Monthly Archives: February 2010

Dear Gary…

All right Gary, you and I have had it out. You’re probably blissfully unaware of this but it’s true. For the better part of over 15 years you’ve been trying to figure out a way to grow the popularity of hockey in America and you’ve been a brutal, miserable, egotistical maniac of a failure in doing so.

Eight years ago you had your two home countries in Canada and the United States facing off with your NHL talent in the Olympics for the gold medal in Salt Lake City.  Two years after that, after failing to seize attention of the masses in spite of having the games in the United States and basically getting your run of the schedule, you and the owners locked out the players looking to find a way to secure finances for your pack of rich idiots over those ever-greedy players.

Of course, you didn’t do a good enough job of that and people are already grumbling about future labor strife. You cut a cable deal after the lockout with a loser network while simultaneously giving the finger to ESPN for treating the lockout like a joke, spending every minute talking about it cutting jokes and laughing at how completely stupid you, the owners and the players all looked.

Fast forward to today.  The USA and Canada play in what was one of the greatest gold medal games of all time (no hyperbole here), an overtime thriller that saw Canada win 3-2, that featured your hand-picked golden calf score the game winner in overtime. I’m sure this left you twinged with strife because while Sidney Crosby is your boy and he plays for an American feel-good-story team in Pittsburgh… He’s Canadian. I’m sure that getting your new and gigantic NBC hockey watching audience instantly disliking the guy you want to be the face to the league is driving you mad but you don’t care because all you’re seeing now is dollar signs of opportunity.

I mean, hey why not? A balls-out crazy game featuring the United States tying the game with under 30 seconds to play is damn dramatic and any game that ends in overtime (you hear that, in overtime) is thrilling. Thankfully the IIHF does things the right way when it comes to overtime and allows the game to be settled on the ice and not in a shootout.  I know shootouts made Peter Forsberg a legend in Sweden and sunk Corey Hirsch’s career but let’s get real here.

I’m straying from the point here though. The point being that, once again, the NHL has a golden opportunity to seize the interest of the American mass audience they desire so much. They screwed the pooch in 2002, they screwed it even harder in the 1994-1995 season when the New York Rangers had won the cup in 1994 and got the attention of the entire country… Only to see the owners lock the players out the following season and play a shortened schedule in the 1994-1995 season.

People want to know when Gary Bettman’s moment is going to be and we’re all still waiting for it to happen (if it ever will) and while this tournament has provided thrills and excitement all over the place, Bettman was continually asked about what would happen in 2014 in Sochi, Russia which gave him a grand platform to play politics with the IOC, IIHF and the NHL Players Association.  He gave nothing away in his answers and essentially said, “We’ll get to that when we’re good and ready to.” Admit to nothing, never tip your hand, make everyone wait it out.  You know, that’s the whole thing in the NHL’s hand in the Versus/DirecTV dispute too (which is still unsettled) – play no favorites, say it’s not your fight (yet) and allow everyone to do what they need to do without really getting your hands dirty.

Of course when NBC is pulling the strings for what games they want to show you’re going to bow to their will since they’re such a tremendous broadcast partner for the NHL and hockey in general. Lord knows fans out in the mountain and pacific time zones are happy to have watched  Olympic games on tape delay.  Since, you know, people will always tune in when they already know what happened.  Then again, perhaps NBC is just setting us up for the future of the NHL where it’s like how the NBA was treated in the 1970s when the NBA Finals were televised… Whenever they felt like putting it on the air.  Maybe since NBC saw how great the ratings for the Olympics were regardless of whether events were actually live or not, they’ll apply this to all of their sports properties. Nevermind that games could be shifted to occur live, they can just have them happen whenever and if it turns out to be really good they’ll just hype the shit out of it and put it in prime time in a nice, convenient, commercial-friendly package.

I’m making myself dumber for just ranting off like this Gary because this is what you’ve done to the hardcore hockey fans.

You’ve abused and taken full advantage of them at all times. Whether it’s a shitty cable network, a shitty national broadcast partner, obnoxiously high ticket prices in many cities, a shitty jersey deal with a company that want to soak fans for more money or any host of other issues that have manifested themselves over your tenure.

The fans put up with a ton of garbage and while there’s been a host of new fans that have come to the game, it’s time to do something to pull it all together and become the overlord of the sportsman’s winter. Carpe diem Gary because this is your golden opportunity to pull it all together. Don’t sit around and wait and hope that the NFL and NBA all blow each other to hell with labor problems next year. Grab the reigns and ride this sucker for all it’s worth. By my count there were 40 superstars who put everything they had into this Olympic tournament fighting over what amounts to be a symbolic prize for a pack of millionaires.

If you can’t sell each and every one of those American and Canadian players for what they did on the ice then I’m at a complete loss and would ask you to step down from being the head of the sport.  As for myself and other keyboard jockeys who live to praise and complain all in one breath all because we love this game so damn much, it pains us to see things handled as badly as they have been.  I know people will always say that the fans care infinitely more than the players or owners ever will and while there’s a high potential for hyperbole there, I buy it.

If this moment in time, something that had nothing at all to do with the NHL (I know, that’s a sore sticking point isn’t it? Too fucking bad.), cannot be used to build the game and make it as great for all those casual sports fans who tuned in to see if their country could win or not… I’m cashing out.

Carpe fucking diem, Gary. Make it happen.

Pirates Setting Sail For Albany?

I am by no means an AHL blogger nor much of an AHL fan, but when stories about the local team come to rise, I can’t help it I get involved and have to write a little bit.  This time, rather than a team departing Albany and leaving fans out in the cold, it’s one coming in from elsewhere and attempting to do their part to fill up the Times Union Center.

While Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber has been playing coy about which team(s) he’s been in contact with about potentially moving to Albany to fill the void by the soon-to-be Charlotte Checkers, the Times Union has actually done something productive and asked some questions and gotten a few sources down to find out that it may be the Portland Pirates who will be bolting out of Maine to move a little bit closer to their parent club in Buffalo.

To quote the TU:

The Pirates managing owner, Brian Petrovek, attended a game at Times Union Center Friday. In an interview with staff writer Pete Dougherty, Petrovek would not directly discuss moving the team to Albany, but said the team is exploring options and addressed how hockey could work in the Capital Region.

At the moment, the Pirates are just one of a handful of teams who may or may not be looking to get the hell out of their current Dodge meanwhile others already have (from Springfield, MA and Albany respectively).  So what does this mean for Albany?  The TU is already asking folks for comments on their site about whether they should keep the name “River Rats” or not and that’s a logical progression given the circumstances.

The upside to this situation is that it helps out the Adirondack Phantoms who, without an Albany team to play rivals with, would’ve been left alone on a virtual island in the middle of the Adirondacks with no real rival to deal with.  Travis over at Broad Street Hockey looked into this a couple weeks ago and came up with some keen observations.

Long term, though, a strong rivalry with a team in Albany is a major player in hockey succeeding in Glens Falls. The current incarnation of hockey there isn’t expected to last longer than the next couple of years, as the ownership is on record saying that the ultimate goal is to get an arena built in Allentown, PA.

Obviously that sounds ominous but that’s been the goal all along when it’s come to the Phantoms in Glens Falls.  Don’t act shocked here folks.  As Travis states in his piece, there’s the possibility that there’ll be a boost for the Phantoms without a team in Albany, but when you look at the Phantoms attendance numbers this year, there’s not a whole lot more they can do, the team is doing great in Glens Falls.

If there’s no local rivalry to spice things up, you’d have to worry about the potential adverse effect it would have on the Phantoms.  If things go bad, Phantoms ownership wouldn’t wait a moment to just pull the plug and wait for their arena to materialize in Allentown, Pennsylvania so there’s certainly something at stake here for the people in Glens Falls.

As for the situation in Albany, the better way to look at things is how could this possibly seem like a great situation for the Pirates franchise.  Portland averages a little over 4,100 fans per game in Maine and the River Rats haven’t averaged that many fans in a few years (05-06 they averaged just over 4,000 per game).  Is Pirates management that unhappy with the situation in Maine or is it just a case of doing the bidding of the parent organization at play here?  I’d suspect the latter is the case here.

A few hundred fans does make a bit of a difference  but what is likely being banked on here is the allure of having an actual New York State team being the parent club. This move will bring a few more fans out to the arena in Albany so that effect can’t be discounted. After all, the River Rats were the farm team for the not-so local Devils for years and the really not local Hurricanes for the past few and if you can find a tried and true Hurricanes fan here in Albany I’d like to meet them. I know Devils fans exist in this area for sure now and that has everything to do with the success of the Rats early on as well as the excellent players who have at one time called Albany home. That’s the expected and natural effect of having a farm team in another area and that’s why this move would make 1,000 kinds of sense for the Sabres/Pirates.

The Sabres already have an established fanbase here and a lot of that is due to them having a sweet cable deal with the Madison Square Garden network that airs a hefty number of Sabres games in the Albany area, sometimes booting the Rangers (and Devils and Islanders as well) off of their own network in most of upstate New York.  For the Sabres it’s created a new set of fans across upstate New York mainly thanks to the inabilities of the Rangers and Islanders (and occasionally the Devils) to hold new fans interests. Moving the farm team of the Sabres to Albany, right in the heart of the newly created Sabres viewership, could provide an unexpected boon to the potential Albany franchise, something I’m sure Bob Belber at the Times Union Center has been sure to mention a few times to Pirates GM Brian Petrovek.

Potentially HUUUUGE Move For Albany AHL Hopes

A funny thing happened while reading the generally useless Troy Record, I found a nugget of information that’s truly fascinating.  The Troy Record generally covers only the high school beat and RPI hockey, but they posted a story on the sale and move of the Albany River Rats and had something far more interesting contained within.

The emergence of another AHL team calling Albany home, possibly owned by automobile mogul Billy Fuccillo, is merely speculation at this point. Sources said Fuccillo had high interest in own a team, but has since cooled if he doesn’t have full control of the franchise.

For those of you not familiar with Billy Fuccillo, some might say you can be considered fortunate as his television ads for his numerous car dealerships across upstate New York are plentiful and catch-phrase-tastic.  A lot of folks find him to be terribly annoying, but after seeing his ads follow me back home from my college days in Oswego, NY he’s grown on me for how classically old school he is as a car dealer/TV pitchman.

Since the Record says that any and all talk of Fuccillo’s wants for a team are speculative, I did a bit more research and found this item on Albany TV station WTEN’s site.

Furthermore, local car dealer Billy Fuccillo’s Chief Financial Officer reports he is in initial discussions with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a Connecticut AHL team affiliated with the New York Islanders.

Well that amps up things quite a bit.  The site also adds this heartwarming note:

Fuccillo’s CFO says he wants the people of Albany to have a hockey team.

Well isn’t that nice. I’m sure those of you not in Upstate New York are wondering who the heck he is.  Well, he’s huge up here. Literally.

After all, a guy that does commercials like this has to have an idea on how to market and sell a team, not to mention a seemingly endless flow of cash to advertise the hell out of the team.  If there’s anything any Albany-area professional sports team fails at miserably it’s keeping a high profile in the media and selling the hell out of it to make people want to go.

Of course, if Fuccillo does go through with it and gets the Sound Tigers, that would make the Islanders organization two for two with wacky owners.  In case you’ve forgotten, Charles Wang is the owner of the New York Islanders and some of his decisions are already part of mocking folk lore in the NHL.  More importantly for the city of Albany, it would provide them a team that is actually affiliated with a pro team that’s based in New York State. It would be fitting that the state capital be associated with a team from its own state, right?  Before anyone asks, yes there are Islanders fans here upstate, although not as many as say Rangers fans.

If you’re curious, as the Record story stated, there is a bit of a history in the area with the Islanders as the Capital District Islanders once called Troy home and played home games at the Houston Field House on the RPI campus.  That team then became the Albany River Rats.  The minor league circle of life continues on.

If Fuccillo’s interest is true and he does want to buy the Sound Tigers and bring them to Albany, then this is a huge coup for the AHL. They’d be keeping a team in Albany and adding an owner who, while seemingly wacky and insane, is a dogged and tenacious businessman and a guy that hates to lose a buck as much as anyone and demands optimum performance from everyone in his organization.  He’s shrewd, he’s smart, he’s tough as hell and he knows what it takes to succeed.

In short, in a league that needs to have committed ownership and as many guys with deep pockets and an ability to market the hell out of their teams, Fuccillo could be the exact right kind of guy the AHL needs to help build up attendance in a city that has severely lagged behind.

Report: River Rats Sold – Next Stop: Charlotte

According to WSOC sports anchor Bill Voth, via Twitter, the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL have called a 2:00 p.m. Wednesday press conference to announce that Checkers owner Michael Kahn is purchasing the Albany River Rats.  The plan for Kahn is to relocate the franchise to Charlotte where they will continue to be the farm team for the Carolina Hurricanes.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago when this story broke, the River Rats got very hush-hush about things and made the standard company stand-by comment of, “Nothing to see here… Yet.”  While there’s no comment from the folks in Albany as of now (give it time), this ends the current tenure of the River Rats in Albany.  While there will be other teams looking to relocate or add affiliations, if one is going to move to Albany, it’ll have to be through new ownership.

What should prove interesting in this scenario is what will happen with the Adirondack Phantoms, who will be in Glens Falls again next year, should there not be a local rival to split a massive number of games against each other next season.  The Phantoms have outdrawn the River Rats so far this season even though the Glens Falls Civic Center is a much smaller venue than that of the Times Union Center in Albany.

The fun, Albany point of view on this now is what is the hockey world’s opinion of Albany now? The city has failed with the River Rats both under the “guidance” of the Devils and now with the Hurricanes and the city failed to retain the ECAC Tournament semifinals and finals getting beaten out by the hockey hotbed of Atlantic City, New Jersey in a deal that just managed to keep SMG’s pockets happy.

This year, the NCAA Hockey East Regionals again return to Albany and unless there’s some major local influence or a massive regional fanbase to help draw crowds, attendance is expected to be mediocre at the cavernous facility yet again.  While the folks running Times Union Center has its fingers crossed twice over hoping Cornell, Union and RPI can all make the ECAC final four, it’s likely, although not guaranteed, that only one of those schools could end up in Albany for the NCAAs.  Whether you want to point the finger at apathetic local interest or at terrible marketing on behalf of the ECAC and NCAA, you could win an argument in any way you wanted to as all of it has been piss-poor.

That’s not to say that sports fans in Albany are that fickle, it’s just we’ve all been down that road before and been jerked around for it in Albany and the Rats failure is yet another example of that.  Albany fans have often been blessed with great teams to root for at a low professional or minor league level only to find screwball owners get a little too excited over a good thing.  Take a look at this awful sports history off the top of my head:

It happened in minor league baseball with the Albany-Colonie Yankees who bolted the decrepit Heritage Park for the new confines in Norwich, Connecticut.

It happened in the CBA with the Albany Patroons who thought that moving over to the Knickerbocker Arena out of the Washington Avenue Armory would bring bigger crowds and then overshot their estimates and then caved into local money naming the team after local car dealerships. Yes, the Capital Region Pontiacs are a name that should long live in infamy for how not to win fans over or influence anyone.

It happened in Arena Football as owners Glen Mazula and Joe O’Hara couldn’t find a way to make a championship winning team into a profitable item in spite of drawing great crowds and then giving into the AFL’s demands to fill out NFL markets with AFL teams and settling for an af2 booby prize that failed miserably because fans knew they were getting an inferior product to an already inferior product.

And you can believe it that professional hockey has been down this road already many times before.  Look back at the illustrious history of the Adirondack Red Wings who were chased out of business by the River Rats in the 90s as well as the short-lived tenures Capital District Islanders and Albany Choppers.

These are all teams that have been around in just the past 25 years in Albany, and people wonder why fans of the Capital District are just burnt out and sick of getting jerked around.  What’s even more amazing through all this is that the last man standing is the single-A Tri-City ValleyCats and they play in a stadium named after a convicted local political felon.  Un-friggin-real.

Would I like to see a better run AHL team in Albany?  Sure, but buyer better beware because the fans of this area are wise to all the tricks and gimmicks meant to sell people on anything.  Folks are burned out and fed up of being treated like a marketing class pet project.  Besides, what the college teams at RPI and Union are doing this year in hockey (and Siena in basketball) is proving that long-standing local ties and a damn good product can pay off and be exciting – just don’t shoot for the moon to make a few more bucks or treat the fans like suckers.

Olli Jokinen to the Rangers

You’re already aware that the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers have made a rather dubious trade.  The Flames sent Brandon Prust and Olli Jokinen to New York for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins.  Stan Fischler thinks it’s a steal for the Rangers meanwhile Flames bloggers are trying to figure out why GM Daryl Sutter went and got Ales Kotalik.  SBN’s Matchsticks and Gasoline tried to put together the case for Kotalik (due $3 million a year for the next two years after this one) but basically said he’s doomed to a future of being a healthy scratch.   Never mind the impact of Christopher Higgins, who now finds himself on his third team in less than two seasons and was playing pretty miserable for the Rangers this year.

Of course, the focal point of this is on the Rangers, as far as media goes.  The Rangers are mired in a scoring funk and found a team in Calgary desperate to rid themselves of a guy they thought was going to spark Jarome Iginla but turned out to not do anything of the sort.  In a much similar situation, the Rangers are desperate for scoring from anyone else aside from Marian Gaborik and figure that the change of scenery for Olli Jokinen will be the spark they’ll need to climb back up the Eastern Conference standings.

I dig Olli Jokinen.  He’s a creepy looking dude, he reminds me of New York historical folk lore characters and he gets fired up when it comes time for the Olympics playing for Finland.  Perhaps this is what Rangers coach John Tortorella is banking on happening with the Rangers.  At the very least, Jokinen’s contract ends after this season and the Rangers won’t be paying him (or Ales Kotalik) anymore.

The logical break down here is simple though.  Is Olli Jokinen better than Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik?  Yes, absolutely.  Brandon Prust, for all that he does, is just another guy to fight Aaron Voros and Donald Brashear for pugilistic ice time.  As it was, Kotalik wasn’t seeing the ice anymore in New York so he was dead weight (another brilliant off-season signing by GM Glen Sather) and Higgins was wildly underperforming.  Jokinen’s stats aren’t mind-blowing (35 points in 56 games for Calgary) but with the Rangers he’s a marked improvement and helps the Rangers out salary-wise with an expiring contract.

As for Calgary, I’m at a loss for words.  After making a very beneficial trade with Toronto two days ago unloading the over-hyped Dion Phaneuf  for half of Toronto’s scoring forwards, the Flames get caught up in the excitement of making trades and continued on with the Rangers obtaining one guy who may not perform well (Higgins) and another they have no idea how he’ll work out (Kotalik).  Life is a lot harder in the Western Conference and Calgary was feeling the heat to do something to secure a playoff spot while other teams fighting with them, so far, are standing pat.  I’m not sure if Calgary beating others to the punch is going to help them out, but if chemistry develops quickly it’ll pay off big time as other teams hovering around the 7-11 spots in the West are all figuring out ways to shoot themselves in the foot with better accuracy.

At the very least, the best I can hope for out of this situation is to maybe get an e-mail from Olli’s wife like Puck Daddy did.  Please don’t skimp on the criticisms, Mrs. Jokinen.