Sep 292008
 

For a team that doesn’t have a stable fan base and responsible ownership, the Predators have done very, very well. An unstable ownership group, embroiled in controversy from Jim Balsillie to Boots Del Baggio, has managed to retain a stable management group, as David Poile and Barry Trotz have remained the franchise’s only GM and coach in history. While the Preds don’t make much noise during the season, they’re always a force in the playoffs. What the Preds lack in talent and skill they make up for in hard work and discipline, a strong characteristic of a Trotz team.

The Preds were fine with Alexander Radulov and JP Dumont as their top right wingers. Now, they’re not so comfortable. With Radulov’s defection to Ufa of the KHL, it leaves the Preds with a glaring hole on offense, especially with the uncertainty of Steve Sullivan‘s health. While Radulov has expressed an interest in returning to the NHL, his cries may fall on deaf ears, but with the lack of offensive depth the Preds may want to re-consider their stance. That being said, a lot more pressure is going to be put on Martin Erat. The Czech winger was one of four players on the team to pot 20+ goals, and reaching 30 isn’t out of the realm of possibility, especially if Jason Arnott manages to get 40+ helpers again. The key player this year stepping in is rookie Patric Hornqvist. The 21-year old Swedish winger played for Djurgardens of the SEL for the past 3 seasons, putting up respectable numbers, finishing 4th in team scoring last year despite being only 20. He will get first looks at the open slot vacated by Radulov, and he hasn’t disappointed in the preseason, registering a goal and an assist in two games. The Predators don’t do anything fancy, but they do get it done, and it all starts from the bottom. Jordin Tootoo, Jerred Smithson, and Scott Nichol may be some of the most unwelcome players in the league, but they all play with such determination and tenacity that they can really change the outcome of the game. Their hits are borderline and stick work frustrating, but as grinders you can’t expect more. Too often the opponents are focused on getting back at those three that they lose focus of the game, and that’s when the Preds really take advantage.

Defense is where the Preds excel in every aspect of the game. They’ve traditionally been one of the best teams at drafting defensemen and have no problems finding able rookies to promote from Milwaukee to round out their top six. The loss of captain Kimmo Timonen hurt, but the Preds managed to make the transition without any significant bumps. Highlighted by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Preds have one of the youngest, fastest, and meanest defensive corps in the West. It goes without saying that without their defensemen the Preds would have trouble making the playoffs every year. Dan Hamhuis has also developed into a very capable defenseman and led the team in ice time with 22:43. Greg de Vries is the veteran presence on the blueline, but with the wealth of talent the Preds have he often finds himself marginalized, especially when youngsters Greg Zanon, Ville Koistinen, Kevin Klein, Cody Franson, and Teemu Laakso are all ready to pitch in. The Preds can spare some defensemen, and Poile may go down that road if it becomes apparent that offense is going to be a major problem.

If Dan Ellis plays like he did last year, the Preds have nothing to worry about. Ellis posted the best SV% in the league last year with a .924 mark and an equally impressive 2.34 GAA. Management was confident in Ellis enough to let Chris Mason go, which means that Pekka Rinne, last year’s wins leader in the AHL, will be making the transition to the big leagues permanently. However, although Ellis’ weight is listed as 185 lbs., there were times last year where his official weight was listed as 170 lbs. It’s not uncommon for goalies to lose weight after a game from water loss, but Ellis’ case was so extreme that in some games, especially in the playoffs against a much better Wings squad, he needed to have an IV or otherwise suffer from severe dehydration. It’s a minor concern considering the medical advances and on-call doctors teams employ, but it’s still a cause for concern. If Ellis is incapable of handling number one duties, it’ll fall on Rinne’s shoulders, but it remains to be seen if Rinne can adjust, having only 3 games of NHL experience.

The Preds powerplay was a woeful 27th last year, and with Radulov gone and Sullivan’s health in doubt, it may get worse. The Preds were only average in even strength play last year, but the penalty kill was third in the league, thanks to the Preds’ deep defense. In the playoffs last year, the Preds arguably put up the best fight against the Wings, but fell short to a more talented squad. Every year the Preds seem to be poised to make some noise in the postseason, but this season may not be the case. A good defense and solid goaltending may not be enough to make up for the Preds’ offensive deficiencies. However, the team does have ample cap room ($14m) to acquire players as needed. With a new local ownership group, perhaps they will pay more attention to the already good on-ice product (given what Trotz and Poile have to work with). The Preds have to reach an average of 14 000 fans per night to qualify for full revenue sharing.

Projected lineup:
Martin Erat – Jason Arnott – JP Dumont
Steve Sullivan – David Legwand – Patric Hornqvist
Scott Nichol – Radek Bonk – Jordin Tootoo
Josh Gratton – Rich Peverley – Jerred Smithson

Ryan Suter – Shea Weber
Dan Hamhuis – Greg de Vries
Greg Zanon – Ville Koistinen

Dan Ellis – Pekka Rinne

scratches: Antti Pihlstrom, Kevin Klein, Michael Ryan

Predicted finish: 3rd Central, 11th West

Sep 272008
 

Old news, but Mathieu Schneider is now a Thrasher, pending physicals on Brad Larsen and Ken Klee, the players going the other way. Klee and Larsen are in the last years of their contracts and were not part of the Thrashers’ plans going forward. Schneider makes the Thrashers defense better, but they won’t be making the playoffs anytime soon. It also means that perhaps Atlanta isn’t too interested in finish first in the draft sweepstakes. Don Waddell was not interested in Schneider through waivers saying he was too expensive and wasn’t the right fit. The Thrashers’ payroll increased by about $4m in the deal. So much for Waddell’s explanation.

It looks like David Bolland has an uphill battle to get the coveted second line centre spot behind Jonathan Toews, and coach Denis Savard has noted his current top six are Toews, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd, Martin Havlat, Dustin Byfuglien, and Patrick Sharp. Savard put Kane at centre for a couple shifts but didn’t like what he saw, and the Hawks may end up with either Ladd or Sharp at centre. Kyle Beach made a good impression in his pro debut, but the hot-headed junior star will be hard-pressed to stick around. Keith Carney might also make the team.

Ken Hitchcock
is really liking what he sees from Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard. The Jackets were absolutely dangerous offensively against the Predators last night, and more impressive were the plays of Fedor Tyutin and Kris Russell. Russell, still listed at a paltry 165 lbs., needs to put on more bulk to play in a tougher West. Courtesy of Michael Arace, the Jackets’ strategy for the season. Nothing too special, but have a gander anyway:
1. Keep the tempo high
- short shifts
- fast changes
2. Make the goalie work
- funnel the puck
- real traffic
3. Outwork the opposition
- on contact, our 2nd before their 2nd
4. Manage the puck the right way
5. Pack mentality
- 5 up, 5 back
6. Check to score
- the harder we check, the more we score

In Florida, on a radio poll Peter DeBoer was voted as the coach who would do the best job this season. Todd McLellan of San Jose finished second, Scott Gordon on Long Island third, and Jon Anderson in Atlanta fourth. There’s definitely a hometown bias there, McLellan will be blowing the other three out of the water by virtue of having a very good team.

In a very un-Nashville like move, the Preds may be giving the second line right wing spot to Patrick Hornqvist, who has spent the last three years in the Swedish leagues. Alexander Radulov‘s defection and Steve Sullivan‘s injury history means that there are a lot of holes to fill up front.

Forget about having two all-star centres on separate lines. Like the Sharks who are putting Patrick Marleau on Joe Thornton‘s wing, the Rangers have followed suit and have lined up Chris Drury on Scott Gomez‘s right wing, despite the fact that Drury had a better face-off winning percentage. Markus Naslund is the third of the trio. This means that Brandon Dubinsky, who had a lot of success last year on spot shifts with Jaromir Jagr, will have to step up after being pegged as the team’s number two. He will have Nikolai Zherdev and Nigel Dawes as linemates.

The Blues absolutely destroyed the Thrashers, scoring 9 goals. The Blues aren’t supposed to a high-scoring team this year, but they got production from all four lines. This might be a preview of what’s to come this season:
Stempniak – McDonald – Boyes
Kariya – Berglund – Perron
Tkachuk – Oshie – Backes
King – McClement – Porter
As noted before, Patrick Berglund is set to centre Paul Kariya and the pair has looked good. Keith Tkachuk seems to have moved back to his original left wing position and Jay McClement may be ill-suited for a fourth line role considering his offensive game is better than his defensive game.

Barry Melrose likes what he’s seeing from Evgeny Artyukhin (I think it was a mistake letting him go in the beginning) and may see himself on Steve Stamkos‘ line. Jussi Jokinen, who has been the subject of many trade rumours this summer, has moved to centre on the third line and is making it hard for management to cut him. Radim Vrbata has apparently been invisible and is dropping on the depth charts.

Sep 032008
 

Alexander Radulov took the money and bolted, enjoying a much lucrative contract from Ufa while the NHL, KHL, and IIHF attempted to sort out the mess. The Predators, who own Radulov’s rights, announced yesterday that they have suspended their young winger indefinitely without pay (not that it really bothers him any).

Radulov’s sudden departure left a sour taste in the NHL and Nashville’s mouths and have cried foul over Alexander Medvedev‘s dealings, but once again the IIHF lacks any real teeth in either league and the KHL doesn’t feel pressure to return Radulov to the NHL, where he has one year remaining on his contract.

It was reported that Medvedev had offered the NHL $250k as compensation for losing Radulov, the same amount that the NHL used to pay the RSL for players, but Gary Bettman and Bill Daly apparently scoffed at the deal. Ufa and the KHL don’t feel pressured to return Radulov to the NHL. As a league they face no real consequences, and it’s only Radulov who has suffered, being suspended from international competitions sanctioned by the IIHF. The IIHF cannot penalize Ufa or the KHL.

It seems as though Medvedev won this round. But what about in the future? Lyle Richardson, aka “Spector,” has noted that it does set a precedent for all future international player movements, as well as potential consequences for fledgling Russian league. Medvedev may have won this little battle, but in the long run, who wins? It’s interesting that it is Medvedev, not the NHL, that is pushing harder for a transfer agreement. Not only have they “stole” a NHL player, but is also asking the IIHF to side with them on the matter while pushing for a new transfer agreement. Talk about conflict of interest.

Even if the IIHF sides with the NHL (which I think they will), the KHL has every right to ignore its ruling. However, I don’t think Medvedev is stupid enough to do that. He should realize that if he ignores the IIHF’s ruling, it would be close to impossible to broker a new transfer agreement. No one wants to do business with a guy who will pull the carpet out from under you.

However, should the IIHF side with the KHL, it means that we should see more players jumping ship – the borderline NHLers, the aging European veteran, or more importantly, the occasional big name. This doesn’t only apply to Russians, but all Europeans. Many Swedish players have been noted to have a desire to finish their playing careers back home, and the Radulov precedent could mean that these players could jump ship, with year(s) remaining on their NHL contracts, and go home to finish their careers. However, keep in mind that the KHL is the only league that can offer NHL-type salaries. The average salary in the SEL, according to 2001-02 estimates, is about $100k/year. Top flight players may get anywhere from 250k to 300k/year.

Whatever may be the case, the NHL is still the best hockey league in the world and Radulov just jumped ship for a quick fix. Needless to say, I don’t think he’ll be back in the NHL anytime soon, and even if he does, it most definitely won’t be in a Predator uniform.

Aug 162008
 

The Hockey News’ Rankings in the Yearly Yearbook were released, and for the West they’re as follows:

1 Detroit Red Wings
2 San Jose Sharks
3 Minnesota Wild
4 Dallas Stars
5 Anaheim Ducks
6 Edmonton Oilers
7 Chicago Blackhawks
8 Calgary Flames
9 Nashville Predators
10 Phoenix Coyotes
11 Vancouver Canucks
12 Columbus Blue Jackets
13 Los Angeles Kings
14 Colorado Avalanche
15 St. Louis Blues

Detroit at the top is an absolute no-brainer. They won the Cup and somehow got better by adding Marian Hossa. They’ve got Pavel Datsyuk locked up for awhile, and it’s hard to see Henrik Zetterberg not follow suit. Niklas Kronwall, and to a lesser extent, Jonathan Ericsson, look to take over Nicklas Lidstrom‘s mantle when he retires. They’re going to remain a powerhouse for years to come.

I have a hard time believing Minnesota will finish atop the Northwest Division. They lost key offensive pieces in Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston, and replaced them with two aging veterans (Owen Nolan, Andrew Brunette) and a mid-level winger in Antti Miettinen. Their biggest acquisition is Marek Zidlicky, but the Flames have improved more – Calgary’s the early division favourite.

I don’t think the Oilers will finish that high. Adding Lubomir Visnovsky was huge, but they will miss Jarret Stoll‘s shot on the PP. Erik Cole was also another nice add, but I don’t think Visnovsky and Cole makes them better than the Coyotes. Their biggest question mark remains in net, and with some quality goaltending in the West that might be their downfall.

The Coyotes to me are a playoff team – they’ve got a talented forwards, a responsible captain, a respectable defense highlighted by a rejuvenated Ed Jovanovski, and good goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov. The dogs have tons going for them, and with Kyle Turris expected to make the squad out of training camp the team will be loaded with offense, led by the newly-acquired Olli Jokinen, who might get his first taste of playoff hockey this season.

How the Kings are ahead of the Avs and Blues is beyond me. Technically, they don’t even exist in the NHL because they’ve yet to reach the salary floor. Even with they do be re-signing all their RFAs, their team is laughable at best, and just might win the Calder Cup. This team needs at least two more season to grow before they’re even a playoff contender – it looks like they’re going for the John Tavares sweepstakes and rebuilding Pittsburgh-style.

The Avs, even without Joe Sakic for most of the season, remained competitive until the late stages of the season. Should Sakic retire, they don’t have a player to take over as captain or offensive dynamo yet, although Paul Stastny comes close. A healthy Ryan Smyth and having Adam Foote for a whole season, with some of Darcy Tucker‘s toughness, will make them a respectable squad, but like the Oilers, their biggest question mark remains in net.

Stay tuned for the East.

Aug 132008
 

Despite the fact that the Lightning defense still seems a little suspect, boasting little veteran presence or even a big name, Oren Koules maintains that he is satisfied with his current defensive corps. The Lightning still have to get under the cap enough to ensure that they can accommodate Steven Stamkos‘ cap hit, which would be 3.75 should he reach all performance bonuses. Remember that this upcoming season is the last year of the current CBA agreement, and that there will be no performance cushions. Nashville, as noted in the article, remains a very enticing trading partner, with 13 draft picks in 2009 and a plethora of young talent on their blueline. A trade makes sense for both teams, as JP Dumont has voiced his opinion that the Preds need more bite. Jussi Jokinen, who will be replaced by Vaclav Prospal on the top line, Michel Ouellet, and Jason Ward remain their biggest trading chips. The Lightning enter next season as a Southeast Division contender once again, although it remains to be seen if a young defensive corps and Mike Smith will hold up. David has a more in-depth look at the Lightning’s roster here.

Mark Parrish apparently is the Canucks’ answer should they fail to land Mats Sundin. Folks at TSN are calling it Mike Gillis‘ “Plan B,” although it should be more like “Plan D,” considering the discrepancy between Parrish and Sundin. As the Sundin saga dragged along (it’s now rumoured that he is leaning towards retirement, if only anyone knows what means nowadays), it was clear that the Canucks had no answer should Sundin not sign. Gillis maintains that he has been talking trade with several teams regarding one or two defenseman on his team, but I would think that he would like to keep his defense intact. When Parrish was bought out, he was immediately linked to Vancouver and Nashville, two western teams that have had plenty of looks at the big forward. Both teams were in similar situations and needed to get bigger and better offensively. A lot of fans in Vancouver aren’t very happy with how things have gone this summer, after all, Gillis had promised sweeping changes and a drastically different team with offense as its number one priority. So far, the only sweeping changes have come upstairs and the team remains arguably as potent offensively as it was last year, which is to say, still not very potent. Should Parrish find himself in Vancouver he will get looks on the top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, but for now Steve Bernier seems to be the favourite going into camp. It’s tough to gauge what sort of money Parrish will get, but I would be very surprised if it is anything over a year.

Aug 112008
 

Mark Parrish and Glen Murray may find a new home soon. The Predators counted on Alexander Radulov entering the season as one of their main scoring threats, but now that the emerging sniper has returned to Russia, it leaves a big hole on their offense. Although the Preds have decent offensive punch, without Radulov they really lack a game-breaker forward. Even with Steve Sullivan back, their wingers remain largely undersized and only above average. The Preds have never blown teams away with their offense, but rather with their grit and determination (losing Darcy Hordichuk will hurt, trust me), deep defense, and good goaltending. Neither Parrish or Murray, especially the latter, are the big goalscorers they used to be, but if the Preds are looking for depth they might be the answer. It is a much better option than trading away valuable assets on their blueline (they’ve already lost Marek Zidlicky to the Wild) for the Lightning’s unhealthy excess of forwards. Parrish has publicly stated that he is considering the Preds as one of his potential destinations.

The Kings have suddenly jumped back onto the NHL news wire, after remaining very quiet during the free agent frenzy. The purple and black have reportedly signed prospect Drew Doughty to an entry-level contract. The second overall selection in this year’s draft was a key player for Canada in the WJHC’s, being named the tournament’s top defenseman. The Kings have clearly got a very poor defensive corps, and although Tom Preissing has been respectable , he’s not exactly first pairing material. Should Doughty make the team out of training camp, I highly doubt he’ll be getting top four minutes. Preissing, Jack Johnson, and Matt Greene will be their top three, with potentially Denis Gauthier or Peter Harrold rounding it out. Doughty, because he’s so impressive, does not deserve to play only 10-15 minutes a game. Defensemen, as a general rule of thumb, take longer than forwards to develop, and I don’t think another season at Guelph would hurt. He is clearly heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition, but I’d rather see him log 25 minutes with the Storm rather than riding the pine in the NHL. He’s still got tons of room to improve and sitting on the bench won’t help. I think the Kings are going to let him play 9 games and then send him back to the OHL. Anything less or more is a waste of time for all involved.

Sep 252007
 

Chicago Blackhawks
Strengths:
-Two prime young prospects in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
-Good talent with Martin Havlat and Tuomo Ruutu
Weaknesses:
-They added Sergei Samsonov
-Lack a quality top pairing defenseman
-Lack depth up front
-Khabibulin makes way too much money.
Question Marks:
-Can Ruutu and Havlat stay healthy?
-Are Jonathan Toews and especially smallish Patrick Kane ready for the NHL
Outlook:
-With a couple of high draft picks the past two drafts the Blackhawks have added a couple of quality young prospects in Toews and Kane which gives Blackhawks fans something to be optimistic about down the road but they probably aren’t yet ready to star in the NHL. That means another subpar season and likely another quality draft pick in next seasons draft which is supposed to be a good one. If they can draft a top end defence or goalie prospect to go with the young forwards it wouldn’t be all bad.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Strengths:
-Doug MacLean is gone
-Sergei Fedorov and Adam Foote’s salaries come off the books after this season freeing up over $10.5 million for next summer’s free agent frenzy.
-Rick Nash
Weaknesses:
-Pretty much everything except maybe coaching with Ken Hitchcock.
Question Marks:
-Can Rick Nash take his game up another notch into 40 goal, 70 point territory.
-Can Gilbert Brule improve on a weak first season and establish himself at least as a second line center.
-Will either Fredrik Norrena or Pascal LeClaire establish themselves as a quality #1 goalie.
Outlook:
-It looks all but certain that the Blue Jackets will miss the playoffs once again but Blue Jacket fans should look for whether Ken Hitchcock can instil better consistency, work ethic and defensive system in the team. I think that should be the measure of success this season because in the standings we aren’t likely to see a lot of success.

Detroit Red Wings
Strengths:
-Experience and leadership.
-Solid core of top 6 defensemen (among the best in the league) led by star Nicklas Lidstrom and newcomer Brian Rafalski.
-Exellent top end forwards in Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Holmstrom.
-A decent complement of young forwards in Hudler, Franzen, Filppula, and Kopecky.
Weaknesses:
-Age of their goaltending tandem, particularly Hasek.
-The loss of Lang, Shanahan and others over the past couple seasons has cost them some of their quality experienced depth.
Question Marks:
-Does Hasek have another good, healthy season left in him?
-Will a couple of their young forwards have a break out season.
Outlook:
-The Red Wings arguably have the best mix of players in the NHL with some quality veterans, some players in their prime, and some younger players ready to take their game up a level. They also have a good mix of offence, defence and goaltending. All-round they are a very good team and once again should compete for top spot in the west as well as for the Stanley Cup. Possibly the best team in the NHL.

Nashville Predators
Strengths:
-Potential future star players in winger Alexander Radulov and defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
-Despite losing Timonen they still have a pretty good group of 6 defensemen.
Weaknesses:
-Lost a lot of talent and depth up front with the losses of Forsberg, Kariya, Hartnell and with Steve Sullivan out with injury likely at least until January.
-The trading away of Tomas Vokoun puts a lot of pressure on new starting goalie Chris Mason.
Question Marks:
-Can Radulov replace Paul Kariya’s offence and then some?
-Can goalie Chris Mason handle playing 60+ games as a true #1 goalie with not a lot of support at backup.
Outlook:
-The Nashville Predators lost a lot in the off season, probably more than any other team, but despite that they still could compete for the final playoff spot if goalie Chris Mason take what he did in parts of the past two seasons and make it work for a full season and if Radulov can jump to 30 goal, 75 point territory this early in his career. They probably still won’t be as good as some other teams competing for playoff spots but they have the advantage of playing Columbus and Chicago 8 times each which should keep them in the race.

St. Louis Blues
Strengths:
-They have the makings of a pretty good defence group if rookie Erik Johnson can come close to matching his hype and Jay McKee and the others can remain healthy..
-A potential top line of Kariya, Tkachuk and Stempniak has the makings to be a very good line as all three players have 30 goal potential.
Weaknesses:
-Not a lot of depth up front after the first couple lines.
-None of Legace, Bacashihua or Toivonen have proven themselves to be top level starting goalies on a consistent basis.
Question Marks:
-How good will Erik Johnson be.
-Can their defence remain healthy, something they didn’t do last year.
-Will one of the goalies step on and be a true consistent #1 guy
Outlook:
-New president John Davidson has done an admiral job rebuilding the Blues. They took a small step forward last year and should take another one this year which if all things go well could put them in a battle for a playoff spot and compete with the Predators for second spot in the division.

Sep 112007
 

I was going to write up team by team reports, and I may still do that for some teams, but I decided to first post some numerical evaluations of each team in nice and easily readable table format. I have divided each team up into Forwards, Defense and Goaltending and then divided each of those groups into Talent, Depth and Experience/Leadership and ranked each of those nine categories based on a score out of 10. I then summed up all 9 categories to get an overall team score. Below are my results for the western conference. Let me know what you all think. For the most part I am happy with them but if you can provide a good arguement I may consider making slight modifications.

Note: I made the assumption that Niedermayer will not play for the Ducks and I also factored in a few long term injuries (i.e. Steve Sullivan is expected to miss 3 months due to back surgery).

Update:While working on the eastern conference (and in conjunction with Triumph’s comment) I have decided to tweak the overall formula. The new forumula will weight experience significantly less and also give more weight to #1 goalie and less to depth (Vancouver, Calgary, New Jersey, etc. hardly need a backup goalie). This is the new updated table.

Forwards Defense Goaltending Total
Talent Depth Exp. Talent Depth Exp. #1 goalie Depth Exp. Score
Detroit 8 5 7 10 8 8 8 6 10 54.3
Vancouver 7 6 6 7 8 6 10 7 6 52.5
Anaheim 7 7 6 9 6 8 8 7 8 51.8
Dallas 6 7 7 7 7 8 8 8 7 50.3
Calgary 7 6 7 8 7 6 9 4 7 50.2
San Jose 9 7 7 6 7 5 8 5 7 49.8
Minnesota 8 6 7 6 8 7 7 6 4 47.5
Colorado 8 7 7 7 7 6 6 6 5 47.0
Edmonton 6 6 5 7 7 6 7 7 7 46.0
St. Louis 7 6 7 6 7 6 7 6 6 45.8
Nashville 6 7 6 7 7 6 7 4 5 45.2
Los Angeles 6 7 6 7 7 7 5 5 5 43.0
Chicago 7 5 5 5 5 4 7 6 7 40.8
Columbus 6 6 6 5 5 5 6 6 6 39.7
Phoenix 4 5 5 7 7 7 5 6 5 39.2
Jun 292007
 

I just heard Doug MacLean be interviewed on Team 1200 here in Ottawa. He said Columbus was top 10 in attendance, top 10 in corporate support but near the bottom of the league in local TV revenue. He said that what he made all season in local TV revenue, the Leafs make in 3 games. That’s crazy. He then talked about advertising rates. A 30 second TV ad in Columbus nets $220, in Detroit $1250. He mentioned that he believes that the average TV ad rate for Kansas City is below that of Columbus. That means, even if the people of KC fans and corporation support the team to death, they will at best be a low-mid revenue team. If they only get luke warm fan support they will quickly look like another Nashville.

In a league where the majority of the revenue is locally generated, the only viable locations are where local revenue can be generated. This is different from the NFL where revenues are largely league revenues from a multi-billion dollar TV contract where having a team in Green Bay is viable (and not in Los Angeles oddly).

And this all gets back to the failure of the NHL to generate a large American TV contract. As Bettman’s theory went, if we stick teams in all the major (and mid-level) U.S. markets, the networks will be desperate to sign a national TV contract. But honestly, that is the stupidest theory around because the national networks have no interest in showing the Columbus Blue Jackets or Carolina Hurricanes on TV. They want the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, etc. The big market teams. In total NBC broadcast 18 NHL games over a 7 week period and despite having a horrific team, Philadelphia was featured in four of these games and the almost equally inept Blackhawks were featured three times. The reigning NHL champions from Carolina only saw one NBC game but they were playing the NY Rangers who NBC showed a total of four times. Nashville was never shown, nor was Phoenix or Florida. Small market teams don’t generate national TV contracts, large market teams do.

So the best case scenario that I can envision by having a team in Kansas City is another low-mid revenue team that does next to nothing in developing a larger national TV contract in the U.S. The best case scenario is another team like the Columbus Blue Jackets. Pretty scary but that seems to be the truth. It seems to me that the only reason there is any interest in moving a team to Kansas City is because the city is offering an arena with free rent and not because it is a good or viable hockey market. In fact when the International Hockey League folded in 2001 several teams from that league joined the AHL but the Kansas City Blades weren’t accepted. The AHL didn’t even want Kansas City but now the NHL is considering it?

But all of this creates an interesting dilemma for some teams in the NHL. The way the NHL is currently set up, the salary cap (and minimum) is determined by league wide revenues. The strange thing is that for some of these small revenue teams having league wide revenues go up is a bad thing because it means they have to increase their payroll, a payroll that might already be causing them to lose money. Last year the Florida Panthers probably had a payroll of no more than $30 million, but this season they are going to be forced to increase that to meet the league minimum. But, the Panthers revenue is not likely to increase by the same rate, if at all, and thus the team becomes less profitable, or more likely sustain greater losses. With this in mind, the Panthers likely prefer to have the Nashville Predators move to small market Kansas City instead of Hamilton as Hamilton almost assuredly will have the greater revenues of these two locations. Maybe this is what is provoking the anti-Hamilton sentiment at NHL headquarters because a team in Hamilton means teams like Florida, Atlanta, Phoenix and others suddenly become a little bit less viable and might cause another team to more. Or maybe more importantly, makes potential expansion teams less viable meaning either the price tag for an expansion team drops or maybe interest in expansion teams drops altogether.

I really wonder if what we are seeing happening with the Nashville Predators, Kansas City and Hamilton is really a (short sighted) power struggle between the low revenue teams and the larger revenue teams with Bettman firmly on the side of the small market teams because he brought those teams into the league. Those are his babies and their success or failure will form the foundation of his legacy as commissioner. On the flip side, if the NHL expands that benefits the small market teams because the salary cap will drop since the league revenue will be divided by more teams and the new teams are likely to be below average in revenue). Small market teams want expansion as it will help preserve their viability and they will get a chunk of money to put in their pockets. Large market teams do not want expansion because it means more teams will spend up to the lower cap meaning they will get a smaller competitive advantage.

I really believe that the NHL is in a mess right now and Nashville is just the tip of the iceberg. The core problem with the NHL is that the revenue difference between the big revenue teams (Toronto, Detroit, NY Rangers, etc.) and the small revenue teams is huge and getting larger because the league is a local revenue league, not a national TV revenue league. This problem can get resolved in one of two ways. Either the large revenue teams anti up more money for the revenue sharing system or more teams (Atlanta, Florida, Phoenix being likely candidates) go the way of the Predators and end up moving and maybe even folding altogether. I don’t see greater revenue sharing happening any time soon so that means look for teams to move. A team in Hamilton is likely going to hasten the demise of those low revenue teams and Bettman is going to fight that if he can through forcing the Predators to Kansas City and through expanding to other small revenue locations. It will be horrible for the league in the long term but it might just save Bettman’s teams.

May 292007
 

Yesterday Bettman had his state of the NHL press conference and two big topics were covered, or at least generated the most media interest. First is the sale of the Nashville Predators and whether they are going to move. Second is the possibility of an NHL team in Winnipeg. In both instances some in the media are misinterpreting what he said.

First let’s talk about Nashville. He did his best to try to persuade everyone that the Predators are going to stay in Nashville talking extensively about how they have a 14 year lease and the city if it chooses can guarantee that they will stay in Nashville. But when pressed on the issue and the fact that the Predators leaving Nashville might be a foregone conclusion Bettman said “That’s why I answered the question the way I did.” In other words, he was choosing his words with a purpose of trying to maintain fan interest in Nashville rather than trying to reflect reality. Let’s face it guys, the Predators are done in Nashville and it is only a matter of when, not if, no matter how Bettman wants to formulate his words. Liepold doesn’t want them anymore and Basille only wants them to move them. Basille didn’t buy the Penguins because the league told him he wouldn’t be allowed to move them. Basille is not going to buy the Predators if he can’t move them because if he just wanted to own an NHL team why not buy the NHL team that is closer to home (Pittsburgh) and has maybe the two best young talents in the NHL today (Crosby and Malkin) along with a soon to be star defenseman (Whitney) and possibly a soon to be star goalie (Fleury). Basille wants a team and wants that team in the city of his choosing which would be Waterloo.

And now for Winnipeg. Everyone is getting excitited by the fact that Bettman said the NHL returning to Winnipeg was ‘interesting and intriguing thought.’ People are jumping all over that and reading it as Bettman would approve of a team returning to Winnipeg but the reality is, he isn’t anywhere close to that state of mind. In fact, he was mostly just referring to an article he read (or heard about) in the National Post and he later went on to clarfiy his statement: ‘When I say it intrigues me, it’s something I haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about or researching.’ In other words he has never really personally thought about the NHL in Winnipeg. There has been several news stories talking about the idea of a team back in Winnipeg for a number of months now and back in December people were talking about it as a possible destination for the Penguins but even with all that talk it never prompted Bettman research it or even think about it much. In other words I don’t think people of Winnipeg should get too excited about having Bettman push for a team to return to Winnipeg any time soon and certainly not before Kansas City or possibly Las Vegas or Portland or Seattle get a team.