It’s interesting that in this hockey-centric blog that the word “modesty” is being mentioned at all this time of year. NHL general managers can’t wait to get rid of the money the owners make and spend it recklessly on players who may, and likely, may not have earned their new paychecks. A statement like that should be linked with articles talking about such insane money-tossing, but those are too numerous to count right now.
Suffice to say, a guy like Jeff Finger, who only two years ago I was watching carve up the ice in Albany for the AHL River Rats, is now making $3.5 million a year for the Maple Leafs and he hasn’t even played 100 NHL games yet nor could he crack the starting lineup more often than not for the Avalanche in the playoffs last year.
But I digress.
I’d like to talk about how the league’s love of all things American could be put to best use, rather than ripping them for doing so ad nauseum, which I’ve developed a bit of a penchant for doing.
My source for this inspiration actually derives from a miserable failing of Gary Bettman’s former boss and role model, David Stern who recently acted as the hitman for the murder of professional basketball in Seattle.
That’s right, the city to a former NBA Champion, the Supersonics won the NBA Championship in 1979, you know, when the NBA was a floundering league that had its title games aired in tape delay on CBS and was overwrought with drug problems.
Seattle’s only professional sports championship is courtesy of the Sonics. Seattle also is a big time legitimate city in the United States, at least as far as media market rankings go. Seattle/Tacoma is 14th largest in the United States and has been a city without a professional, NHL-level team since 1924.
Hell, the first American Stanley Cup Champions were the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917.
What’s most heinous here is that the main beef for the Sonics shuffling off to the wilds of Oklahoma City (Market size 45 according to Nielsen) is the way Stern has basically told Seattle, “If you ever want to see the NBA again, you’ll build us a new arena.”
It’s this sort of attitude that the NHL should take advantage of and work with the city to show that they care and are willing to play the role of the white knight.
During the ridiculous Nashville ownership wranglings, writers and speculators made it a point to pick out different U.S. markets that are interested in and would love to take on NHL franchises. Cities like Las Vegas (thanks to Jerry Bruckheimer’s interest in owning a team) and Kansas City (due to the availability of a spacious new 18,000 seat arena) were the places picked out as most logical.
Seattle rarely, if ever, entered into the equation.
Why? Well, it’s pretty likely that the answer lies in Canada.
A move to Seattle would, almost assuredly, get the dander up of the Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini. Seattle sits 140 miles to the south of Vancouver and Vancouver’s claim to the region would be highly challenged putting a team in a large, U.S. market that, the Canucks would argue, watches and loves the Canucks.
I’m sure there are many arguments into the validity of this, but let’s face it, 140 miles isn’t that far away, a two to three hour drive away at most. Such closeness is surely a great argument in favor of the Canucks keeping their hold over the market and them having any fans leeched away from a team being located in Seattle must be valid.
Wait… what’s that? Buffalo and Toronto are only 93 miles apart? Both teams sell out their arenas? They have a thriving rivalry? Toronto fans go out of their way to get tickets in Buffalo to see games there because they’re cheaper tickets and easier to land than Leafs tickets? All of these things happen and neither team loses anything being so close?
So why wouldn’t they want to do this? Why wouldn’t they want to ride in and work out a deal with the city of Seattle to move say… the Florida Panthers or Atlanta Thrashers to Seattle with the help of Starbucks owner and champion of all things Seattle, Howard Schultz? After all, Schultz wants to bring a law suit against the NBA and the owner of the now Oklahoma City NBA franchise, Clay Bennett.
Schultz loves pro sports in Seattle so much, you’d like to think he’d be behind a project to bring a floundering NHL franchise to the city, you know, to fill the void. Think of the marketing potential Gary. Starbucks is the biggest brand of coffee in the world now. Their shops are everywhere, and in the western U.S. there is none bigger to compete with them.
You hear that? A product known worldwide and has a foothold stronger than anything in the Western United States! Think of the potential!
It’s been pretty clear that hockey in South Florida is a miserable failure. No, I know they made the Cup Finals in 1996 and leaving a city that’s had a taste of success would be tragic.
What about Atlanta then? They’re currently a two-time failure at holding the interest of the fans. Never mind the fact that Atlanta is a brutally awful professional sports market, this is a place that still finds it necessary to point out the most mundane aspects of hockey to its paying customers by announcing them over the public address.
Yes, we know the rules to icing are confusing and maybe the rules to offside might be a bit hard to understand, but don’t worry, the Thrashers PA guy will tell you what it is every time it happens.
If they aren’t going to find a way to contract franchises and if they want to make the right move and play the good guy for once, sweet talk Howard Schultz and tell him there’s another sport that plays games between October and June. Tell him there’s another way to bring fun to the people of Seattle. Tell him you’ll work out a way to help pay for a new arena in Seattle and make sure that the people of Seattle don’t have to pay for it.
Be the good guy. Save face on one of your failed southern experiments and send them north. No, not to Canada. Send them to Seattle and resurrect the ghosts of the Metropolitans, much like the NHL did in Ottawa with the Senators.
Oh, and, uh, ignore this little connection of Blackberry and Starbucks while you’re at it – I’d hate for them to toss out this idea spitefully.