Southern Exposure: NHL Commissioner's Failure Could Benefit Chicago Blackhawks

Adam KoppCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2009

Logic should have told NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that expanding a winter sport into a place that doesn't see a whole lot of snow would be a fools errand.

Several years later, the tough economic times, coupled with the reality of trying to lure Nascar and college sports fans into the thrall of ice hockey have left several southern teams on the brink.

The Phoenix Coyotes in particular seem to be on shaky ground, as the Toronto Globe and Mail recently reported on the team requiring advances from the NHL's revenue sharing pot just to meet payroll and operating costs.

According to the Globe and Mail's David Sloats "The Phoenix franchise is heavily in debt, bleeding red ink, laying off staff and going to the NHL for advances to meet expenses and for approval to make roster decisions."

It is believed that the team has accrued an eighty million dollar deficit, including possibly as much as twenty five million this season alone.

Other teams experiencing financial woes include, but are not limited to:

The Florida Panthers: They can't seem to give tickets away (though they have been trying to for some time now). 

In the last few years, the rat throwers have traded away franchise stalwarts Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo.

The Panthers currently own a tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets for longest playoff draught, having not made the post season in any of the last seven years.

The Atlanta Thrashers:  One and a half seasons removed from winning the Southeast Division, they now stand 3-6-1 in their last ten and are sitting dead last in the division. 

Only two teams in the NHL have fewer points.

Yet it is the ongoing squabbles within the ownership of the Thrashers (and their NBA counterpart, the Atlanta Hawks) that has this franchise bleeding money.

The Thrashers have only made the playoffs once in the team's short history, a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers.

The Tampa Bay Lightning:  Talk about a franchise in disarray.  Coming off of a terrible season, it was believed that the Bolts would resurrect their status as an upper level franchise with number one draft pick Steven Stamkos, a high profile new coach in Barry Melrose and a metric ton of off-season additions that included feisty winger Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata and Gary Roberts.

Three months into the season, Melrose has been fired, Steven Stamkos has been average at best and the Lightning are just one point ahead of the aforementioned Thrashers in the standings (good for 12th in the Eastern Conference).

Though it's not surprising that attendance would be down for the sinking Bolts, it is believed that the eight man ownership group that includes former NHL'er Len Barrie as well as Hollywood producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg might be having financial difficulties. 

The Nashville Predators:  The saga of the Predator's on again/off again sales or re locations is well documented.  So too is the fact that 27% of the franchise is tied up in bankruptcy thanks to former part owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio.

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Predators franchise was forced to default on a forty million dollar debt to CIT Group back in October.

Not at all shocking to anyone that knows anything about the Predators, billionaire CEO of Research in Motion and Hamilton, Ontario enthusiast Jim Balsillie is rumored to be interested in buying Del Biaggio's share of the team.

So what does all of this drama have to do with the Blackhawks

Rumors have been circulating that several players from these foundering franchises could be available as many small market teams look to jettison large contracts. 

Players such as Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nathan Horton and Jay Bouwmeester have all been the subject of trade speculation in newspapers and Internet blogs.

Don't be surprised if other big names such as Olli Jokinen and Martin St. Louis start popping up on dirt sheets and in the press as well.

Of course, rumors and speculation alone wouldn't mean much if it were not for the fact that many of Gary Bettman's southern expansion teams have fallen on tough economic times. 

It's not surprising really.

After all, did anyone honestly believe that ice hockey was going to play well in places like Florida, Georgia, Tennessee or Arizona?

It's high time that our neighbors to the north, specifically in Winnipeg, Kitchener- Waterloo, Quebec City and Hamilton got a first or second chance at having an NHL franchise.

I am also curious as to why places like Kansas City, Milwaukee or Hartford never got the consideration that places like Nashville or Phoenix obviously received in getting an NHL franchise.

The NHL as a whole would be much more viable if the league wasn't forced to prop up these unneeded and obviously unwanted franchises in the south.

However, until the day occurs when Bettman and the rest of the NHL realizes this fact and either starts relocating or awarding franchises to places that might actually appreciate hockey, the Blackhawks would do well to take advantage of a bad situation.

As the trade deadline nears and teams begin to separate themselves into buyers and sellers, Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon would be wise to take a good long look at some of the big names that might be available from any one of Bettman's failures. 

The Hawks need another top six offensive player, preferably at the center position.

How about Nathan Horton?  At four million a year for the next four years, with 124 points in the last two seasons, the young center/wing would be an ideal candidate.

While I don't believe that the Lightning will part with Lecavalier, I wouldn't be too quick with that same assessment of high caliber winger Martin St. Louis.

I can only imagine how much of an impact on the standings and playoff hopes a player like Ilya Kovalchuk could have for the Blackhawks.

To be clear, I don't like the fact that any team in the NHL would have to sell off good players because they can't afford them. 

But the fact of the matter is that these teams simply don't make money.  The Nashville Predators have had several good years where they've made the playoffs.  Yet, to the best of my knowledge, they have never cracked the top ten in league revenue.  In fact, I don't think that they've even come close.

Until this situation is corrected, either by the league's front office or the simple realities of the times that we live in, it would certainly benefit the Blackhawks to pry a high level talent out of one of these franchises in hopes of improving their post season chances.

Strike while the iron is hot, because hurting these franchises in the short term will hopefully help them in the long run.  

It might be a bit of a stretch, but while the downtrodden Atlanta Thrashers fans might hate you for it Dale, perhaps the fans of the Quebec Thrashers might thank you later. 


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