Beginning where we left off at the end of chapter 2, let’s now re-cap and summarize what has happened during the tenure of Gary Bettman, although again; most of this isn’t his doing. He is acting on the collective interest of the NHL owners and ownership groups.
Summary of NHL Events During Gary Bettman’s Reign:
- 3 different Lockouts of the players. Combined, 2 full NHL seasons were lost.
- NHL enters 3 Non-Traditional Hockey Markets: In my opinion these 3 markets are less risky than the others listed below. (Anaheim California, Dallas Texas, and Columbus Ohio.)
- NHL enters 6 other Non-Hockey Markets: In my opinion these are markets that for a multitude of reasons, should have been seen as high risk from the very beginning. It was foreseeable that these markets’ ability to sustain an NHL franchise long-term was unlikely. (Miami Florida, Phoenix Arizona, Raleigh North Carolina, Nashville Tennessee, Atlanta Georgia, and Las Vegas Nevada.)
- The NHL changes the single-game win-loss possibilities, introduces the Overtime Loss, but doesn’t factor in Overtime Wins. Makes a complete mess of the teams’ records and creates an integrity problem with its standings.
- Has seen 5 Relocations since Bettman took over. Three of which involve vacating a city with a great fanbase to go to an unproven hockey market. (Minneapolis/St. Paul to Dallas, Hartford to Raleigh, Winnipeg to Phoenix)
- Despite allowing the 3 relocations mentioned above, as well as vacating another great fanbase in Quebec City, the NHL also prevented Mr. Jim Ballsillie twice from bringing hockey to a rabid fanbase in Hamilton, Ont. He first tried to purchase the struggling Nashville Predators and was blocked. Next, he attempted to purchase and relocate the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes.
- The NHL suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses while owning the Phoenix Coyotes for 4-5 years; instead of allowing the team to be overpaid-for and relocated to a place with a large population and great fanbase.
During this era of expansion to non-traditional markets, the NHL has had opportunities to grow the game in good hockey markets, where there is a proven fanbase and a high chance of long-term success. For this article I will focus on my home region of Southern Ontario, in which I have a specific passion to see a 2nd team in the region; however there are other notable places that should have teams instead of some of the non-hockey markets that the NHL currently occupies. These places are Quebec City, Seattle, Kansas City, and Saskatchewan.
The NHL’s Southern Ontario Options
There are 4-5 different places in Southern Ontario that could easily support a second team. The NHL could have its pick from the following options- Toronto, another municipality within the G.T.A- (Markham has been rumored), Hamilton, or the tri-cities area of Kitchener/ Cambridge/ Waterloo.
It’s unthinkable that New York City now has 3 teams within a tiny area, and yet Southern Ontario, arguably the centre of the hockey universe, only has 1 terrible franchise.
In New York City there are now 3 teams within a truly tiny geographical area. The Devils moved from East Rutherford to Newark in 2007, and the Islanders moved from Nassau County to Brooklyn prior to last season. The Rangers are located in Manhattan. You can drive from the Barclay’s Centre (new home of the Islanders), to Madison Square Garden in 20 minutes. Then from MSG to the Prudential Centre, (home of the Devils), is only a 25 minute drive. This all factors in New York City traffic, geographically speaking these 3 franchises are right on top of one another.
Yet we can’t get a 2nd team in Southern Ontario?
The Maple Leafs Territorial Rights
An argument I’ve heard for why it’s so complicated to get a 2nd team into Southern Ontario is due to the Maple Leafs territorial rights. I find this laughable for a number of reasons. For starters, look at the New York City example above. The Rangers have always played in Manhattan and are also an ‘Original Six’ team. The Islanders began play in 1972, in Nassau County, which at that time was approximately a 75 minute drive from MSG. It wasn’t until just last year that they moved into New York City proper, and yet the Rangers territorial rights did not seem to get in the way.
The Devils didn’t get to New Jersey until 1982. They settled in East Rutherford, which was only a 25 minute drive from MSG, and in 2007 they moved even closer in proximity, and I don’t remember hearing anything about the Rangers’ territorial rights.
As long as a 2nd team isn’t within 20 minutes drive of the Air Canada Centre, why should the Maple Leafs have any right to prevent another franchise coming?
Further Criticism of the Maple Leafs
The fans that go to the Air Canada Centre are largely a corporate and/or wealthy class of people. Anyone who lives in Ontario knows that it’s almost impossible to get tickets to a Leafs’ game, and even if you can get your hands on a few, they are incredibly expensive/ overpriced.
For the past number of years ESPN the Magazine has been ranking the 122 North American professional sports franchises by conducting in-depth studies that evaluate many different aspects of ‘the fan experience’. The factors considered are affordability, fan-relations, coaching, ownership, players, Stadium experience, historic winning, near-future predicted winning, and bang-for-your-buck.
Here is how the Toronto Maple Leafs have graded out since 2010 in the overall rankings that consider all of these factors-ranked against the other 121 professional sport franchises in North America.
- 2010 Leafs- 121st
- 2011 Leafs- 120th
- 2012 Leafs- 122nd (dead last)
- 2013 Leafs- 119th
- 2014 Leafs- 122nd (dead last)
- 2015 leafs- 122nd (dead last)
Let me translate these results: The Maple Leafs are absolutely screwing their fans.
Shameful from an Original Six team. With ridiculously priced tickets, poor parking situation, hard-to-find tickets, and a dreadful on-ice product both recently and historically, why should the Maple Leafs have the right to prevent another team in Southern Ontario? In my opinion they should not have that right- and these studies by ESPN should be considered the proof of that.
Click here for ESPN the Magazine’s Ultimate Franchise Standings 2015.
Click here for ESPN the Magazine’s sortable Rankings from 2003-2014.
My Plea to Hockey Fans
Hockey fans it’s time to get mad. Really mad.
It’s time to take back the great game that the NHL owners and NHL administration have thoroughly diminished over the past 20+ years. It’s my opinion, that if the NHL exists in 100 years, future hockey fans will look back on this era as a dark period in the history of the NHL. You can make a difference by spreading the word. Share this article. Stop supporting the NHL just because you love hockey.
It’s time for a change of direction for the National Hockey League, and the individuals responsible for what’s happened to our great game need to be held responsible; namely all of the owners, ownership groups, Gary Bettman, and the NHL offices in New York.
I can summarize this entire article and my feelings by directly quoting the famous words of Jeremy Roenick in 2004:
“Wake the f*** up already. Pffff it’s a joke. Wake up. NHL wake up!”