Big Market Success Should Be Determinative

Posted by

With the NHLPA putting forth an offer to the NHL this week much has been made about the pending lockout.

Here are seven reasons why that should not happen:

  1. New York Rangers;
  2. Chicago Blackhawks;
  3. Boston Bruins;
  4. Los Angeles Kings;
  5. Philadelphia Flyers;
  6. Detroit Red Wings; and
  7. Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here are seven more reasons why that should not happen:

  1. Vancouver Canucks;
  2. Calgary Flames;
  3. Edmonton Oilers;
  4. Winnipeg Jets;
  5. Ottawa Senators;
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs; and
  7. Montreal Canadiens.

Let’s start with the first seven teams.  Within that group you have the last five Stanley Cup champions.  The fact they are winning markets are important, the fact they are big markets that are winning is more important.

Generally speaking, teams that win make more money than teams that lose.  Unless we look at the NFL, sports leagues (NBA and MLB) and their commissioners prefer if big markets are successful.  Large market success spurs interest in the sport on television, in the countless papers and various online media platforms.  More people follow the big market teams, which means more talk about the team.

The NHL’s big markets in the United States have never been stronger.

The Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup is the best hockey story of 2011. (Boston Herald)

The New York Rangers were two games from making the Stanley Cup Finals.  They lost nothing of significance this off-season (Brandon Dubinsky’s season was not significant) and added one of the top goal-scorers in the NHL in Rick Nash.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2009-10 and while they have had two unceremonious first round exits, the “Madhouse on Madison” has become one of the most happening spots in Chicago.

The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11 and have some of the best young talent in the game looking to augment the core of Zdeno Chara and company.

The Los Angeles Kings are coming off a Stanley Cup championship season, are returning the same core for the 2012-13 season and have the city of Los Angeles (the marginal fans) interested in hockey again.

The Philadelphia Flyers have not missed the playoffs since the Declaration of Independence and have a perennial contending team with loads of young talent.

The Detroit Red Wings may be the most successful franchise in sports.  The organization makes the playoffs every season, contends, has won multiple Cups and has a passionate fan base.  Nicklas Lidstrom may have retired but the Wings are still to be reckoned with.

Nicklas Lidstrom Norris Trophy

Nicklas Lidstrom (Icon SMI)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have arguably the two best players in the NHL: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and a new building.  Most franchises now model themselves after the Pens.

The main point of the above is quite simple: The big market teams (you could argue Pittsburgh is not a “big market” but they have such a rich history that they are being included for the purposes of this article) are at, or close to, the height of their respective success.

If the biggest markets are successful, who is at risk of losing (both money and goodwill)?  Big market owners.  They are incurring the risk in this “fight” with the NHLPA.

The owners that are losing money in Florida or in Nashville—there is no risk for those organizations.  Not playing means they probably lose less money than if a season gets underway on time.

The question is: Who is driving the bus?  Or more aptly, if Gary Bettman is driving the bus, who is sitting close to the front chirping in his ear?

Ever been at an event and some kid with a lot of money does something stupid?  The person in charge comes over to see what happened and considers repercussions.  That person decides that the best recourse would be to discipline that kid—but then soon realizes that the kid’s parents made a significant donation to get the event off the ground and decides to look the other way.

Well, if Gary Bettman has someone yelling in his ear (Nashville ownership) and the rich successful ownership of Mike Ilitich (Detroit Red Wings), who is he more apt to listen to?

(Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)

While it is true the NHL is attempting to make all owners more money (and there their interests are not mutually exclusive) with a prospective lockout, we do not yet know how much more money the big owners can make under the prospective new collective agreements.  If it is not overly significant, the big market teams will lose more in a lost season than they could possibly recover over the course of the next CBA.

Again, the risk is on the big market teams making money—you know, the one the league revolves around.

Never mind the fact that we have not yet looked closely at the Canadian teams.

By all accounts, maybe save for Ottawa, all Canadian franchises are making significant amounts of money.  So, why would Canadian owners want to risk losing another season?

The Vancouver Canucks are making money hand over fist and are in the midst of a contending window.  Even the thought of losing a season has to make Mike Gillis and company want to throw up.

The Calgary Flames have proven that being average — or below average — does not scare away a loyal fan base.  The organization has also proven that they are willing to spend money to get better—whether or not they are actually getting better for the long haul is for another day.

The Edmonton Oilers are owned by a billionaire in Daryl Katz and are in the process of putting together an arena project that will may blow away any other NHL arena.  Never mind the fact that the organization’s tremendously talented young core is just rounding into form.

In Winnipeg, the Jets are coming off a season that may never be matched.  The Jets led the league in merchandise sales and did not qualify for revenue sharing—as many expected.  The passion only seems to be growing in the Manitoba capital.

In Ottawa, there has been some concern about profit margins but the organizational talent level is headed in the right direction and ownership has committed to Erik Karlsson.  Eugene Melnyk is the least of the NHL’s ownership worries.

The Toronto Maple Leafs has somehow, some way, not made the NHL playoffs since the last lockout; yet, money continues to pour in.  With new ownership getting comfortable, why would lost profits benefit anyone?  Never mind the fact that new ownership (a combination of Bell and Rogers) needs NHL content to fills its fall and winter television and radio schedules.

James Reimer Maple Leafs

(Icon SMI)

The Montreal Canadiens have finally rid themselves of the bad vibes from last season.  New GM, new coach (semi-new coach) and a top three draft pick, along with some character signings have Les Canadiens and their faithful expecting big things.

With all of these teams doing so well, why does Gary Bettman want so much change?

Let’s look at the remaining sixteen teams and provide a short comment:

  1. Buffalo Sabres: New billionaire owner who has spent tons of money on the roster;
  2. New Jersey Devils: Admittedly in financial trouble;
  3. New York Islanders: Charles Wang has managed the organization into the ground but there is an ability to make money in that market;
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning: Strong ownership and management;
  5. Florida Panthers: On the upswing with a great system but a poor sports town when it comes to ticket sales;
  6. Carolina Hurricanes: Spent a ton of money this summer and that spending suggests no financial troubles for Peter Karmanos and company;
  7. Washington Capitals: Very successful, large market organization;
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Managed into the ground;
  9. St. Louis Blues: New ownership on board with a talented lineup;
  10. Nashville Predators: Saw fit enough to spend over $100 million matching the Shea Weber offer sheet;
  11. Minnesota Wild: Just spent close to $200 million on the cream of the free agent crop;
  12. Colorado Avalanche: Work to do.
  13. Dallas Stars: New ownership, new additions to the front office should lead to revived team performance and interest;
  14. Phoenix Coyotes: An unmitigated disaster;
  15. Anaheim Ducks: Never a stronghold on that market; and
  16. San Jose Sharks: Unassumingly a very well run organization.

There are some issues with these teams, no doubt about it.  That said, how many of these issues are created by either terrible mismanagement or poor decision-making by Gary Bettman?

The question moving forward is: Will Gary Bettman ride his best players through these negotiations or will he let the lesser organizations bring him down?

The truth is, the majority of organizations are successful, so why let the poorly run franchises run the show?  Look at how they managed their own affairs—the results are not pretty.

The proof is in the pudding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>