The Totems would be another nostalgic contender as it was to old WHL/PCHL/CHL franchise name– and people love the idea of old names with new teams.

Regardless of what happens after today, this could be the biggest news about an application in the history of sport…or something.

Is Houston on the NHL Radar Now??

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A story came out last night from KHOU in Houston about the possibility of Houston being in the running for a possible expansion or relocation for the NHL. With Les Alexander looking to selling the Houston Rockets and Toyota Center, it opens up the door to a hockey team moving in there, as Alexander was the biggest opponent to a hockey team being in the Toyota Center.

For this, you have to believe that Houston, if they can find an ownership group, moves almost to the front of the line for an expansion or relocation bid. Of course, this all depends on who buys the Toyota Center and what their look at hockey versus what they would want to deal with the Rockets sharing a building with hockey– but for a market that is the 10th biggest market in the US, the NHL would definitely want to go ahead and get into the ear of the new owner to think about considering the idea for pro hockey to get into the arena.

In KHOU’s story, many closed to the Rockets and Alexander stated that they thought that Alexander believed that any money not spent on the Rockets was money wasted. Hell, he had an inflated rent for the Houston Aeros when they were playing in the Toyota Center to the tune of $23,000 a game (or around $828,000 a year on just the regular season), which was part of why they moved to Des Moines in 2013. Of course, the Aeros were respectable when it came to attendance in the AHL, being in the top-ten in most seasons.

The Houston area does have a lineage when it comes to hockey, as the Aeros were a cornerstone of the WHA from 1972 until 1978 when they folded due to not having the funds for the WHA and weren’t in the running for the migration to the NHL. Then after the Apollos failed in the CHL, the Aeros came into town in 1994 with the IHL and then into the AHL, winning a Turner Cup and a Calder Cup in their 19 seasons in the area.

Instantly, you have to think that the rivalry will already be there between Houston and Dallas. Hell, the folks over at Defending Big D stumped for putting a hockey team in Houston two years ago when the NHL did expansion bids which brought about the Vegas Golden Knights. If the right owner is there and the lease is right– the Houston market could be solid for the NHL. The fans will show up for a pro team because it’s a pro team and the media market is ripe for the picking.

Whether it be a team relocating to the area or the NHL ditching Seattle and get on the Houston bandwagon for expansion, the area should be given a chance to hold up a hockey franchise. They just need the right ownership group to bring and keep the people in the building for the long haul. The NHL should be taking this thing seriously and maybe the pieces will fall into place for Houston to be a new NHL home sooner rather than later.