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. 

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.

Karmanos Might Be Playing Himself in Selling Process

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If DJ Khaled taught us anything, outside of yelling your name on any hot track you produce, it’s the recognition of someone playing themselves. That’s exactly what I think Peter Karmanos is doing when it comes to the “selling” of the Carolina Hurricanes. This conclusion is what I’m coming to after Karmanos went to the press to say he thinks that prospective buyer, Chuck Greenberg, doesn’t have the funds to buy the team.

From Chip Alexander in the News & Observer:

“The sale of the team is just sitting there, waiting for Chuck to say, ‘Geez, I can’t raise the money,’ ” Karmanos said. “We have a commitment to Chuck, and we’re going to see it through. And quite frankly I wish he would pick up the phone and say, ‘Geez, you know what, I can’t get it done.’ Because it looks like he can’t get it done.”

Now, will say that the silence is not a good thing with the sale, at first, getting a lot of hype and since then– nary a sound from either side about it until now. Greenberg, if totally entrenched in the sale, would be at the games, would be gaining community support, all the things a new owner dead-set on keeping the team in Raleigh would do.

That said, Karmanos really needs to shut the hell up about it. The NHL needs to almost shut him up about it because it’s not a good look on other prospective buyers that if you don’t get a deal done quickly, then the owner who is the seller will talk smack about about how you don’t have the money to the press.

There’s things you don’t mess with in people’s lives and one of those things is the talk of their wealth or lack thereof.

If I’m Greenberg, as much as I would want to buy this team and keep them in a solid market, I’d almost pull the deal to prove a point that he won’t be questioned about the fund he does or doesn’t have. A deal is not going to work quicker if the seller is calling out the prospective buyer because one side or the other is going to get pissed and then stuff goes nuclear.

While I don’t know much of the inner workings of the Carolina Hurricanes (I’ll defer that to the wonderful folks of Section 328), the sale of the Hurricanes has been going on for what seems to be an eternity in sports years. In 2014, it seems that Karmanos would entertain options to selling the team, but nothing had come about until this summer. Also, since 2013, he has wanted to sell the Florida Everblades in the ECHL, but to this day– nothing has been formally announced about the transfer of ownership.

There’s an idea that a major red flag for the prospective buyers that comes from a 2015 piece that Karmanos, despite selling the team, insists that he retains control of the team. Whether or not that’s a factual statement is up in the air, but even the hint of that– then radio silence– does speak volumes to why there hasn’t been more people clamoring to put a bid in for the Hurricanes until Greenberg did. Now, Karmanos is mocking his lack of movement and seemingly just stalling a deal.

Hell, with this– maybe Karmanos is self-sabotaging himself because, while he doesn’t want to be in ownership, he does want to be in ownership. So any deal, even if it’s close, he would want to kill just so he have his terms. If he sells the majority, he’s no longer in control and then hates that feeling. Plus, and more importantly, he wants to the team to stay in North Carolina— which is noble, if not short-sighted for any buyer.

The Hurricanes are a talented team. People will bitch and moan about their attendance and all of that– but that won’t stop with new ownership, I’m sure. The fact of the matter is that the market is good, the dedicate fan base is just that, and the team is primed for something big coming their way, almost like what happened in Columbus last season. With the addition of Scott Darling and locking up guys like Victor Rask, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce long-term to get a young core going, not to mention what they’ll need to do to get Jeff Skinner re-signed.

There’s a lot of other doings that may make Karmanos want to sell the team, one of which is that he and his family, shall we say, don’t have the best of terms going with each other. Of course, we know of when his sons sued Peter for lack of repayment on hockey investments (which is a thing that could scare some investors away when they might have to assume debt) and should Peter pass while still owning the team– you can bet there may be a big squabble over who get the ownership status and what the kids could do with it.

Hurricanes fans don’t deserve this. Hurricanes players and management shouldn’t have to field questions about it, and the public shouldn’t be on edge to see if the Hurricanes will stay in Raleigh or if the system will shift up the Atlantic to Quebec, which is always rumored because Quebec. While this story won’t go away until pen is to paper and notarized in an agreement– the fact it was put out to the press by Karmanos could ensure another long round of waiting for a buyer for the Hurricanes.

Reducing Seating Smart for Sens

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Good for the Ottawa Senators.

Going the way of many NASCAR tracks, the Senators are going to reduce seating by 1,500 to make their capacity just over 17,000. To be honest, there’s not much else they could do. They are in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. They can either have people taking them to task for the empty seats or they can have people taking them to task for taking out the seats. They took the latter hoping that will make the arena look better.

While we’ve seen such a thing happen in Florida with the Panthers, the fact that it’s a Canadian team is why there’s so much guff. It’s not as if the Senators are THAT bad a hockey team, but much like Florida– their arena is way the hell and gone from the city center (or centre in this case), no one wants to make the trek out to the middle of nowhere to watch their team play. It’s amazing that the Washington Capitals had as many people come out to Landover when they played at the Capital Centre as they did because we see it doesn’t fly now.

Barring the move to downtown Ottawa that Eugene Melnyk wants, the Senators needed to do something because it does have a bad appearance to it when a playoff team, one goal away from being the Eastern Conference champions, can’t sell out their arena in Canada. And it’s a tactical move, too– by doing this, it’s showing the powers that be in Ottawa that they need to have this downtown arena they’ve been stumping for because if not– they’ll have to keep reducing the number of seats in the Canadian Tire Centre; which has a bad look on the city that they can’t support an NHL team despite the team being somewhat decent.

That said, if the Senators can’t get their stuff figured out attendance-wise, I have to wonder if they aren’t going to be put into the relocation discussion. It makes sense and they have the same problems that teams like the Coyotes, Hurricanes, and Islanders have faced, but it seems that because they’re in Canada– they get a bit of a pass. It would be something if the Sens were the first team to move only to move to Quebec City and have them really show up the Ottawa fans.

All in all, the move is odd– but I’m okay with them getting sick of the empty seats and saying the hell with it– here’s some tarps. This will either wake up the fans and have them rally around the team (or the team’s bid to get to downtown) or it’ll piss them off more and they become apathetic to the team’s plight.

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.