Posts Tagged ‘Hockey’

I Make The Dough And You Get The Glory

May 14, 2009

The news media in Canada, and in particular my hometown of Hamilton, has been buzzing about the possibility of an NHL team moving into our Copps Coliseum.  This very blog has featured my argument in favour of moving more teams to Canada.  On Tuesday word leaked, or was announced, that Jim Balsille would invest $30 million to improve the arena in downtown Hamilton.  That is great news for HECFI.  He also announced that he will seek government support to pay the additional $120 million or so needed to fully upgrade that facility.  It is at this point that I depart the “let’s bring a team to Hamilton” train.  I support infrastructure investment when it will demonstrably improve our community.  Highways, roads, parks, hospitals, housing, shelters, utilities, and even cultural institutions are some examples of prudent government investment.  I am also in favour of putting more money into eliminating poverty in our country, which has been at an unacceptable level for over 30 years. Our health care system has issues, and according to a recent Hamilton Spectator series, childhood mental illnesses are dangerously underfunded.  I could make a list of 50 other programs, services, or projects that should get $130 million of government money before Copps Coliseum.  Politicians like the good publicity of large scale projects like arena improvements, but all too often they end up as loses on the ledger book, and fail to provide the expected boost.  The argument that having an NHL team will somehow spur on the Hamilton economy is, based on all available research into this topic, a fantasy.  I am in favour of moving a hockey team into this city if it is fully supported by private money. Jim Balsille is a very wealthy man and since he seems to want a team in his own backyard, he should pay for that privilege.  Local hockey fans will have to pay for the joy of seeing his team in action, we should not have to pay to improve the arena for his use.  Save taxpayer money for cash strapped services that improve the quality of life for Hamiltonians, Ontarians and Canadians.

He Hit The Post!

April 29, 2009

You said you didn’t give a **** about hockey and I never saw someone say that before. You held my hand as we walked home the long way you were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.

The Tragically Hip

Fireworks

In honour of the second round of the NHL playoffs, which are about to begin, I have a few thoughts about the future of hockey in Canada. I thank you in advance for indulging this diversion from my usual fare.

The internet has been a wonderful resource for modern history.  This blog regularly features National Film Board films from the online archive, and media institutions such as Time magazine have made their collections available to the world.  For awhile the CBC has offered a great deal of material in their own digital archive.  While looking around, I came across a feature on the departure of Candian professional teams.   The  Jets (now Coyotes), and Nordiques (now Avalanche), are the two most recent examples.  On the site you can find radio and television reports about the WHA, and the loss of both teams.  There is also information about the Oilers troubles, and bitterness of the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup title that came one year after the team abandoned Quebec.

It is very strange to me that Canada has only 6 NHL teams (out of 30) when it is the leading hotbed of hockey internationally.  Junior hockey does well in many small communities, but people in this country have shown that they won’t support professional hockey that is second rate (see the AHL for example).  The most recent story on this topic concerned a meeting of interested Toronto investors with NHL VP Bill Daly. They want to place a team in Vaughn, Ontario.  A great many commentators believe that a second team could thrive in southern Ontario based on the population base and the passion for hockey.  Of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t fans of that idea since this is their major market (though the team is popular in many other parts of the country thanks to their dominance of Hockey Night in Canada).  With the NHL, among other sports leagues,  likely facing economic difficulties in the coming years, it makes sense to examine alternative ideas for the league.  This leads me to one question: How many teams could Canada realistically support? Here’s a list of the 6 NHL teams, their 2009 per game attendance (% of capacity), and the population of their cities (2006 Census):

Calgary, 19,289 (100%), 1,079,310
Edmonton, 16,839 (100%), 1,034,945
Montreal, 21,273 (100%), 3,635,571
Ottawa, 18,949 (105%), 1,168,788
Toronto, 19,312 (102.7%),  5,113,149
Vancouver, 18,630 (101%), 2,116,581

That list demonstrates that the Canadian franchises are quite successful at the gate, and that a city needs to be able to provide 16000-20000 fans per game to fit in this group.  That Toronto total includes Mississauga and the rest of the main GTA (but not Hamilton-Burlington).  These are the 6 largest metropolitan areas in the country. I think a very convincing argument could be made for another team in Toronto, maybe in the aforementioned Mississauga (668,549).  Here are the next 7 largest metro areas along with the two major Saskatchewan cities just for fun:

Quebec City, 715,515
Winnipeg, 694,668
Hamilton, 692,911
London, 457,720
Kitchener, 451,235
St. Catherines-Niagara, 390,317
Halifax, 372,858
Saskatoon, 233,923
Regina, 194,971

On the surface the drop off is pretty steep from 6-7 and beyond.  Returns to Winnipeg and Quebec have been floated several times.  Both Quebec City and Winnipeg lost their franchises due in part to financial difficulties.  Those problems occured in the old NHL when cost certainty was a dream. With the new financial model in the league it is much more likely that a team in a smaller market, with a strong fan base, would be able to thrive. Before the lockout Edmonton, and Calgary were struggling with rising salaries, yet they are now among the most successful franchises in the league. A new league model means reexamining the potential for the NHL in Canada.

If we accept that teams in smaller Canadian markets would be more successful now, then Winnipeg and Quebec are obvious considerations.  When Jim Balsille began accepting down payments on season’s tickets in Hamilton (part of a failed attempt to buy the Nashville Predators) 10000 people signed up.  There are very many people in southern Ontario who aren’t Maple Leafs fans.  Some like the Canadiens, some the Senators, and many follow teams from all over the league.  People living in Hamilton, London, KW, and Niagara don’t share their identity with the city of Toronto even if they are nearby.  I absolutely believe that a second team in one of those communities would find a fan base.  Obviously, there are many large issues to be sorted out before that happens, like an arena, satisfying the Leafs and Sabres, figuring out where the team would come from (relocation or expansion) and finding solid ownership (I hear RIM is sort of successful), but the idea is workable.  Putting teams in the four communities I’ve mentioned (Mississauga/Vaughn, Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hamilton/KW/London) would bring the Canadian portion of the league to 10 teams.  I can also stretch my imagination to include teams in Halifax and Saskatchewan (they whole-heartedly support the Riders, why not a hockey team?), which gives us 12 Canadian and likely 18 American teams.  Doesn’t that reflect the identity of hockey in North America a bit better?

I understand that this will probably never happen, but I think fans of the game should continue to make our preferences known. The NHL has, at times, actually listened to what its fans and critics have to say about the game.  I believe that at least 2 of the cities I’ve mentioned will have teams in the next 10 years.  The forces just seem to be moving that way.  Here’s my theoretical NHL, for fun. Oddly, I kept the top 21 teams in attendance and three other random teams from the bottom 9 based on history and geography.  You could definitely argue which ones belong, and if any of the ones I’ve included could be relocated elsewhere.

Thanks for bearing with my diversion.

Eastern Conference

Buffalo Sabres
Carolina Hurricanes
Halifax
Hamilton
Mississauga
Montreal Canadiens
New Jersey
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
Quebec Nordiques
Toronto Maple Leafs
Washington Capitals

Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks
Calgary Flames
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
LA Kings
Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks
Saskatchewan
St. Louis Blues
Vancouver Canucks
Winnipeg Jets

The Good Old Hockey Game

April 4, 2009

Hockey is well known as the dominate sport in Canada. So I think it is well within the mandate of this blog to bring you this.  That is quite possibly the greatest available piece of sports memorabilia in the world.  I can’t even begin to fathom the story that must be behind that sweater.  It has somehow survived 90 years of existence, and is now available to the general public.  Sure the guy who wore it was a mediocre player on a lousy team, but this sweater predates the Great Depression. It’s from the first NHL team to play south of the border and that first season. If you’ve got the money, here is a good play to spend it.(Thanks to uniwatch for the original link)

This entry also gives me an excuse to link to another antique sweater that may have been lost to time.  A group of collectors are hunting down a sweater from the Hamilton Tigers NHL team. The team was only here for 5 years and left after the players refused to participate in the playoffs without extra pay (they had the best record in the league at the time).  The franchise was sold to New York interests and became the New York Americans.  As the group points out there is lots of info out there about Hamilton’s futile efforts to get an NHL team. I have long wanted a replica Tiger’s sweater, but little did I know that some people were hunting down an original. To date they have had no success other than following an alleged trail that hasn’t quite panned out.  With all the bad news surrounding this city in the last many years, I think something as silly as this is a nice distraction.  Hamilton has a proud heritage and I’m glad there are people attempting to hang on to it.