TEPID TAKE: The Seattle 32nds

The worst kept secret was made official Tuesday, as Seattle was named the 32nd team in the NHL by a unanimous decision. The team will start playing in 2021…labor strife permitting. It was a happening of necessity of getting more of a footprint in the Pacific Northwest, while creating a nice little “rivalry” already with Vancouver, as well as making sure that all the divisions are equal. 

Plus, the price tag of $650M doesn’t hurt either, I’m sure.

However, good on the city of Seattle. They’ve been one of the most vocal group of supporters for wanting a hockey team, it was almost Canadian of them. Of course, with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s plenty to be excited about because the talent pool could be even better and it could give them an even better start than Vegas…but let’s not put the cart before the horse. 

Of course, with all of this– it shifts the landscape a bit. As mentioned, Seattle will go into the Pacific Division, which will shift the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division. Obviously, this has sparked the kind of tongue-in-cheek idea of the Coyotes now moving to Houston and not having to switch divisions– but if they’ve survived this long in the desert, they can survive a divisional move and another round of rumors. 

More over, it may make people question the future of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. They play in Kent, which is about 20 miles from Seattle, but will they be able to keep the fan base they have with this new hockey team in town or could this move signal a possible swan song for the team. Sure, other markets in the WHL have NHL teams with them– Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and soon Winnipeg– but Canadian markets when it comes to hockey vastly differ when it comes to US markets. I would love to see it work as a natural pipeline, but I have my doubts. 

That all said, it’s good for the NHL to have a presence like this in the location they do. They go to a city that doesn’t have another winter sport presence on a daily basis (NFL aside, of course), they go to a play that is hungry for it, and they go to a place where there is history– like when the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans were the first US-based team to win the Stanley Cup. With the right management in place, they could get back there sooner than later once this team gets off the ground. 

Maryland Hockey History: Baltimore Failed NHL Expansion, WHA Completion

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Things could have been a lot different for the history of hockey in Maryland if you were to believe press clippings around the first rounds of expansion in the NHL. It would have definitely changed the way things are now and who knows if it the Washington Capitals would even be in the league if Baltimore would have gotten the expansion bid in 1967 or 1970.

During early expansion, Baltimore had put a bid in behind the strength of their new Civic Center, which was able to expand up to 12,700 seats for hockey– a size that was 200 seats more than the smallest arena at the time in Detroit. The biggest argument from Jake Embry– President of the Baltimore Clippers of the AHL and spokesperson for Baltimore’s 1967 NHL bid– was that Baltimore was a big league city in other sports and he felt hockey should be big league, too.

To that point, the Clippers in the AHL had been to the playoffs three times in five years and only got past the first round twice. They were brought into the Civic Center as an AHL expansion team in 1962 after the first incarnation of the Clippers played in the Eastern League out of the ashes of the Coast Guard Cutters. When Carlin’s Iceland burnt down in 1956, the Clippers moved to Charlotte with 12 games left in the 1955-56 season.

The one issue is that while the Civic Center could have expanded to 12,700, it was normally at 11,200 for hockey and even then they couldn’t fill half the arena over average with the Clippers. Embry’s idea that maybe a top league would bring more butts to the seats in the new arena, which is why he put the bid in on top of the idea that Baltimore is a big-league city. The AHL felt threatened enough to create an indemnification plan for not only Baltimore– but for Buffalo and Pittsburgh, who were also in the first expansion bids.

Obviously, Baltimore didn’t get into that first round of expansion, but they were still in the running for the next round. In fact, they were originally supposed to join Vancouver as the other team in the 1970 expansion, as Clarence Campbell felt the market was valuable. However, thanks to some stalls along the way leading up to the next round of expansion and a stronger proposal from the Buffalo area– Baltimore had to stick with the AHL for the time being.

There was a time where “pro” hockey did come to the Civic Center. In the middle of the 1974-75 season, the Michigan Stags of the WHA couldn’t afford to play there anymore and moved to Baltimore. That year was also the first for the Capitals and with the Capitals doing that badly, maybe the idea was to perhaps steal some entertainment dollars from Landover and put into Baltimore. Of course, this wasn’t without hurdles– as Embry said that he had the exclusivity rights to the Civic Center and didn’t want the WHA to use the building– which tried at first at the end of 1973-74 season with the Jersey Knights. Yet, WHA president Dennis Murphy was able to get a lease with the Civic Center management and play out the rest of the 1974-75 season (all 17 games) in Baltimore as the Baltimore Blades, while the Clippers were forced to disband.

Since local ownership was not able to found for the Blades to continue, they folded up in May of 1975 and Baltimore hockey went into a bit of a tailspin with the Clippers coming back in the AHL, the Southern League, then the Eastern League before folding completely, leading the way for the Skipjacks to start up in 1981.

While the end results didn’t happen for Baltimore in the NHL or WHA, there’s some that still may believe that if they were given the chance– they would have been able to shine a little more. However, some people don’t get over the minor league doldrums and shun a product just because. Who knows what could have happened if Baltimore had won the expansion bids in either 1967 or 1970– they could have succeeded and then the Capitals wouldn’t be around or they could have tanked and been on the move two years after their incarnation– thoroughly killing the area because of lack of support and killing the Capitals hopes.

The world will never know.

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.

The Order of the Expansion Knights

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If you know of my past writing, you know I’m all for gimmicks. This year, with the inclusion of the Vegas Golden Knights, couldn’t have given me a better gimmick than to compare them to the expansion teams of the past or at least back to the 1990s. So, every two weeks or so, I’ll check back here and give a little look-see at how the soon-to-be-if-a-copyright-strike-gets-them Sand Knights are doing to their expansion cousins.

THROUGH FIVE GAMES PLAYED:

Vegas Golden Knights (2017-18) 4-1-0, 8PTS, 15GF, 11GA
Tampa Bay Lightning (1992-93) 2-2-1, 5PTS, 17GF, 15GA
Florida Panthers (1993-94) 2-2-1, 5PTS, 15GF, 15GA
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (1993-94) 1-2-2, 3PTS, 12GF, 17GA
Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2000) 1-2-2, 3PTS, 12GF, 20GA
Nashville Predators (1998-99) 1-3-1, 3PTS, 8GF, 13GA
San Jose Sharks (1991-92) 1-4-0, 2PTS, 16GF, 23GA
Ottawa Senators (1992-93) 1-4-0, 2PTS, 12GF, 27GA
Columbus Blue Jackets (2000-01) 1-4-0, 2PTS, 9GF, 19GA
Minnesota Wild (2000-01) 0-4-1, 1PT, 8GF, 17GA

The Knights are keeping a solid pace for themselves against the other new teams that came in. Of course, many could argue that the talent pool was a little bit deeper and the rules were a little bit more skewed to help Vegas indirectly with the salary cap and all.

Whether or not they’re able to keep this pace or not remains to be seen. With some key injuries happening, especially to M-A Fleury– there’s a chance for a decline, as an expansion team is supposed to be. This is a team that many pundits and bookies said wouldn’t get over 70 points on the season. While it’d be a helluva effort to keep that pace, the fact is there’s going to be a downslide sooner or later.

Just enjoy the wins as they come, enjoy the atmosphere of the T-Mobile Arena (despite the amount of visiting fans coming into the building), and embrace this new team that has gotten plenty of buzz of for what they’ve done so far.

Trying Not to Loathe Las Vegas

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We’re two rookie games into the Vegas Golden Knights tenure in the NHL and I think I’m already sick of expansion teams. Maybe social media is to blame and the ideal of blasting the hype out there, but man…the hype is almost too much. Whether it’s the league or the team itself…I’m growing tired.

And now this isn’t about their Twitter “feud” against the LA Kings— but it’s just the whole thing about it being a never ending season of “firsts” for the team and it probably becoming insufferable at some point– if that point hasn’t come for people already. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be doing such things– but at the same time, you have to wonder if the vast majority of people will become sick of it by mid-November.

The first player was cool– Reid Duke, who may only be notable on the team just for being the first player signed. Other things I’ll get is the first goal, first shutout, first win, and so on. However, knowing the climate we’re in where you need the retweets to really show off to possible sponsors– the first hooking call will be mentioned, the first TV timeout will be mentioned, the first time poker chips are thrown onto the ice will be mentioned. It might get old fast. But some people will eat it up. Then you fuel the beast and so it goes on and on because it gets likes, hits, retweets, whatever.

When it comes to creating a brand, I get why the NHL and the Golden Knights are doing what they are doing, but there’s such a thing as overdoing it. I will say I am a crotchety old man when it comes to all of this because I just don’t get how some things get so popular that it’s the guideline to make a name for yourself. There’s putting yourself out there and then there’s just acting a fool. There’s a fine line, of course. There’s committing to a bit and then there’s going to the well one too many times. Maybe it’s the fact there’s been all summer and all this build-up over the last two seasons– but I’m already ready for their first season to be over and done with.

The only poignant debate is whether a new team with a group of players who haven’t played before should have a captain in their first season. When you look up and down that list…yeah, no real leader on there that deserves the respect of the squad off the hop. It’s not like they had someone like who’s won the coveted Mark Messier Leadership Award multiple times on their roster– it’s a team that’ll grow together and shouldn’t have a captain for the first year. If they really feel the need for a captain– why not do a rotating captaincy like the Minnesota Wild had for their first seven seasons??  There’s a debate that actually as plenty to do with merit and something that could be bandied back and forth with people.

Maybe it’ll get better. Maybe, like the team, the social media aspect will be able to find its footing in ethos of NHL social media and not just rip-off what made other teams “successful” when it comes to their own Twitters or Facebooks and not just go to the lowest common denominator. I know who runs VGK’s accounts and he’s a good dude overall and I wish him all the best in what is an interesting time in history and all that jazz. Just don’t fall into the easy trap other areas do because it could come off as desperate if things aren’t going well on the ice.

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.

The Only Time That Splitting in Vegas Doesn’t Make Sense

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It seems that the worst idea has become truth, as the selections of the Expansion Draft will be made between the presentations of the NHL Awards. Five picks will be made every two awards according to some sources.

You’d think the NHL would give the Vegas Golden Knights some more respect.

For a team that is in a city that’s all about being bigger than life, having the 31st team in the NHL share time with the NHL’s best seems like the team is getting shafted right from the get-go. Other teams had some sort of an event by themselves, so you’d think that Vegas of all teams and places would be given the same respect. I mean, we won’t have those big boards with the placards of names of the players selected due to it all going digital; yet you would have hope the new players would be put on another pedestal rather than share the spotlight the rest of the league’s greats.

Yet, it does give people a reason to pay attention to the Awards, which have really been just cannon fodder for Twitter to make jokes about the winners, losers, visuals, and musical acts– and rightfully so. Sure, the Draft takes away the lack of caring when it comes to the Awards and when it comes to people not watching them.

Some of the winners may think they’re overshadowed, some of the new Golden Knights may feel the same way– but the NHL feels like they could save a few bucks by combining the thing, so why the heck not, right??

For the NHL, who has a problem with garnering attention, you’d think they’d be the ones to go ahead and make as many events and bring as much pomp and circumstance to this new arrival in the league as is humanly possible. Hell, I joke about Face Off Hockey Show having a 76-Hour Coverage of the Expansion Draft because it’s almost what the NHL needs to do for people to get very hyped about this team coming into the league.

While pairing it to the Awards is good for both things and not have to spend more when you don’t have to, my feeling is that it takes away from both events just enough to make them want to go ahead and separate the two. Luckily, with GM George McPhee’s speedy abilities to make picks, it will probably take little time out of the pauses between awards.