I would like to take time to tell a story.
It is one that many of you have no doubt heard before, so without further ado, let’s begin.
Once upon a time in the NHL, there was a little hockey franchise. While not very successful on the ice, the team was absolutely adored by its fans, who did their best to make it to every game possible.
However, after years of poor play and poor attendance by the so-called “casual fans,” the team fell upon financial difficulties, and rumours of relocation began to appear.
To add to their problems, their arena was slowly becoming obsolete in a changing game. Newer arenas were being built in new cities, arenas with amenities that simply could not be matched.
A few years later, and with no improvement, the owners finally decided they had had enough. They could no longer make money with the franchise in its current location and opted to move the team.
Every attempt by the fans to keep the team from moving failed, and to the heartbreak of thousands, the next NHL season began with a new team, a team that never should have moved.
Does this story sound familiar? Do you know which team this story is about?
The Winnipeg Jets? What, seriously?
No, I was talking about the New York Islanders.
Yes, the dreaded “relocation story” of the Jets is in real danger of happening to another franchise, only this time it would be the opposite of what happened over a decade ago.
Whereas it was a Canadian team moving down to the U.S, now it is the Islanders that are in danger of moving to Winnipeg, Hamilton or Quebec.
Ask a citizen of any one of those cities about how they would feel about the Islanders moving in and most likely they would respond enthusiastically.
That response might be one of the most hypocritical in sports today.
Do these fans not remember what it was like to lose the Jets or the Quebec Nordiques?
Their team was down on its luck, the arena was obsolete and there was no sign of improvement in sight.
So, do tell: what would make the relocation of the Islanders to Canada any different than what happened in the mid-90s?
Why it is that Canadians’ responses to the relocation of the Jets and Nordiques is to do the exact same thing to an American team?
This is a similar problem that one encounters when talking about any team and the “Canadian relocation movement”—as I call it.
Canadians don’t care about the status of those teams that are rumoured for relocation; they only care that there are rumours.
It does not matter if the Islanders are, essentially, in the same situation as the Jets, or if the Columbus Blue Jackets have had no success in their 10 years on ice and somehow inexplicably do not have any new fans to show for it.
Canadians are the sharks of the hockey world; as soon as there is blood in the water they go in for the kill.
Or, at least in this situation, they go in for the franchise.
Ask any Canadian hockey fan about which teams should relocate, and they always respond with the usual: The Phoenix Coyotes, Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets.
Sometimes, I have even seen people call for the relocation of the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues.
While I agree that it is hard to defend keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix, I honestly do not believe half of the teams that “should” relocate deserve to even be mentioned in the discussion—and I also believe any suggestions to move Los Angeles or St. Louis should immediately be followed by a lifetime ban from hockey.
The Islanders are easily the most frustrating of the group (and the suggestion of relocation to Winnipeg is what inspired this article), as such suggestions are hypocritical and, dare I say it, wrong.
There are two key differences between the Islanders and the Jets/Nordiques: the Islanders have a rich owner and they have a fan base several times larger than either of the relocated Canadian teams due to their rich history.
Like nearly every sports team in history, the team has fallen on hard times, and doubled with the worst arena in pro sports, attendance has dwindled.
That is understandable, as no fans (outside of Toronto Maple Leafs fans, apparently) will want to spend money to watch a losing team—especially in today’s economy.
What’s more is that the Islanders have been attempting to build a new arena for years, only to be blocked every step of the way by the Town of Hempstead.
For Canadian fans to cite the Islanders’ financial problems and attendance as reasons to move is unfounded; Winnipeggers need to remember that they only averaged 11,316 per game during their last year in Winnipeg.
Apart from the Islanders, another team rumoured for relocation that annoys me is the Predators.
The Predators are currently in the middle of a heated playoff race in the West, and every year seem to put a competitive team on the ice, but that never stops the rumours of relocation.
Nor does the fact that they have played in front of 93 percent capacity this season.
Supporters of the relocation movement need to realize that this is not the same team that Jim Balsillie attempted to purchase in 2007.
Since then, the Predators have earned a profit during the past two seasons despite the recession. Also, unlike the Coyotes or Thrashers, the fanbase of the Predators is growing and currently average more fans per game than a potential team in Winnipeg could with their current arena.
So, I ask you: why would the NHL even play with the idea of moving a profitable, winning franchise? It just does not make sense.
And what about the two Florida teams, the Panthers and the Lightning?
Out of the two, the Panthers are mentioned for relocation much more, but again I do not see the point.
At the beginning of this season, the Panthers brought in Dave Tallon to turn the franchise around after he had turned the Chicago Blackhawks from a no-name team into Stanley Cup champions.
Five years down the road the Panthers could very well be contenders—so why move them?
The only difference between the Panthers and the Lightning, in this respect, is that the Lightning have already turned around and are currently leading their division. Five years ago, the Lightning were third in attendance—ahead of the Maple Leafs.
However, like I pointed out above, a poor showing on the ice scared the fans away, but currently it may just take a strong playoff showing to bring the fans back. The same could be said about Dallas, as well—only they simply need to figure out their ownership problems.
And lastly, there is one more team that irks me when used in the same sentence as “relocation": the Blue Jackets.
This particular team does not suffer from the same problems that the Jets once did; as a matter of fact, ESPN once rated Nationwide Arena as the second nicest arena in pro sports.
What seems to bring them up for relocation is the fact that, after a decade of a poor team, the team has not gained any fans, which should come as an absolute shock to no one.
No team in the world will become more popular by constantly losing, so for people to claim the Blue Jackets are a failure after only 10 years and little success is somewhat premature, in my opinion.
The Blue Jackets are the only pro hockey team in Ohio and the only pro team in Columbus; maybe after they experience some success people can claim the team deserves to be moved, but not before.
I do not remember any fans calling for the Ottawa Senators to relocate to Seattle during their first years, nor do I hear fans calling for the relocation of the Edmonton Oilers currently. Allow the team to grow some roots in Columbus before you attempt to rip them away.
Of course there are teams that, honestly, deserve to be relocated.
Phoenix would likely be better off in Winnipeg, and if Atlanta does not improve I would say the same about them in Quebec.
But those are only two teams. The others that are often mentioned do not deserve to be named for relocation as many of them struggle the same as the Jets and the Nordiques did before they moved.
It is hypocritical for any Canadian fans to call for relocation of teams such as the Islanders and stupid for teams such as the Predators.
Perhaps the real question I should be asking is “do any Canadian fans care?” If not, I have just heard the Colorado Avalanche are having attendance problems, and I have always liked the sound of the “Saskatoon Avalanche”...