10 Developments That Have Caused the Most Problems for Hockey
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When the game of hockey is played at a peak level in the Stanley Cup playoffs or the Olympics, it may be the most beautiful team sport of all.
At least in the opinion of the sport's loyal fans.
However, the game is not always at its best. There are myriad problems and the current labor difficulties that could result in the league locking out its players Sept. 15 is one of the biggest issues.
Here's a look at 10 developments that have caused the biggest problems for the game of hockey.
The NHL is becoming the work-stoppage league.
In 1994-95, commissioner Gary Bettman locked out NHL players and it resulted in a shortened season. Each team played 48 games during the regular season before the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Ten years later, the league once again locked out its players. This time there was no regular season and there were no playoffs.
Game action did not resume until the start of the 2005-06 season. The 2004-05 NHL season is the only season in major North American sports that was cancelled.
Another work stoppage looms at the start of the 2012-13 season.
Work stoppages obviously damage players who don't get paid, impact team owners who can't make money off their investments and anger fans who pay the freight.
Lack of Revenue Compared to Other Sports
The NHL has a 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC (source: ChicagoTribune.com).
That's more television money than the league has ever been able to secure from an American television network, but it's less than the NFL, Major League Baseball or the NBA.
The NHL also has less total revenue than the other sports. According to BizofBaseball.com, the NFL brings in $9.3 billion per year, MLB rakes in $7.0 billion, the NBA has revenues of $4.7 billion and the NHL reached the $2.9 billion mark.
The NHL reported its revenues at $3.1 billion last season, according to the Boston Herald.
If the league had greater revenues, perhaps its labor difficulties might be easier to solve.
The NHL has had a slew of problems with various team owners in recent history.
The league is still waiting for Greg Jamison to complete his purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek owes $20 million to creditors and could lose control of his team, according to the New York Post.
The Islanders were once owned by John Spano, a man who completely misrepresented his wealth to the NHL and later ended up in prison.
Henry Samueli once owned a piece of the Anaheim Ducks. According to SI.com, he signed off on a plea deal that got him five years probation and $12.2 million in fines and penalties for lying to federal investigators.
These are just a few of the problems the NHL has had with ill-fitting owners.
This has played a role in the poor financial condition of several teams.
Poor Franchise Location
The NHL has made a point of putting franchises in cities that seemingly have no interest in the sport.
That's been foolish and troublesome for the NHL.
Atlanta has lost two NHL franchises. When the Flames left Atlanta following the 1979-80 season, there was no hue and cry in that city that the team had left for Calgary. Yet when the league expanded in 1999-2000, the NHL put a team in Atlanta and called it the Thrashers.
That team played in Atlanta through the 2010-11 season before it moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets.
Why put franchises in cities that don't have hockey backgrounds, hockey climates or hockey desire?
Poor franchise locations have caused problems for the NHL.
Ignoring Canadian Strongholds
It's one thing for the NHL to try and grow the game in non-traditional markets.
The league has had some success in cities like Nashville, Tampa and Washington D.C.
However, when the league has ignored or left Canadian cities, there is something wrong.
For example, the Quebec Nordiques were a memorable World Hockey Association franchise and they were a viable franchise after the WHA folded and they joined the NHL. However, when the league decided that Le Colisee in Quebec City was no longer a viable arena, ownership moved the team to Denver where it became known as the Colorado Avalanche.
Quebec City has been without a franchise since the end of the 1994-95 season. Hamilton could also support an NHL franchise.
The Conference Board of Canada reported that the country could easily support three more franchises. It said that Quebec City, Hamilton and a second franchise in Toronto could be viable.
Fans who love to watch NHL games love the idea of going to a game and watching their favorite team compete.
However, the cost of going to an NHL game is often prohibitive.
The average price of an NHL ticket is $123.77 in Toronto. That's the most expensive ticket in the NHL, according to Ticketnews.com.
The Dallas Stars have the least expensive ticket at $29.95.
The competitive aspect of hockey often leads to on-ice violence.
Players may square off and exchange punches on the ice. This usually results in a bout of anywhere between 30 seconds and two minutes, and both players then sit in the penalty box for five minutes.
That's often the extent of the sanctions.
Basically, the NHL says it's OK for hockey players to have at each other in a violent manner.
This goes against the basic tenets of society that says grown adults are not allowed to settle their differences with their fists.
While many fans love it—and it's hard not to jump out of your seat and cheer for the fighter from your team—this violence is abhorred by many and keeps the sport from reaching greater heights of popularity.
It's one thing for two angry players to square off and fight.
It's quite another for designated hockey enforcers to gain employment simply for the purpose of inflicting physical punishment on other players.
The NHL has a long history of hiring players called "enforcers" to lay down the law and protect more skilled players.
In other words, the NHL allows the hiring of henchmen to dispense justice.
This is a shoddy practice at best, but during the offseason following the 2010-11 season, three of these enforcers—Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak—died suddenly (source: New York Times).
There are questions about the long-term health of enforcers and the brain trauma that they may encounter as a result of their frequent fights.
Hockey in Canada is akin to religion. If that's a bit too far over the top, it may be as popular north of the border as both football and baseball are in the United States.
As a result, quite a few Americans don't embrace hockey because they see it as a "Canadian" sport.
There are many American fans who love hockey and don't share this opinion, but even in some of the biggest markets, there are Americans who are simply ignorant about the rules, tradition and impact of the sport, and they choose to ignore it.
Many don't give hockey a fair shake because it's a "Canadian" sport.
Sports talk radio has been an important factor in the growth of sports over the last 30 years in the United States.
But if you listen carefully in major markets, hockey talk is dwarfed by football, baseball and basketball conversation.
Hockey is often perceived as an "audience killer" by media executives, especially ESPN (source: Yahoo.com).
Sports radio stations often take their lead from "the industry leader."