Everything Else

We ran this last April, and with the announcement of Seattle as the league’s 32nd team, it seems appropriate to put it forth again in the hopes that anyone who matters sees it. It makes too much sense for the NHL to ever consider, though. Reminder this was written last April so the things we’re talking about are what was going on then. 

The NHL’s schedule, and how it awards playoff places, is really no dumber than any other sport. Which is a rare thing for the NHL. But the problem across all four major sports is that their schedules and playoff systems don’t line up. Thankfully, in a couple years the NHL will have a chance to solve this. They won’t, but they can at least wave when the chance goes by, like they do with any other opportunity to improve their game.

You may remember that when the current alignment was first proposed, there weren’t wildcard teams. There were just four divisions, the top four in each go to the playoffs, and then after the first two rounds the four left were re-seeded, so that it could have ended up one day with a Chicago-San Jose Final or this year, it could have worked out to be Boston-Pittsburgh or even Nashville-San Jose. It was actually an interesting idea, one that would have marked the NHL out as unique, so of course it didn’t work out.

The players union bitched that the two divisions that had seven teams would have it easier in getting to the playoffs, and players know they can grow their paychecks with playoff performances, so this concoction with wildcard teams was made up. I don’t know that it’s actually fairer, because now instead of seven teams competing for four spots in each division you get seven competing for three and then eight competing for two when they don’t get the first three and I’m not going to do the percentages and let’s just agree this is imbecilic.

What makes it really stupid is that these teams aren’t going against the same slate, or schedule, yet they have to compete for the same playoff spots. So right now in the West you have Colorado vying with St. Louis and Anaheim to an extent, and LA, for the wildcard spots. But Colorado and St. Louis have played wholly different schedules than LA and Anaheim, who reside in a far easier division. We really have no idea if these teams are better than the ones in the other division, because they’ve accumulated points in what amounts to a wholly different system.

In the East, the wildcards are going to come out of the Metro, so fine, but it doesn’t work that way every year. You can’t count on this.

And it’s a problem all across sports. In baseball you have your division winners, fair enough, but your next two spots are being competed for by teams playing different schedules. For example, the Mets are going to most likely trying to grab a wild card spot, but they’ll be playing 19 games each against the Nats, and at least competent Braves and Phillies (well, we thought they might be competent but they’re going to knife their manager by Memorial Day). Meanwhile, a team like the Diamondbacks has to deal with the Dodgers sure, but also gets 19 games against each of the thoroughly underwhelming Rockies, Padres, and Giants (whoops -ED). They get a leg up, though competing for the same prize. The NBA has tried to address it but still hasn’t gotten it, and the NFL has the problem of teams not even playing the same teams as someone they might be competing with both for the division and wildcard spots.

However, in two or three years time, when Seattle arrives, the NHL can fix this. And it can do it by having a 76-game schedule.

Yes, I’m aware, stop yelling. Shortening the season is almost certainly a non-starter. But MLB has discussed it, and the argument was that the lessening of travel costs might make up for the lost home dates. We’re talking about three less home dates for each team, so let’s see if we that won’t work out here.

The fun thing is that the NHL can go about getting to 76 games two ways.

First: The original, four-division, no-conference look. The top half of each division goes to the playoffs. Yes, some divisions are weaker than others, but everyone’s playing the same schedule here and if a division is truly weaker its winner should get thwacked in the third round by the highest seed left who came out of the tougher divisions. To wit: Every team will play the other teams in their own division four times for a total of 28 games. It will play every other team home-and-home, for a total of 48 games. Boom, 76 games, everyone in the division has played the same schedule, we basically know who’s better than whom.

Second Way: Do away with the divisions. They’re kind of dumb, meant to keep travel costs to a minimum, and we’re going to do that anyway. Two 16-team conferences. You’d play every team in your conference four times, for a total of 60 games. You’d play every team in the other conference just once, for a total of 16 games. Top eight in each conference go to the playoffs.

Yes, I see the problem here and the NHL already dealt with it once. Fans didn’t particularly like that every team didn’t come to visit every season. I’m not convinced this really is a huge problem, given how provincial hockey fans are anyway. And it’s a problem MLB or the NFL doesn’t seem to concern themselves with. In addition, if you’re in a place where Crosby, McDavid, Matthews only visit once every two seasons, it’s more of an event than it is now. Second, you might think getting to play a certain team at home while someone you’re competing with had to play them on the road is an advantage. I’m not sure this amounts to more of an advantage than say getting to play the Penguins when Matt Murray is hurt or the Canadiens when Price is on a cold streak and your competitor didn’t get those. I think it’s probably a negligible factor.

Now, does this equal out losing three home games? Hard to say. The first plan, for instance, would only see the Hawks have to go to Western Canada and California (plus Seattle) once, where as now they have to visit at last one of the regions twice (for instance this year they went to Calgary and Vancouver twice, but California only once. This will rotate next year, and they’ll still have to go to Edmonton twice) The East Coast teams still have to make one trip out west as they do now, but some would only have to swing down to Florida once (from the Metro) and the Atlantic teams would only have to do the Eastern seaboard thing once for the most part. The teams in the Pacific probably still get screwed a bit, but there might not be a way around that anyway. And instead of having to come to some Midwestern cities twice, they only have to do that once.

76 games also allows for less back-to-backs or three in four nights, which we know lessens the product and gets players hurt more often. It might allow for teams to concentrate more home games on the weekends, which is when they’d prefer anyway. It could also keep hockey from spreading into the second week of June, which we all know is pretty ridiculous. With it this way, the NHL could start in the last week of September (which is probably should anyway) and have a chance to be done in the middle of May. Sure, the playoffs might start during the NCAA Tournament, but you’re always competing with something. Right now it’s up against the start of baseball and the NBA Playoffs. Is that really any better?

But I won’t sit on a hot stove waiting for the NHL to consider this.


Everything Else

Wanted to get to this for a couple days. One of the bigger items of news this week was that as soon as the city of Seattle reached a MOU about the redoing of Key Arena into something more modern–the second time they’ll have done this–the NHL couldn’t wait to jump in and basically say, “Draw me like one of your French girls.” This is hardly a surprise. The league has lusted after Seattle like a teenage boy with a Brazzers password for years, all the way back to when Darryl Katz and Wayne Gretzky used a Seahawks game to get Edmonton to cave on a new arena.

And in a vacuum, the NHL should obviously want Seattle. It’s a rabid sports market, and the biggest that the NHL is currently not in. It would even out the conferences, and there’s already a natural rival with the Canucks and probably another one with San Jose, as the Bay Area and Seattle continue to fight because they’re basically the same place just one has more rain.

And yet, I can’t but help and come back to this Deadspin article from a while back about the MLS. And I wonder if the NHL isn’t basically doing the same thing.

Beyond the above reasons, the real reason we know the NHL is hot on expansion is it’s free money. $650 million they don’t have to share with the players, or a cool $20.9 million per team. The players’ union doesn’t mind so much as it’s another 23 jobs that open up for it. And neither side really cares that they barely had the talent to cover another team this year, which might be a big reason scoring is up so far this season. They don’t care. I suppose the hope is that a big, shining market like Seattle will also fill the building for at least a while, juice the cap a bit, maybe even help with TV ratings in the locale… at least until the NBA shows up.

But you can’t help and contrast that with the feelings of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who I don’t think is exactly a genius but at least better than the last mope to hold the job, when asked about baseball expanding. He said they would love to, but until they stabilize places like Tampa Bay and Oakland, what would be the point?

The difference between the two leagues is obviously clear. MLB is awash in money (for now) and the NHL at least still claims that basically everyone bar the Leafs and Canadiens lose money. The NHL needs the expansion money badly, whereas MLB doesn’t have to take the risk, if there is any real risk.

And there must be some risk if baseball isn’t lusting after it like hockey. Which makes one wonder if the NHL isn’t really using the $500 million they already got from Vegas and $650 they will get from Seattle to paper over cracks (or larger) that they already have.

And the NHL has basketcase franchises. Florida is averaging 12K fans per game. The Yotes aren’t much better. The Islanders don’t have a home. And while the recent sale of Carolina is making everyone claim they’re not going anywhere, how long before a new owner isn’t exactly thrilled about the 11,000 per game they draw? Calgary is in a dumbass arena dispute, though they could easily just build their own. Don’t tell me these teams are making money or close to it, at least aside from the Flames.

Again, the NHL is still a league that drives most of its income from ticket sales. At some point all these teams drawing no one are going to simply bottom out, and they can’t all move to Quebec. And what happens when the NBA returns to Seattle, which it assuredly will? It will immediately dwarf interest in the NHL, because if you’ve ever met anyone from Seattle you know exactly what the Sonics meant to them and it’s basically all they want. Well, that and Felix Hernandez to be five years younger forever.

Of course, a profitable team isn’t always the end goal here. Franchise value is, and like every sport the NHL is fine there. The Hawks were just valued at $1 billion for example, and even the Canes are valued on either side of half that. Seeing as how Karmanos bought the Whalers for $47.5 million and sold just about half of them for $230 million or so 20 years later or so, that’s a pretty tidy ROI.

Still, one can’t help but wonder where this bubble bursts. For MLS, the hope has to be that their rabid expansion that papers over their losses can stop right about the time their popularity takes off, which seems ambitious to say the least but they have a lot more places they can go. I don’t know where the NHL’s would be.

Because you’d have to guess that with the way things are going, the NHL’s next TV deal isn’t going to be as profitable as this one, given cord-cutters and all that. When even the NFL can count on a smaller TV deal, everyone else should too. Funny how the Seattle team is plotted to come on line in the last year of this TV deal with NBC, no? And I wouldn’t count on the throbbing brains of the NH to come up with something creative to make up the difference. Perhaps this is why you’re seeing a return to international, regular season games. The NHL has to tap everything it can.

So where’s the influx of cash when you’ve expanded everywhere you can? Do franchise values keep rising when the TV deal shrinks and you have no other ways around it? What does it look like when the floor drops out from underneath?

I’m guessing the NHL doesn’t have answers to any of these questions, and thus you get already announcing expansion to Seattle.

Everything Else

Not that it’s going to stop us making jokes about the “Seattle Flames,” or “Quebec Flames,” but I really hope that this latest relocation drama ends up being anything resembling a line in the sand for this whole new arena/franchise relocation mishegas that really should be a crime. You hardly need me to tell you that cities building new arenas on the backs of taxpayers for the benefit of billionaires for no apparent result other than the enriching of the latter is one of many despicable aspects of modern government and society. But that list has gotten so long now I feel like it benefits from hiding behind the other ones.

A quick recap if you don’t pay attention to things in southern Alberta (or as my Vancouver-native friend referred to it, “Fucking cowshit smelling fucking hellhole): The Flames have been angling for a new building for a couple years now, trying to replace the now 34-year-old Saddledome. It hasn’t gone anywhere, as Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi has basically, rightfully told them to go screw. So last week, CEO of the Flames Ken King said they would no longer seek a deal with “this administration.”

Basically, he’s trying to influence the mayoral election that comes next month. While that’s sickening enough, most of us don’t really bat an eye at a multi-million dollar corporation trying to swing elections simply for their benefit. Our entire country is now built on the fucking concept.

But what I think Nenshi might realize, or hope that he does, is that cities should really no longer fear their teams moving away.

Everything Else

By now you’ve seen the report from Tony Gallagher in The Province about NHL expansion to Vegas being “a done deal” and that by 2017 Seattle, Quebec, and a second Toronto team will have joined the league.

Let’s pull this rig over to the soft shoulder. As Wyshynski pointed out on Puck Daddy (and everything he writes from now on I’m calling “Mooney avoidance”), one of the reasons this is getting such play is it’s the end of August. We couldn’t be farther from the free agent signing extravaganza, and training camp is still a blip on the ever stretching horizon. We need something to talk about… or at least something that isn’t Baez or Soler-related (sorry Sox fans, I just can’t contain it).