Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Charm of the Great Outdoors

In 2003, the NHL took things outdoors to celebrate two of their most successful franchises, the Montréal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers. The game wasn't particularly promoted, the jerseys used in the game weren't sold in stores but it wasn't a secret. Images of Wayne Gretzky and Jose Theodore red in the face and frostbitten at Commonwealth Stadium in front of 57'000 adoring fans are written into hockey history.

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Similarly, images of Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winner on Ryan Miller at Ralph Wilson Stadium or the Leafs and Red Wings playing at The Big House in front of 100k fans wearing red and blue in a snow storm have that calming effect of outdoor hockey. That being said, the other Winter Classics, Heritage Classics and Stadium Series, don't quite have that same effect. Not to say they're not successful, but as the years go on it seems outdoor games get lost to time, particularly the Stadium Series. Should the NHL scale back its outdoor games?

First let's think of what an outdoor game needs to be successful. Since this is one game there needs to be a game where there's a rivalry. Pinning LA and San Jose against each other is a good example of this. The two teams have plenty of history together, particularly in the playoffs, and being in the same division means the game will have at least some meaning. There are times this isn't the case. The 2016 Stadium Series game in Colorado, while not a failure, was better known for its alumni game that featured players from a time when a Colorado v. Detroit series was the best hockey out there, not an 8th seed playoff team and a bottom 10 rebuilding team. Sometimes things are out of the team's hands. The 2016 Winter Classic pinned Boston and Montréal together, one of hockey's greatest rivalries in an original 6 divisional match up with more playoff history than any two teams wasn't as successful as it could have been. Why was this? Montréal had lost Carey Price to injury for the season and was in turmoil on the way to a forgettable season.

Second the location needs to be iconic. Putting a game in any old outdoor stadium won't do, there needs to be some sort of provenance to where the game is being held. Breaking in a relatively and hyped up stadium like what Winnipeg did in the 2016 Heritage Classic or the Canucks did in the 2014 Heritage Classic at BC Place are examples of this. Places like the Big House, Heinz Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Soldier Field or Levi's Stadium host iconic teams regularly and are sites of sports history; thus they themselves act as advertisement for the game. Putting the game at the closest football/baseball stadium isn't really good enough unless the rivalry can carry the weight.

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How many outdoor games should there be in a year? In 2003-04, there was one, from 2008-2013 there was one aside from in 2010/11 when Calgary hosted Montréal in only the second ever Heritage Classic. In 2013/14 there was a Winter Classic (Detroit), Heritage Classic (Vancouver) and 4 Stadium Series games in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. That's 6 outdoor games. Two of these games contained all non-playoff teams (New York Islanders V. New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators V. Vancouver Canucks). New Jersey refused to wear specialty jerseys for the game, citing the chrome logos as stupid and opting for their traditional inaugural jerseys. This was the turning point year for the outdoor game as a concept.

The 2015 Winter Classic in Washington was doomed to not be as good as the 2014 game, even though it objectively contained better teams. Chicago wore very similar jerseys to what they wore regularly on the road and there was a nearly 60k drop in attendance. The 2015 Stadium Series game two non playoff teams as the California teams suffered an off year outside of Anaheim that largely proved to be pointless, despite it being another outdoor game in California, something that was once unheard of until 2013/14

2015-16 brought on another disappointing game, though attendance was a little better at ~67K the lack of Price proved to be enough to deter tv viewers. On top of this the two Stadium Series games proved to be relative duds, with the Wild blowing out the Blackhawks in Minnesota and a meaningless game in Colorado; both games drew 50k fans and while the later game proved to be entertaining, there was little hype regarding either.

Finally in 2016-17, we've had 4 games outside. The Winter Classic could be considered the dud of the 4, bringing in lower tv ratings than the Boston Montréal game, ~46 fans at the game and proving to be largely forgettable. The Stadium Series game brought the two Keystone state teams together for the first time outside, and it brought out ~67k fans despite Philadelphia suffering through a mediocre season. The Centennial Classic in a rematch of the 2014 Winter Classic had only 40k fans at the game, but was played in at BMO field, which is maximum capacity. Furthermore it served as the launching point for the NHL's 100th anniversary and was an entertaining game and well watched at least here in Canada. The Heritage Classic had the same effect, though instead of launching the 100th anniversary, the game was a dream come true for Winnipeg hockey fans despite the game being a 3-0 shutout.

The 2018 Winter Classic is said to be played at Citi Field with the Rangers hosting the Sabres. A game that if played today would feature a top 5 team in the Eastern Conference versus a bottom 5, a 22 point difference between the two as of March 17th 2k17. Of course the Sabres are expected to be a playoff team in 2017-18 after years of mediocrity/rebuilding, but still, who is really asking for a game between these two? Both teams have played outdoors, the Rangers as recent as 2014. Citi Field is the home of the Mets, a team that goes from NL Champs to Wild Card losers and notorious for inconstancy. The field itself is known for replacing Shea Stadium where the Beatles played in 1965 to open their North American tour and more recently being in a dump. I can almost guarantee the response to this game outside of Rangers/Sabres fan bases and jersey collectors will be apathy.

Similar things can be said about the proposed 2nd outdoor game (likely the other Centennial Classic) between Ottawa and Montréal, though it will likely be very successful in Canada with little fanfare in America outside of the jersey community.

How can the NHL fix the outdoor game? Focus on the teams that are playing! At this point, almost every team has played at least one outdoor game (Vegas, Arizona, Columbus, Dallas, Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay) and almost all of those teams outside Columbus are on the outside looking in of the playoffs. On top of that southern teams will likely have to play their outdoor games on the road, which means the NHL will have to chose a rival for them to play against that people will watch (i.e.: Dallas plays Buffalo, Carolina plays Toronto, Tampa Bay plays Calgary/Pittsburgh etc.) In short, we're past the time where we need to think about every team getting one game, and should more be focused on what games will people watch.

We can dream
You can stick any has been band in an intermission/intro concert, and put them in any number of baseball/football stadiums until NCAA stadiums have to be used, but the people won't watch the game on tv for that, stadium appeal only really works for fans in the area or willing/wanting to make the trip. If it's a Pittsburgh/Washington game, people will watch. If it's a Chicago/Detroit game, people will watch. If it's Islanders/Oilers game, people will watch. If it's Toronto/Montréal, people will really watch. Things could change, and when teams are successful and drawing crowds they should be rewarded with an outdoor game; Columbus/Minnesota are a good example of that. Baring factors like a star being injured or an unexpected crappy season (which will happen and those can be written up to bad luck), the NHL can nearly guarantee success every game if they follow this.

Oh and give Chicago a break, they've been outside in 2009, 14, 15, 16 and 17....they're running out of jerseys!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Charlotte's Loss

Very rarely do we see a city lose their chance at an All Star game or special event game without there being a players strike or lock out. Detroit lost the 2013 Winter Classic due to the most recent NHL Lockout, Columbus lost the 2013 All Star Game for the same reason. Atlanta lost the 2005 NHL All Star game, and the Montréal Expos lost the entire 1994 World Series. However, aside from the Expos, all these teams got their games as soon as possible, with the 2014 Winter Classic being held in Detroit, the 2015 NHL All Star game being held in Columbus, and the 2008 All Star game being held in Atlanta. However this year, we saw a league take action against a political opponent, and pull the 2017 NBA All Star Game from Charlotte due to the controversial "Bathroom Bill".

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Of course this bill is highly controversial, and with good reason, not just on the part about baring transgender people from using bathrooms they identify with (such as being discriminated against in hiring practices) and this bill clearly needs to be highly and rationally debated. The governor of North Carolina who signed it, in recent months has done nothing but double down and hold strong to it. The NBA threatened to pull the game if the bill wasn't repealed, costing the state and city at least $100M in tourism dollars, and wasting the efforts of the design teams making the gorgeous logo and likely gorgeous jerseys that would have come. However, the question becomes, was this the right move? In my opinion, NO!!!

The Charlotte Hornets are not connected in anyway to the North Carolina government, they are a private organization, owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan, who recently donated $2 million to mend police & citizen relationships in communities across America. Jordan is not a supporter of this bill, and to my knowledge has said little about it. He's a stand up community leader and a PR dream for the NBA. If the Hornets owner had come out and supported the bill, I would be a little more supportive of the revoking of the ASG in the same way I was of Donald Sterling being banned from the NBA. However, that isn't the case.

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Charlotte hasn't hosted the game since the original Hornets did so in 1991. 25 years later the people of Charlotte finally get to enjoy the thrill of the Slam Dunk competition, 3 point competition and yes the glorified Globetrotters game. Sure it would have made a lot of money for the state that passed the bill, but at the same time, the Hornets have absolutely no real power in getting that bill repealed. Sure they could come out against it but with all the public backlash coming out against it from celebrities and politicians as well as the general public, it likely would have done little to help. The association is punishing a team for something the place their city happens to reside in and something they had no control over happened the league didn't like on a PR level, which doesn't seem right.

If Adam Silver really wanted to send the message that the NBA doesn't stand with this, why not say so by hosting the game and making a statement with it. Why not go into North Carolina and say "This is a discriminatory bill and doesn't reflect the values of the league and stands against it".  Instead the league will hastily move the game to another city and give Charlotte another chance in a couple years...which is funny because who's to say the bill will be gone by then. If anything, it sounds like the NBA is hoping this will blow over and they can run the game there without the public backlash that wasn't there to begin with. To my knowledge there weren't protests against the league holding the game there, more so this seems to be preventative move on the part of Adam Silver to keep those who would complain quiet. After the Donald Sterling incident (which was directly basketball and business related mind you), it would make sense Adam Silver would want to deal with controversy quickly before another media circus happens. The buzzfeed complain brigade would complain about it no matter what, and they are not in any way shape or form likely basketball fans..but again...buesines

This bill is discriminatory, and the vast majority of those in the minority that is the transgender community simply want to use the washroom they identify with, it's like The Kinks said "girls will be boys and boys will be girls" and those who are deserve to be treated like everyone else, with decency. Bad people will do bad things regardless of whether they've transitioned or not and last I checked being a peeping tom/tina is already illegal. That being said, this does not involve nor should involve the NBA. Some may say it is good the NBA is socially involved, but when it affects business in such a way, screw it. There are ways to show your distain for the bill with punishing the Hornets fans who have waited since 1991 to see an NBA ASG and lose money. It's a short sighted plan that will lose money and support for a improbable cheap PR gain in the present.

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Think about it, the NBA has played games in China, a country with a censor happy and oppressive regime.... no one boycotted that. Why? It was because by doing so the league doesn't automatically approve of government censorship of criticism, after all, this post and my previous post on the competitiveness in the NBA weren't pulled by the NBA-Statsi. They did it because one of the top players in the league at the time, Yao Ming, was a superstar in the Chinese market and it would make money. The same thing would happen in Charlotte: a young team owned by the best player in basketball history who recently regained their classic name after painful years being called the Bobcats. They were within a game of winning the Southeast division this year. It would have been a fantastic business move. Instead, the Hornets will have to wait until at least 2018 for their next shot at the weekend festivities, while another large market like Los Angeles gets a yet another ASG.

If the NBA wanted to move the game, it should have left it to a GM vote.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Connecticut Whale: When Branding Goes Wrong

Oh boy! If you remember when the Hartford Wolfpack left the AHL in 2010, many people were excited with the possibility of a Whalers like identity returning. While I quite like the Wolfpack identity now, in 2010, I was totally ready for the return of the Whalers. The rumours began swirling about the return of the Whalers name, and while the Hartford Whalers name was already understood not to be an option, people clued in on the Connecticut Whalers name, then a logo was unveiled that looked quite good. It was not to be however due to naming rights....and the is where the story goes very hilariously wrong.

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The colours were little too bright for my taste, but the script and logo itself looked good. Thankfully the NWHL used something similar and made it better by replacing the fluke with a cartoony simple whale and a much wider and vintage looking C. However, the nameless New York Rangers AHL franchise later unveiled a new logo and identity in September 2010. One that gave a lot of hockey fans, logo fans and designers a pretty good laugh. It wasn't the worst thing to come out, but I will warn you, this isn't the worst thing to come out for the Whale.

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The C is squished and is such an off font that makes the 80s font of the Whalers look more in date. The colours are really nice I won't lie, but the big blue whale with the hockey stick is just plain silly. I'm all for silly minor league logos, but this logo doesn't work well on a jersey. It was not a professional logo to say the least. I feels more like it fits on a New England breakfast cereal box or a kid's peewee team rather than the level directly under the top professional hockey league in the world. But hey many teams have had crappy logos but are saved by at least a decent jersey. Maybe we'd see the return of the Whalers striping from the 80s or even the 90s. In the late 90s & early 2000s, many hockey teams began replacing their classic logos with angry mascots holding hockey sticks angrily while angrily posing against something. Look at the Brandon Wheat Kings' attempt, New York's classic failure, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many AHL teams, and more I'm missing and not even counting ones where the stick is being eaten or modern attempts. The point is this trend was dated by 2004, and to see a logo in 2001 to attempt this, a crappy attempt at was a miss to say the least.

Another issue arrises with the lack of S at the end, something rare in sports. Things like Avalanche, Wild, Lighting, Thunder, Rush, Beast, Chill, Reign, Pride, Storm, Blizzard, Walleye, Heat, Express, Moose, Ice, Wolfpack make sense because the names are either too vague or plurality is implied in the name. Is the team just one whale? Most team names are plural as each player is a member of that plural; A Habs player is sometimes called a Hab, a Leafs player a Leaf, a Rangers player a Ranger etc. Now it would make sense with names like Barracuda where the name would sound weird in plural, Whales sounds fine. Perhaps Whalers would have made things easier but none the less this has always bothered me since the first time I saw the name.

The jersey were not stereotypical hockey jerseys. We didn't see striping ripped off from hockey's classic teams like Toronto, Montréal or Chicago, we didn't even see a copy of the Rangers or a recoloured version of the Wolfpack's jerseys...nope, we got something much worse.

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Another trend the Whale bought into was double blue without double blue being a part of the colour scheme. Columbus & Florida did the same thing that season, but the Whale really were the worst example double blue for double blue sake. The logo has green in it; a secondary colour to use with the darker blue chosen, it would look great. But no, the Whale wanted to go for a water theme on the jersey, opting for waves instead of stripes. I'd be fine with this, the recently unveiled NWHL Whale design proves waves can work on a jersey...but these look like they were design in KidsPix or Paint. The shoulder patch is a block H with 35 written on it, 35 years since the Whalers were in Hartford  Civic Centre, which had the same colour layout as the logo with Green being the main colour and made it stand out even move on a greenless jersey. On top of that having a white collar on a white jersey is never a good design choice, leaving just a thin sliver of darker blue on the top of the collar. Like the Buff-a-slug, the Whale attempted to appeal to nostalgia by wearing a New England Whalers warm up throwback jersey (not even in game or as an alternate) on Howe Family Night, March 26 th 2011. The Whale also introduced a green alternate which looked slightly better, and in the 2011-12 season, the Whale would wear this jersey as their full time road jersey, and swap the light blue for green on white jersey.

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This was an improvement, and the green jerseys are STILL available on the online AHL shop (I'll be in XXL which is what I call Hip Hop Music Video sized). They still had the same issues with the wave striping and primary logo, at least the team finally started using green. The H35 patch was scrapped with this change, which was a shame since the H looked great

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The white jersey suffered a colour balancing issue on with regards to not swapping the blue and green in the striping. It made blue the dominating colour on the jersey aside from white. I get it's supposed to look like water and water isn't supposed to be green outside of Shrek's swamp, but it throws the jersey off at least to a jersey snob like myself. When you're talking Hartford, the more green the better, and anything to forget the 90s.

After two seasons in these garish uniforms, the Wolfpack announced their return, and retired the Whale jerseys forever (or at least until Throwback to 2010 night in 2020). The Wolfpack stuck to their pre-2010 edge jerseys before switching to a Rangers Stadium Series for the 2016-17 season (including a sharp red jersey). The 'Pack have used the same logo since 1997, and an update might do the team some good. However this is a good lesson for those who crave nostalgic designs "old for old sake". Of course having the Hartford Whalers in the AHL would be amazing, and few people would disagree, but with the NHL owning the license to the name, it'd take negotiation magic to get that to happen. Similarly to the Manitoba Moose, Hartford got a new identity, one to make their own. Sure the Moose have a better logo, but that's beside the point, hockey is hockey. Imagine the Manitoba Jet coming out in 2010 to replace the Moose....Oh....No...don't imagine that. None the less, if you can't have Whalers, settle for Wolfpack, don't meet in the middle with Whale. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Whales of Wolves

Delusions are weird, in that some you can control and others you simply can't. I'd like to consider myself a realist on many subject, and cities getting NHL teams are one of those things you have to be careful not to get people's hopes up over. Cities like Halifax, Nova Scotia, Milwaukee ,Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Ohio or Hamilton, Ontario aren't made for NHL hockey. Pretending in NHL 17 is all well and good but once expansion/relocation rumours come around and people are getting mad that these markets are not getting teams...well that's on you for putting that in your head.

Instead of photos of the teams, enjoy the jersey designs I've come up for them 
I wouldn't say Hartford lucked out when they were chosen in the WHA/NHL merger, but the 3 Canadian teams were MUCH stronger choices. Even with Winnipeg's early struggles in the NHL, Québec City & Edmonton were competitive right away and were always competitive until the 3/4 WHA teams moved starting in 1995. The teams passed up, Cincinnati Stingers & Birmingham Bulls lost out since Southeastern NHL hockey had failed in Atlanta and wasn't tested anywhere else and the Cleveland Barons failed upon relocation from California, turning the NHL and investors off from those markets. It would take until 1998 and 2001 respectively for NHL hockey to return to Dixieland & Ohio respectively. I wonder how Cincinnati would have faired in the NHL. Having Mark Messier as a star would have helped and given the team had a history, would fans have accepted the team more than the rehashed Golden Seals in Cleveland that were, like Cleveland itself, the definition of stereotypical bleh. Birmingham was a mixed bag. It may have been great, but no surprise if it failed. No NHL or AHL team has returned to Alabama since, which does make you wonder how bad things must have been not for even a desperate mid 90s-early 2000s AHL bid for the Thrashers would have been.

When the Whalers left the Hartford Civic Centre in 1997, the Hartford Wolfpack were quick to replace the team in the AHL, similarly to the Manitoba Moose in the IHL turned NHL. Minor league hockey jumped on the new markets. Québec rejected the Citadels, Winnipeg welcomed the Moose with open arms (which is why they came back to be the Jets' AHL franchise) and Hartford has been apathetic to the Wolfpack. Sure, they have their fans, and I will say good for them! These people really want Hartford hockey no matter the team. I frankly like the Wolfpack identity in both the literal wolf and the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) submarine. The Connecticut Whale (I may do a post on what a mess that rebrand was) made many appreciate the Wolfpack name compared to forcing the a whale and shoehorning the Whalers branding without actively using it. 

Designed by yours truly: Still a fan of these 3 years later!
If the hockey fans of Hartford wanted hockey...why would you be so picky? The Wolfpack aren't exactly a failure, but the people seem to be apathetic to the team. Why? Because the team is tied to the Rangers, and regional rival to the Whalers. Sure, this is also why the Abbotsford Heat failed as a Flames farm team in a Canucks fanbase and the Québec Citadels failed as a Habs farm team, but it certainly doesn't look good for an expansion market. Some are actively campaigning for the Wolfpack to fail in vain hope the Rangers will ditch the team after what will be 20 seasons next year and another Metropolitan division team will pick them up. In the world of AHL, second chances don't happen all too often.  The Wolfpack first and foremost need to replace the Civic Centre (XL Centre). It's still the Whalers arena, and that's being nice. The arena is 41 years old, and while I do like old arenas, the 70s & 80s were not good years for arenas (see also Sleep Train Arena, Izod Centre). It's no Cow Palace! Furthermore, it's only 15'635 people for hockey. Those are very small NHL numbers the only arenas smaller in the NHL is MTS arena...and that sells out every game give or take and plus...the Jets fan base is one of the most faithful in the NHL.

In 2015-16 the Wolfpack, who finished 22nd in attendance, averaging 4440 fans a game, more than 1'500 fans below the league average (5'982) In a year where the AHL was as popular as it was during the 2004-05 Lockout season. The sad thing is the Wolfpack won the 2000 Calder Cup, usually something that acts as a big boost in attendance for years to come, only average attendance went down more than 1000 per game in the two prior seasons. However most will say that was 16 years ago and they are right...but when the Wolfpack make the playoffs every season from 1997 to 2009 and then only missing half the seasons (one of those seasons as the Connecticut Whale) after (which like in most minor league teams is inevitable since the Rangers got good and their prospects got promoted) you'd think people would still attend to watch a contender. However that average attendance number is the 2nd highest since the return of the Wolfpack name.  Between 1997 & 2002, the Wolfpack averaged more than 6'000 fans a game. By 2006, that number was down to 4563, at its lowest reaching 4188. Seeing as in 2006 the relocation rumours in Pittsburgh began, one would think these numbers would increase

I will level with you...from 1979-1992, the Hartford Whalers were a decent team with a good look and while never an amazing roster, they were memorable and a thorn in the Montréal Canadiens sides during this era, creating a good rivalry many still remember to this day. Once the team swapped bright green for navy blue and grey....the passion was gone. The team never made the playoffs in those colours, and it's..simply....depressing looking at the team after that period. They were a ticking time bomb for relocation. The 3 Howes made the Whalers, the 80s embraced the Whalers, and the 90s lost the Whalers. They were the one team in the relocation era that was no surprise to anyone. Maybe it's a surprise they ended up in Raleigh, but not that they left Connecticut.The fact they stayed longer than Minnesota, Québec or Winnipeg is a surprise.

This isn't meant to be a disrespect to Whalers & Wolfpack fans. If you are part of those average 4440 fans, good on you. You care more about Hartford hockey than the who abstain from the AHL and the 'Pack because "I miss the glory days with the Whalers" when they likely abandoned the Whalers in 1994. So if you tote the "Bring the Whalers Back" banner, I'm calling you out, go to Wolfpack games, support the Wolfpack, get them into the top of average fans a game in the AHL. To even get into the conversation of relocation. But sitting around commenting on the Brass Bonanza videos on youtube about how great things were in 198x and how Bettman only cares about if he shouldn't and only listen to 54 year olds on the internet.  

Saturday, 18 June 2016

NHL Expansion: Hold Your Horses

NHL Expansion in Canada is one of those things that people go nuts over for in Canada. After 1996, Canada lost two of its smaller teams, the original Winnipeg Jets and the Québec Nordiques, and by 2003 the Sens were on the cusp of bankruptcy. Since then Canada regained the Jets after they relocated from Atlanta in 2011. When Jim Balsilie made the bid to get an NHL team in Hamilton of all places, the country got swept up in relocation & Make It Seven fever. We did get seven, but now seven isn't enough. Many, like me, want eight back.

Of course the lose of the teams was not because Bettman hates Canada, it's because in the mid 90s, the Canadian dollar was almost at 60 cents American, and with the Nordiques & Jets playing in outdated arenas with dwindling ownership support, fans were left out to dry when outside bids in the Southern US began popping up. Cities like Hampton Roads, Phoenix, Atlanta, Raleigh, were all vying for NHL teams, and all but one of these southern cities got one (Hampton Roads was passed over for Raleigh). That doesn't mean I like Bettman, but I think he gets a bad rep from Canadians because at the time he made the best business decision for the league. Since then he's kept the Coyotes and Hurricanes longer than he should have but none the less, if the reports of the NHL only selecting Las Vegas for expansion (which will be confirmed on Tuesday), then I feel this is the right move.

Of course this isn't only Bettman's say. The NHL board of governors & general managers have had to vote with 2/3 yes to get expansion approved. On top of that, the ownership group has had to prove they are able to sustain themselves through this entire process. Due to Phoenix, many Canadians are turned off completely by the idea of a hockey team in anywhere south of the Dixie Line with some exceptions. That's of course based on the emotions of losing the Jets to a lacklustre market without a replacement team for 15 years, but it's stupid at that. The NHL is a business, and it costs them and their partners a lot more money in relocation than it does hanging on to a crappy team. Many times, the ownership groups bares much of the losses rather than the league. Majority if not all of Southern NHL teams have worked at some point aside Phoenix, and only recently did Carolina turn sour.

Why is the NHL expanding? The league is doing the best it has done in quite a few years. The talent pool is high and the standards to win are higher because of this. This is the best the league has ever been financially, and markets like Nashville, Florida, Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh that were struggling are now doing better thanks to 45 year old Czech players and good management/ownership.  If there is more money to be made, the NHL wants to expand into those markets.

Why Las Vegas? The city/unincorporated community has never had a professional team in any of the major 5 North American sports leagues (refresher: MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA, MLS). The only professional teams to play there were the CFL's failed American expansion Las Vegas Posse and the AAA baseball Las Vegas 51s in the Pacific Coast league. That of course isn't including the vast amount of minor league teams and gimmick leagues like the Roller Hockey International's Las Vegas Flash & Coyotes (1994 & 1999 respectively) and the two Arena Football teams, of which only the Las Vegas Gladiators lasted more than in season, from 2002-2007. Best example of the gimmick teams are the Las Vegas Outlaws in the famously failed XFL or the Las Vegas Quicksilvers of the NASL in 1977. Aside from said Quicksilvers, Las Vegas lacked many sports teams, likely due to leagues not wanting to deal with Vegas's reputation at the time. Vegas's reputation has improved vastly since then.

If the announcement is confirming NHL expansion in Vegas on Tuesday, it could trigger an onslaught of expansion in the coming years. The NBA, while not currently expanding, may chose Las Vegas as a market if the NHL works. The Oakland Raiders have confirmed to be looking to Vegas & San Antonio as relocation markets if Oakland doesn't work (which it likely won't). This would mean the Nevada city would has as many pro teams as Toronto, and if they all work, it'll be very lucrative for all 3 leagues.

Honestly, I'm completely in favour of Vegas expansion, however, the whole point of this post is to say that Québec City will get a hockey team, they will be called the Nordiques and it will be through the relocation of the Carolina Hurricanes or Arizona Coyotes, and not through expansions for the simple reason that the Easter Conference is larger than the Western by 2 teams, and that needs to change through expansion. Seattle is the other Wester market likely to join once their arena is built or Key Arena is renovated. That being said, people running around blaming Bettman for hating Canada in the one case are idiots. They're not considering what's best for the league and just want a team as soon as possible. Consider this: Expansion teams suck. They do, and very rarely succeed right away or even for 2-3 years. If Carolina becomes Québec for 2017-18 or the next year, imagine how good that team will be and all the young stars now, in their mid 20s then, will help get Québec to the playoffs faster than the Vegas Black Knights will. I hope that Seattle, Vegas & Québec get their teams, and who knows, maybe KC will get a relocation team or another market opens up, but these things take time, and need to be done properly to prevent another Hamilton 2006 incident or KC 2007 fiasco from making relocation unfavourable to the league and expansion impossible. 9

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Mess That is the Philadelphia 76ers

I promised this post...time to deliver!

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We talked a few posts ago about the Oilers decade long struggle, but they aren't the only team in the arena leagues with a constant bottom finisher in recent history. The Philadelphia 76ers, a team famous for Allen Iverson, Maurice Cheeks, Dr. J (The Grover Washington Jr. song & the NBA Legend), Moses Malone, Charles Barkley's first 8 years, has been abysmal for the past 4 seasons! Their combined record of 81-247. a ~32% Winning percentage. 34 of those wins came in one season, subtracting that means the team in the past 3 seasons has only won 23% of their games, which is frankly...well the numbers speak for themselves better than I could insult the team for. Of course basketball is a sport where when you're bad, you're really bad, and the teams ahead of you will walk all over you. Most team's worst seasons in franchise history won't top 20 games, so every so often a team is to have their unadulterated stinker of a season. However, how do you suck THAT bad? How does one of the NBA's classic megamarket teams (like the Knicks, Celtics, Lakers and Pistons) go so wrong? How does a perennial playoff team go to winning so few games?

1. They just don't have the talent

In the NBA, talent comes from two methods; drafting it and buying it. If your team can't afford to buy a Lebron or Kevin Durant, you'll need to draft a superstar from high school or a top ranked NCAA school to get other good players interested in playing for you to play with them. Problem is, these superstars need to be superstars right away; they need to redefine your team within a few seasons, or you should trade them to a team with pieces to get some pieces of your own. You need to build chemistry and get a winning team going. When your team is mostly under 25s without any winning're setting your team up for disaster. The Sixers have already gone through a cycle of good but not great players. Michael Carter-Williams left, Evan Turner left,  Thaddeus Young left, and have been replaced with....more of the same with Nerlens Noel. Jahlil Okafor is a fantastic rookie, but he might be the next Carter-Williams, rookie of the year material, but not a team saver. When the Cavs traded amazing player Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love, they made the right move, the two NBA Finals speak for themselves, and while Kevin Love is streaky, was certainly worth the trade that got rid of bust Anthony Bennett. The Sixers need to do something similar and make a big signing.

2. They haven't had that key no.1 pick

Because of the NBA draft lottery, the Sixers have yet to receive something perennial losers get at least once in their spend of crap, a no.1 pick. Since 2013 (when the bad losing began), the Cavs and T-wolves got their no.1 overall picks, while the Sixers picked 3rd both years, drafting injury prone Joel Embiid and decent Okafor those years. This year doesn't have Andrew Wiggins or the under the radar Karl-Anthony Towns. I wouldn't call this year a weak draft year, but with such a large draft class (162 eligible players), predicted no.1 overall pick Ben Simmons has to make an impact quick, as the Lakers and Celtics will have the other two picks (for now, the Celtics may trade the pick).

3. Their division isn't getting any easier

When you're in a division the Brooklyn Nets could win in 2012 and 2013, you're in an easy division. When the Sixers tanked, they picked a good time to do so. Their division was crap, and gave their rookies and chance to gain experience without playing a powerhouse to knock them down a peg a few times a year. With just the Raptors and Celtics making the playoffs since 2014 and the Knicks/Nets being bottom dwellers in the East with little improvement. Now, the Raptors and Celtics are two of the top teams in the East with the Cavs, and only improving. The Knicks have been drafting well and appear to be turning a new leafs. That means there are now 3 teams ways ahead other Sixers, rather than just one or two. It'll become harder for the Sixers to make the playoffs in the Atlantic baring a catastrophic failure from 2 of the 3 teams.

4. The Eastern Conference isn't getting any easier

Playing in the East has gotten a lot harder in the past few years. When I started this blog, the West was leaps and bounds better than the East wth regards to strength of teams. This year however, the East was 3 games better than the West in terms of playoff teams, despite the West having the Warriors & Spurs. The Chicago Bulls & Washington Wizards could have made the playoffs in the West while only the top 5 teams in the West would have done so with their records in the East. Aside from Brooklyn & Philly, the teams that missed the playoffs in the East are either rebuilding, suffered injuries or getting better. The Bucks & Magic played good basketball considering the age of their teams, the Knicks are improving, and the Wizards/Bulls suffered from off season loses and injuries. The Pistons and Hornets are back in the playoff picture and look to be staying. The Sixers need to hope some of these teams get worse or they magically improve. The Sixers could have hoped to get into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record like they did in 2011 & 2012 but not anymore.

5. They Are Miles Behind a Playoff Spot: Statistically

It could be argued the Sixers have not been competitive since 2009, when they pushed the favoured Orlando Magic to 6 games, but making the playoffs in 2011 & 2012 showed signs of life, you could argue things were trending upward after getting Carter-Williams....but now...I don't even think the Sixers have hit rock bottom. The team went 1-30 to start off 2015-16....18 straight right off the bat....those are some depressing numbers. It sucks the moral right out of the team, it makes players, coaches, management and fans feel the worst feeling: out of control and helpless. Unlike most bad teams where you can pinpoint the problem areas, literally nothing is going right for the Sixers. How can a team be THIS bad for 3 straight seasons. Their leading scorer last season, rookie Jahlil Okafor, averaged 17.5 points a game....that's 5 more than 2nd place Robert Covington. To give you an idea of how far that is from playoff ready, the 8th place Detroit Pistons top 5 scorers all average at least 14 points a game, and the Toronto Raptors had two players averaging at least 20 points a game. Okafor is producing, but the rest of the Sixers are not, and without help, he will burn out before his 5th season. The Sixers also on average give up 10 more points than they score, averaging 97.4 points per game and giving up 107.6, the Pistons averaged 102 PPG and only gave up 101.4.

I would end this with a summary, but I think Jim Mora put it perfectly back in 2001....

There are 7 NFL teams with more wins than the Sixers and 4 with as many during the 2015 season...and the New York Jets still missed the playoffs with 10 wins...the Sixers were 34 games out of a playoff spot....I have no solution, I have no's just pathetic! 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Devils Before Brodeur

Every St. Patricks Day, and once in the winter of 2014, the New Jersey Devils wear their vintage green & red jerseys from their inaugural seasons. The team has only worn 4 different jerseys in their entire 34 year history since relocating from Colorado, and has worn the same thing since 1992, and are a defining staple of NHL jerseys. The team has also won 3 Stanley Cups and made it to 5 since 1995. Prior to 1992 however, the Devils were not the team of Niedermayer, Brodeur, Langenbrunner, Arnott, Elias...nope, they were the team that the Great One called "Mickey Mouse".

Considering that the Devils were at one point the KC Scouts, and the 1974 Washington Capitals happened, the Devils were far from the worst thing the NHL produced in the mid 80s. Hell, the Leafs were awful at this point, the Penguins were tanking to get Lemieux, and aside from the Oilers, two of the former WHA teams (Whalers and Jets) were as bad as ever. The Nordiques sure had a conference finals visit, but at this point, if you weren't on the Oilers or Islanders, success only got so far.

The Devils were a symbol of something the NHL would be doing a lot in the next decade: Expansion into smaller US markets that wanted teams. The Devils were not built in Canada or large American cities, they were built in East Rutherford, with a population less than 10'000 as of today, in a county with less than a million.

Considering Wayne Gretzky played for the Indianapolis and Ste. Sault Marie, it wasn't the size of the city that was how bad they were...and it was at this point the team snapped.

Gretzky was calling out a certain type of team that was very common during this time and the decades following, and a type of team we haven't seen since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators. TERRIBLE! Yes! The worst teams in NHL history came between 1967 and 1992. The California (Golden) Seals, Cleveland Barons, Kansas City Scouts, Washington Capitals, Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets, during this era, set records for being terrible and/or gained a reputation for being mediocre at best and awful often. Some teams like the Jets, Whalers and Capitals grew out of it, but the Seals/Barons folded and the Scouts moved to Colorado and finally got a taste of the playoffs. Having teams....multiple teams in a hockey (not basketball or football) losing 80%+ of their games gets to you.

You're out there running circles around these teams who can't string a single line together and it makes the league look bad. Sure the Islanders, Habs, Flyers and Oilers are great, but the Jets lose 20+ games in a row, well no wonder the Oilers/Islanders are so good, look who they have to play against! That isn't true, but to the average person who reads eye catching headlines in the paper, this opinion is not uncommon, a league with little competition does not breed dynasties, it makes the rest of the league's fans feel alienated. A common compliant of baseball is that the same teams win every year and small market teams like Seattle, Toronto, Colorado, San Diego, Arizona etc. cannot win on a year to year basis and don't have the money to get the best players without a salary cap. That turns fans off, and having teams winning constantly without competition turns fans off too.

A 13-4 loss is pretty bad, but in the 80s, hockey was A LOT higher scoring than it is today by a large margin. Having perennial shit team starter Rob Low add another bad team to his resume also doesn't help, but to think that in 11 years, the Devils would be cup winners and the Oilers be in a 5 year playoff drought, and Gretzky being shipped to the Blues of all places. 11 years is a long time sure, but when you sink that low, and your opponent is that much higher than you, you can really only go one place.

By 1988, the Devils were finally a playoff team, getting to the conference finals and never looking back on those previous years. But who were the Devils, how big of a mess were they and what a cash strapped organization could afford. Are there any stars to be pulled from this era of NJD hockey?

Surprisingly, yes.

Names like Bruce Driver & Ken Dayenko may not be the first names when you think stars in the mid 80s, but both guys were staples of the Devils from 1983-1995. Aging Islanders star Chico Resch played goalie from 1982-86, after playing in Colorado since 1980, and of course, Kirk Muller was the most well known name on the team from 1984-1991. Young Brendan Shanahan was on the team from 1987-1991 before returning to finish his career where he started in 2008. The team wasn't strapped for good players, but never really had a star on the team to call their own before Brodeur.

Goaltending truly was an issue for the team. Resch isn't the worst name to have on your team, but he wasn't in Islanders dynasty form from the late 70s. Ron Low, Craig Billington, rookie Sean Burke and Alain Chevrier all started for the Devils before Broduer...but the no.1 before Broduer truly was Chris Terreri, from 1988-1995, he was the guy backstopping New Jersey. He certainly wasn't best of all time or even HHoF worthy by any stretch, but respectable in getting the Devils to the playoffs most years. He also wore a unique cage in a time where cages were on the decline.

The jerseys were some of the best in NHL in my opinion. The logos and colours popped against each other, the colours were well laid out and the team used a very unique colour pattern. The jerseys did something odd in the arms, where they had a single white stripe above the arm stripes and then put that said stripe underneath the hem striping (hem striping being under the stripe along the waistline of the jersey to the bottom of the jersey). The yokes (coloured area on the shoulders that the shoulder patches are found on) had a double outline around them, which is classic 80s design but looked really good and helped the green/red stand out. I really liked their jerseys during this era, but they lasted as long as they needed to, and seeing them 2-3 times a season is good enough for me and most Devils fans.

The team, aside from the green & red jersey, really doesn't look back on the years before the 1995 Cup win, and even more rarely on their early history. Similarly to the Penguins, once the team got their superstar, the rest of the noise just faded away and the Devils reputation until 2013 was a perennial playoff contender and always a Cup threat. That has changed, and it seems we've entered another 1988-1995 period. The team isn't bad, but I won't call them good until they make the playoffs again. Corey Schneider is a good goaltender, however, without Parise or Kovalchuk, a scoring star has yet to be seen. What will the Devils of 2013-20XX bring?