Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Rating NHL moves: Past, present and future
By Scott Burnside
Editor's note: The following is a Scott Burnside column that previously ran on Dec. 20, 2006. Reflecting on Tuesday's news out of Pittsburgh, we revisit Burnside's take of the NHL's relocation landscape.
The NHL has had its share of relocations over the years, some successful, others less so. Here's a look at some of those moves.
Movin' on up
• The Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames after the 1979-80 season, and for the past quarter of a century, the Flames have been part of the fabric of the Western Canadian community. Even when economics threatened the team's existence before the lockout, Flames fans showed impressive loyalty. It's hard to imagine the NHL without the inhabitants of the Red Mile.
• Hartford Whalers fans will never forgive owner Peter Karmanos for uprooting the team and moving it to Carolina after the 1996-97 season. Yet, after less than a decade in the land of tobacco and race cars, the Hurricanes are the defending Stanley Cup champions and have carved out a significant niche in the community. Of course, winning a Stanley Cup, something the Whalers never approached in their 18 seasons in Connecticut, will buy you a lot of loyalty.
• Did anyone in Quebec even flinch when the Nordiques closed up shop after the 1994-95 season and headed to Denver where they became the Colorado Avalanche? Uh, no. Two Stanley Cups later, the Avalanche have become one of the NHL's great success stories. Even with attendance drooping slightly with the rebuilding of the team post lockout, the franchise has never looked back.
• Fans in Minnesota certainly took note when the home-state North Stars fled to Dallas after the 1992-93 season. In Dallas, the Stars were a bit of a curiosity at first. But thanks to strong leadership from coach Ken Hitchcock and star power supplied by captain Mike Modano, Brett Hull and Ed Belfour, the Stars won a Cup in 1999 and helped write a success story in a nontraditional market. The grassroots hockey system in Dallas is the envy of many franchises, including some in more traditional hockey markets.
just not necessarily up
• First, they were the Kansas City Scouts, and that didn't turn out too well. Neither did their stint as the Colorado Rockies. When the New Jersey Devils hit the ice in 1982, they looked more like a barnstorming unit than a pro hockey team. By any on-ice measure, the Devils are a model franchise with three Cup wins between 1995 and 2003. Off the ice, they remain a mystery, drawing flies even in the face of perpetual success. We know they're scheduled to move into a new building in Newark next fall, but it's Newark. Enough said.
• The Phoenix Coyotes have honored the tradition established by the Winnipeg Jets in that they never venture too far into the playoffs. The Jets never managed to qualify for a conference championship from the time they entered the league in the fall of 1979 until they departed for Phoenix after the 1995-96 season. The Coyotes have followed that trend and will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season and for the fifth time in the past six. They have yet to win a playoff round in the desert. Still, they have a nice new rink, and the development springing up around them bodes well for the future. Now, if they could only get the team to cooperate.
Moves we'd make
No one asked us, but if we were going to move an NHL team, there are a few we'd pick to relocate.
• Washington Capitals: Let's review. Fans in the nation's capital wouldn't come out when the Capitals boasted Jaromir Jagr, the game's most exciting player. Now, they won't come out when the Caps boast one of the hardest-working teams in the NHL and one of the game's most exciting figures in Alexander Ovechkin. Maybe that's a sign. We're just guessing, but we bet fans in Houston or Kansas City, or even Waterloo, Ontario, would appreciate Glen Hanlon's squad a whole lot more.
• Florida Panthers: The Florida Panthers have accomplished almost the impossible by alienating the few fans they've had by trying to gouge them on parking fees and trading away the team's most popular player in Roberto Luongo. Now, the perpetually underachieving/rebuilding team could miss the playoffs for the eighth time in the past nine playoff years. The question is, will anyone notice? No. But they'd sure notice just about anywhere else you'd want to stick this team.
• Nashville Predators: Let's preface this by saying we love the Nashville Predators. We love how they're put together, how they're coached and how they play. But this is a team that seems destined to be in a perpetual struggle to make its way in the community. Sporting one of the best teams in the Western Conference for the second straight season, the Preds have managed to sell out the smallish Gaylord Entertainment Center eight times this season and reported crowds of less than 15,000 on 15 occasions. What's more worrisome is if the Preds reach the Cup finals, will the team have to threaten to black out its home playoff games to ensure sellout crowds as it did during the first round of the playoffs last spring? Yikes.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.