Only a day into the NHL Lockout of 2012, and the grim reality has already set in that a season this year starting on time seems about as likely as pigs flying or hell freezing over.
For right now, we can call Commissioner Gary Bettman the Devil and he's got his hand on the thermostat, adjusting it ever so slightly past scorching.
When will he turn on the air conditioning? That remains to be seen.
The fact of the matter is, the NHL has locked out its players because owners deem they are losing far too much money using the system they were using when the CBA just expired.
Of the 30 competing teams, only 12 of those made a profit, while the other 18 had to use the revenue sharing to break even.
The revenue sharing part of the CBA has been hotly debated and discussed in depth by the NHL and the NHLPA in recent months, with little to no movement made in developing a new CBA. The fact higher profitable clubs had to pool their money in a pot to help keep other clubs afloat was a likely reason why the Ontario Teacher Pension Fund decided to sell their majority share of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Simply put, they were losing profit by keeping other clubs afloat.
We now look at those "other clubs".
When I talk other clubs, I point directly at Gary Bettman and his skill or lack thereof, of finding viable hockey homes for new NHL teams.
When Bettman was introduced as the new Commissioner of the NHL in 1993, we saw expansion grow rapidly, as the 1992-93 NHL season saw four cities eventually leave the NHL during Bettman's tenure, (Quebec Nordiques, Minnesota North Stars, Hartford Whalers, and Winnipeg Jets), and we saw new Southern franchises and cities enter the fold.
In 1993-94, Bettman's first full season as Commissioner, we saw the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim enter the NHL fold, while the Minnesota North Stars were relocated to sunny Dallas, Texas where they became the Dallas Stars.
The following season saw yet another lockout happen in 1994-95. The season did however start in January and extend into May, the only time in NHL history that a regular season schedule extended into the month of May.
It was also the last season in which the NHL saw the Quebec Nordiques play in the league. The team would be relocated to Denver and become the Colorado Avalanche. This was right after the Nordiques enjoyed their best season to date, finishing first in the Eastern Conference, They would lose their first playoff series 4-2 to the New York Rangers. This was the season a certain Swede won the Calder Trophy. His name Peter Forsberg.
The City of Denver would enjoy some splendid hockey thanks to what the Nordiques built. Captain Joe Sakic, leader Adam Foote, and super rookie Peter Forsberg would anchor this club into the new millenium. They were a success, but mostly because they were good when they got there. They went on to win the Stanley Cup the following season against the Florida Panthers, a definite blow to the Nordiques fans in the city of Quebec.
The gutting of Canadian teams continued to following season in 1995-96, as the Winnipeg Jets played their last season in Winnipeg and were relocated to Phoenix Arizona for the following season. Due in part to an older arena, the Jets just weren't bringing in the revenue when they only had 15,393 seats, and limited luxury boxes.
In 1996-97, the NHL saw the first games played in Phoenix, and the ending of a franchise. The Hartford franchise would relocate to sunny Raleigh, North Carolina for the years following.
In 1998-99, the Nashville Predators entered the NHL, and the NHL re-aligned their divisions for the season. After the Nordiques moved from Quebec to Colorado, it was necessary to bring them to the Western Conference. As a result, the Toronto Maple Leafs moved from the Western to the Eastern Conference.
The Atlanta Thrashers were the next franchise introduced in the 1999-2000 season. Another Bettman masterpiece, the franchise would only last 11 years in the city and relocate back to Winnipeg, a city that should never of left the NHL in the first place.
Deviating from the norm, Columbus and Minnesota were introduced as new expansion teams for the 2000-01 season. Not only was this different, but its a move I believe makes sense long-term for the NHL. Both states are familiar with the game, and both of potential to be good hockey markets.
Today, with the signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the Minnesota Wild will likely enjoy their best season at the ticket booth this year, likely selling out most of their games and making a good amount of coin.
The Blue Jackets, mostly due to the fact they have struggled for years since entering the NHL, will likely again struggle this year, part because they're young, and part because they lost their franchise leader in points, Rick Nash to a trade with the New York Rangers.
Columbus though, out of all the expansion teams in the NHL, I feel they have the best chance of turning it around if the team plays better hockey and wins more games.
This all happened prior to the full-season lockout of 2004-05. What happens afterwards will not surprise you the least.
The years that followed saw teams that were perennial contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Los Angeles Kings have to abide by a salary cap. This saw these clubs get decimated, and some of them suffered at the ticket booth.
In the years that followed the lockout, 18 teams finished in the bottom third in terms of attendance.
Some stadiums were empty purely because the teams were struggling, some because they just are not hockey markets.
In the seven years that followed, the top 10 teams in terms of lowest attendance values were(in no particular order)
Phoenix Coyotes (market)
New York Islanders (bad team/old arena)
Columbus Blue Jackets (team)
Anaheim Ducks (market competing with the Kings for casual hockey fans)
Atlanta Thrashers (team/market)
New Jersey Devils (arena was a terrible location, have to compete with the Rangers and Islanders for fans, not to mention Philadelphia)
Carolina Hurricanes (market)
Florida Panthers (market)
Nashville Predators (market)
Colorado Avalanche (team, salary cap saw them lose guys, Joe Sakic, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy retired, Peter Forsberg injured spell terrible hockey in Denver. Things are looking up though)
Anyways, you can certainly bet that most of the teams who lose money, are those who do not draw many fans into the arena.
Looking at those teams 8 of the 10 teams were Bettman's babies, only the New Jersey Devils (who were the Colorado Rockies), and the New York Islanders were there when Bettman was not in charge of the NHL.
Only the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, and Tampa Bay Lightning since the 1992-93 season have seen some moderate success in the NHL. The Sharks simply because they are a good team, the Wild because of the hockey crazy market they play in, and the Lightning, who enjoyed a Stanley Cup season and the birth of Steven Stamkos, keep them from being in the bottom third of the league in attendance.
In the seven years that followed the lockout, the remaining teams that were in the bottom included the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins also have bad attendance years, however they were not regular visitors in the list.
Three of the teams are in what you could call Southern Markets still, and to be honest, most enjoyed success in attendance simply because they won a Stanley Cup (DAL/TB/LAK).
Looking at it this, one can easily say that the NHL and Gary Bettman have failed with their Southern experiment.
Its time to either contract the NHL, spread the talent out, or move some franchises to more hockey friendly markets so the NHL can maybe make some profits in the years that follow this lockout.
Its time for franchises in Quebec City, Hamilton/Markham, Halifax, Las Vegas, Seattle, Houston even (just based on city size) to possibly get a nod. There's also some discussion about possibly a team or two in Europe still.But due to time zone restrictions, that may just be a dream and not reality.
However, an NHL Europe could be another idea, and have the Stanley Cup Winner play the NHL Europe Winner for a World Title. Just an idea on my part.
To close, when everyone was begging for the Jets to return to the NHL, Bettman was hesitant giving the franchise to Winnipeg simply because they wouldn't generate enough revenue in the MTS Center and that the fanfare of the Jets will wear off.
The previous season, the Winnipeg Jets, despite their arena issues, finished the season at 100% capacity and did not have to go into the revenue pool like they were expected to do.
Food for thought Mr. Bettman, food for thought.
*All attendance figures courtesy of ESPN
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