Monday, December 14, 2009

AMJ Campbell Move of the Game

The upcoming NHL board of governors meetings, taking place in sunny Pebble Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday, will give the NHL owners a break from their teams to discuss a litany of issues concerning the league. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the main discussion will revolve around the potential sale of the NHL-funded Phoenix Coyotes to the Ice Edge investment group. Interestingly, LeBrun also speculates that discussion surrounding the Coyotes sale will inevitably lead to discussion on the viability of other markets, particularly Quebec City, Winnipeg, and Toronto.

North American expansion is out of the question considering the economic strength (or lack thereof) of many of the league’s southern teams, but relocation of weaker franchises is an option that should be fully explored. I’m not suggesting stripping the league of all its southern franchises, although I do support contraction. Los Angeles, being the second biggest North American market, should definitely have a hockey team regardless of weather pattern. I like the NHL in Dallas, San Jose, and Anaheim and I also think Las Vegas should have a team. All you need to do is market the team as an attraction for tourists in Vegas. Everyone is betting on things anyways. Have them bet on the hockey game they’re paying to watch live. I don’t really understand why every major North American sport doesn’t have a team in Vegas for this reason.

I would like to see teams relocated to Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Toronto (or Hamilton). Take three of Carolina, Phoenix, Florida, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, or Nashville and move them to the previously mentioned cities. I don’t think there is a dire need for a team in any of these cities. If you have snow, you get to keep a team. If not, you better have developed a fan base by now. [Crazy thought: 3 conferences – Canadian, American, and European – 10 teams in each] While I’d like to see both the Jets and the Nordiques return for nostalgic reasons, I want a second team in Toronto purely for hatred’s sake.

With the Leafs amidst a downturn (stock joke: ya, 42 years! Har har har) there is a palpable negativity amongst bandwagon fans. During successful years, casual hockey fans in Toronto (and people who don’t even care about sports) will jump all over the bandwagon and proclaim their hockey allegiance. Although this can increase the excitement surrounding the team, especially during deep playoff runs, it can also be utterly annoying. These same people are the ones who currently ask ‘why do you like the Leafs if they suck so badly?’ The same people who deride your fanaticism in the face of mounting defeats. The same people who will gladly proclaim their loyalty to a new Toronto team.

Hypothetically speaking, if Tampa Bay, a team with a bright future, moves to Toronto, there will be a massive exodus from Leafs nation. I’m not suggesting the die-hard faction of Leafs nation, but rather the portion that prefers to ditch the last few minutes of the game to catch the early train home. Fans who waltz into their seats five minutes into the period and leave with five minutes remaining. With a team on the cusp of making the playoffs and potentially challenging for the Stanley Cup sooner than the Leafs, I can guarantee there will be desertion. That’s why I’ll hate any new team that moves to Toronto (or Hamilton). As I’ve said before, hatred in sports makes it better and I love to hate.

It would be nice to have another rival, another team to hate. Move up the Islanders, let me fully develop my Johnny T hatred. If the relocated team is initially better than the Leafs it would make the rivalry much more insufferable (read: better). You wouldn’t be able to talk to a Toronto Islanders fan without listening to reasons why they’re the only real hockey team in Toronto or how stupid you are for liking a worthless team when there’s a viable alternative right within the same city. Um, who did you sell your Eric Lindros jersey to? They’d probably even piss off Senators fans (Hey, guys! We’re pretty unlovable too! Hate us! Remember, Alffy, the rat-face, clown haired prince?).

However, although Toronto certainly has the fan base to support another NHL team, it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. First, MLSE will fight with their entire might to prevent this. They know the financial juggernaut that is Leafs Nation. Why would they entertain ideas of letting some new upstarts take a cut? Second, the league is wary about the potential deleterious effect another Toronto team could have on Buffalo, Detroit, and to a lesser extent, Ottawa. Buffalo would be most severely impacted, considering the increased revenue the team receives when the Leafs travel to the HSBC arena. Not to mention the amount of fans from Southern Ontario that go to see any other Buffalo game because it’s a cheap and accessible alternative to the ACC. Detroit, already taking a financial hit because of the recession, would be at risk of losing fans that cross the border from the London area. With more tickets available for NHL games in Toronto, there is less appeal of travelling across the border to watch the Wings. Ottawa also draws a considerable attendance from people in the GTA, but this would not be as significant as Detroit or Buffalo.

Unfortunately, I don’t think relocation will happen anytime soon, regardless of Gary Bettman’s recent overtures to Quebec City. He seems stubborn in his refusal to admit the abject failure of southern expansion (over saturation) and seems intent on allowing each team to be run into the ground before admitting his failure. Or rather, he’s intent on buying these franchises after their abject failure and continuing their decline at the expense of the league.

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