In this year of 10 money-losing franchises, the final NHL standings were hardly what the NHL wanted. Particularly if you view them through the eyes of Gary Bettman and some of the Board of Governors.
The season ended with some dark shadows cast over many teams leaving their future uncertain. Here is a brief breakdown of the money-losers and what the final standings may mean for their future.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
It doesn't matter whether they win or lose or play in the Meadowlands or in Newark, this team does not get support in New Jersey. It's time to move this team to somewhere where they will be appreciated.
This is one of the few results the NHL can rejoice about. Making the playoffs again will solidify the team's fan base, particularly if they have a long run. The NHL will be cheering for them against New Jersey.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
This is the only other story that the NHL can really celebrate. St. Louis was not supposed to make the playoffs this year, but good drafting, trades, and coaching has brought them back to the playoffs ahead of schedule. It can only bode well for the future of the franchise. But the downside is that their success came at the expense of Columbus and Nashville, two franchises in more need of help than St. Louis.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The argument is that this franchise was not a success because the team was bad and never made the playoffs. That is not true any more and the puck is squarely in the fans' end of the rink now. The Ohio-Indiana area is a puzzle for hockey. It is in the northern part of the United States but has a horrible record for supporting hockey. Cincinnati and Indianapolis are failed WHA franchises and the NHL was run out of Cleveland after two years with possibly the worst attendance in NHL history. The Blue Jackets were one of the few money-losing teams to make positive steps at the trade deadline. But the partial collapse of the team at the end, particularly to St. Louis resulted in a playoff matchup with the Detroit Red Wings and a probably an early exit from the playoffs. Will the fans take note of this and not support them? Is Columbus really a major league hockey city? This may be the moment of truth.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
There is nothing wrong with this franchise that new owners and a good goalie won't fix. The Lightning were being supported when they were winning, but now the team is stuck with feuding owners who can't afford to run the team properly and bad goaltending which caused it to fall from the ranks of good teams. Selling the team to owners who know what they are doing would be the best thing to happen in the offseason.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Like the Lightning, the Islanders were once supported adequately by fans but bad teams have eroded it. The biggest problem is the outdated arena which is the smallest in the NHL. There is already a commitment to playing an exhibition game in Kansas City, a potential new home. If the arena issue is not favorably solved soon, the glorious story of the Islanders may soon be over.
This is one of the two most awful results that happened for the NHL at the end of the schedule. The team had to make the playoffs and win a round for the first time in its history. Instead the team took a step backwards and did not make the playoffs which is hardly going to win new fans or keep old ones, especially when they compare the team with the NFL Tennessee Titans. The team may also be in trouble at the ownership level. The spectre of Jim Balsillie may reappear and this time there will be nothing to stop a move to Hamilton.
The other bad result was Florida which had to make the playoffs to survive. Instead a franchise that heavily pads its attendance to make things look good may now lose its best defenceman in the offseason. Not making the playoffs and perhaps losing some of its top players may put this franchise on the brink of relocation or contraction.
This sorry franchise played well at the end but it was too little too late. And it may be too late for a franchise that has only made the playoffs once and has never won a single playoff game. If relocation or contraction comes about, the effect may be like when the Flames left; shoulder shrugging and so what. And the NHL would not come back a third time so soon.
It is hard to envision a franchise in worse straits than the Islanders, Nashville, Florida, and Atlanta, but the Coyotes are in that position. Their moment of truth was at the trade deadline when instead of strengthening themselves, they held a "fire-sale" and got rid of most of their best players despite being in contention for a playoff position. This is the only franchise that Gary Bettman has been forced to acknowledge is in deep trouble and if there is contraction/relocation coming, this is probably where it will occur first.