Why the NHL Needs To Migrate North

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IApril 2, 2009

MONTREAL - JANUARY 24:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at the NHL Board of Governors Meeting during the 2009 NHL All-Star weekend on January 24, 2009 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

If the NHL has numerous franchises that are losing money, why not just bring the suffering teams to northern cities, where people already have a passion for hockey?

Whether it be in the Northern United States or Canada, the league needs to move north. Both the Phoenix Coyotes and the Atlanta Thrashers are two of the southern teams that are struggling badly to attract a fanbase.

However, how can you blame the populations of those cities?

I mean, Arizona has the Cardinals of the NFL, who shocked the world by winning their first playoff game since 1947 and nearly won their first Super Bowl. Phoenix is also home to the Suns of the NBA, who stout former MVP Steve Nash and other big-time basketball stars that make the Suns a huge attraction for sports fans in Arizona.

In fact, the Coyotes have such a difficult time selling tickets that they are even giving away free tickets to the Apr. 7 contest against the St. Louis Blues to those who buy a 1.75 liter bottle of Smirnoff Vodka.

You'll never see a team in any other major professional sporting league give away tickets in that fashion.

And as for the Thrashers, well, what can you say about the Atlanta Thrashers other than Ilya Kovalchuk? Their captain is their only marquee player and one who will no doubt bolt to free agency when his current contract expires.

Not only that, but also if you're a native Georgian, you probably didn't grow up with any knowledge of the game of hockey and probably aren't interested in gaining any knowledge now that your city has an NHL franchise.

If you're a sports fan in Atlanta, you are too busy following the Falcons of the NFL, Braves of MLB, and even the up-and-coming Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, who took last year's league champion Boston Celtics to the seventh and deciding game in the first round of the playoffs.

If you're a sports fan in Atlanta, are you really going to waste your time and money watching a Thrashers team that continually finishes in the bottom third of the league?

It is no surprise that these two teams are losing money. Even teams such as the Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, and Tampa Bay Lightning, who have recently won Stanley Cups, are struggling in the clear-cut NON-hockey market.

Why, then, do these teams still play in their current markets? Perhaps contractual issues and other more involved complications are preventing commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL from relocating some of their franchises.

I, for one, am not completely clear on what it takes to relocate a professional franchise.

However, I do know that Bettman put the former Winnipeg Jets in Phoenix as the Coyotes and created the expansion Thrashers in Atlanta because he wanted to tap into those respective markets, which have been successful with franchises of other professional sports.

But, as mentioned before, hockey just isn't picked up in regions where there are other sporting events to attend. It's not as if it is impossible for hockey to become popular in non-hockey markets, because if an NHL franchise was the only ticket in town, people would start to learn to enjoy the game.

However, with other professional leagues in the same city, the NHL is not going to flourish.

Not only does the NHL have to compete with other professional sporting leagues but they also fight the battle that people in certain geographical areas simply did not grow up with the ability to play the sport of hockey, and therefore aren't inclined to find it entertaining.

It is really quite simple: Football, baseball, and basketball can be played in an instant.

You get up out of bed, grab a football, tell your older brother to "go deep," and bam, you are playing football.

You get out of bed, grab a couple of baseball mitts, tell your older brother to "throw me a curve-ball," and bam, you are playing baseball.

You get out of bed, grab a basketball, tell your older brother to "slam dunk," and bam, you are playing basketball.

Not the case with hockey. It is more like, get out of bed, grab your gear, drive to the rink, put on your gear, wait for the zamboni, get out the nets, and then bam, you are playing hockey.

Oh, almost forgot, skates can cost over $100, quality sticks can be $150, helmet $60, elbow pads $40, shin pads $40, pants $60, gloves $40, league fees $600. In all reality, if you can play a high school level hockey season for less than $1,000, consider yourself lucky because that is a good deal.

That being said, it is no surprise that people living in warmer climates in the southern United States don't grow up playing the sport and therefore acclimate easier to other sports.

Now knowing all that, why in the world are there still NHL teams in Phoenix and Atlanta?

Hockey is Canada's national pastime, just like baseball and/or football in America. So, why does Canada only play home to 20 percent of the teams in the sport's most prominent region?

Clearly, nobody would argue with moving a franchise back to Canada, and if not back across the border, why not near it?

The North Dakota Fighting Sioux college hockey team is one of the major college hockey programs in all of the United States. There is not a single other major professional sports team in North Dakota.

Why not have an NHL franchise to complement one of the best college hockey programs? There would be no other draw for sports fans in North Dakota, so fans should come right away.

Now, I know little of my geography but perhaps there just aren't very many people in North Dakota, which therefore leads to the fact that the state has no major professional sports team.

However, if the proposed NHL franchise were placed near the border of hockey-crazy Minnesota, I'm certain that people will come watch. It may even create a team to become the rival of the Minnesota Wild.

Either way, having teams that are so desperate to gain attendance that they offer free tickets to people who buy vodka is embarrassing to what, in my opinion, is the best sport in the world.

No ifs, ands, or buts about it, the NHL needs to migrate north.


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