Yearly Archives: 2007

Tom Benjamin’s NHL Weblog: The Unforeseen

Tom Benjamin’s NHL Weblog: The Unforeseen:

Today, in the third season after the lockout that changed so many facets of the game, the NHL finds its popularity waning in three of its gold star American markets: Detroit, Dallas and Colorado…

…a disturbing trend has emerged from the myriad rule, schedule and economic changes foisted upon fans after a year without hockey. That is an erosion of three of the dominant American markets of the last decade, the collateral damage of a new economy that nobody saw coming in Dallas, Colorado and Detroit.

But it was foreseen and people did recognized the possibility of collateral damage in the three successful American markets. It was one of the dozens of possible scenarios discussed on this site during the labour dispute. Snafu – a regular contributor and Red Wing fan – considered this to be a likely result of the lockout and new CBA.

And if you ask me, it’s not even remotely proven that the CBA is the primary cause of it.

It needs to be remembered that attendance is cyclic anyway. All three of these teams are at the end of a cycle where they’ve been a dominant, successful team with marquee Hall of Fame caliber players. In Detroit, Yzerman’s gone, Hasek might as well be, Shanahan is in Detroit. In Colorado, no more Roy, no more Forsberg. In Dallas, many of the names the fans were used to are gone, and the big name, Modano, is fading rapidly to black (and was jerked around gracelessly by the team when they stripped him of the “C”).

Both Dallas and Colorado were handed shiny brand new teams already finished and competitive and winning — it was fairly easy for the fan base to buy into that, unlike a traditional expansion franchise like San Jose or Tampa or Atlanta. Those teams have never HAD down cycles where they’ve had to rebuild through youth and have a couple of down years as a result. We don’t know what the fans will do when the team is mediocre, but we’re going to find out. If you look at the history of almost every team in any sports league — that always means reduced fan interest and fewer tickets sold. That’s natural (except in Toronto, where there are simply too many fans clawing for too expensive tickets)

Also, let’s not forget that Detroit has been seriously jacking up prices over the years — and the local economy has hit a serious air pocket. They’ve finally found, the hard way, the point at which people say “love hockey, gotta pay the rent”. Dallas is in a similar situation, and let’s not forget a few years ago they moved into a new building and jacked up ticket prices in a major way when they did. When you’re challenging for a Cup every year, you can raise prices — but will the fans stay when you become merely decent?

All of this hand-wringing about these franchises ignores a lot of factors, some out of the team control (local economy), some within (arrogance towards the fans in Detroit, for instance), and the natural cycle. To blame this on the CBA is silly.

It also ignores the fact that in other cities, you’re seeing teams that were in serious down cycles show a resurgence. Look at Chicago (finally!), look at St. Louis.

Back before the current Red Wing owners bought the team, we should remember that Detroit struggled to win and struggled to sell tickets — while Chicago was a strong team with a full building. Then the Wings got a new owner who rebuilt the team and funded a better team and marketed it well, while Chicago stagnated, moved into a new building fans hated, had lousy teams and an owner that was arrogant towards its fans, and the fans ran away in droves. Now, the Wings are showing the signs of arrogance, and the new Wirtz in town seems to be a real breath of fresh air in Chicago, long needed.

It seems that Spector and Tom are arguing that a team that is good should ALWAYS be good, and the CBA should somehow be structured to support that. That would imply that the other teams in the league should always be weak; this is a variation of the “New York should always be in the playoffs to keep the networks happy” argument.

And that’s false. the CBA should be set up to allow good management to succeed in whatever market, and no CBA can prevent economic collapse in a team’s city, or save bad management from itself — unless you want to go back to a model where the rich teams could spend whatever they want to buy themselves out of mistakes, but that leads to leagues where half the league is really a minor league system for the “real” teams (ask the Kansas City Royals fans; both of them).

Spector and Tom are taking part of what is the natural life cycle of teams and blaming the CBA for what is three teams coming to the end of a nice, long run — and in the case of Detroit, shooting itself in the foot along the way with pricing in the face of a weak local economy. If the CBA is to blame for anything, it’s that it no longer allows a team like Detroit to simply buy a team, it has to now go out and build one again. At the same time, that CBA is allowing teams like Chicago and Philly and the Islanders and St. Louis and even places like Columbus and Atlanta to improve their teams and become competitive quickly.

To me, the CBA is a GOOD THING here; instead of certain teams being able to guarantee their dominance, all teams now have a chance — and that’s good, unless you want to believe in a league where six or eight teams are the “real” teams and the rest are cannon fodder. One could in fact make an argument that part of the reason this league hasn’t broken out of “regional sports” mode is because the old CBA made it hard for teams that weren’t already able to spend lots of money on teams to build teams to compete with the “powerhouses” — and now, they can, and teams like the Rangers and Red Wings aren’g going to be guaranteed playoff spots or high performing teams just because they can out-spend their peers.

Good teams in Atlanta and Columbus and St. Louis and Tampa will do wonders for growing this league, if the people who deep down inside want this league to contract and crawl back into it’s “traditional” markets of Canada and the Northeast don’t get in the way (again).

Funny thing is, Spector could have written this article five years ago about the death of the Blues, and ten years ago, his “powerhouse” Stars was actually a failing team in Minnesota and many were skeptical of the move to Dallas. And fifteen years ago, it would have been Chicago. But, of course, the real point here is to rip the CBA and Bettman, because that’s what we do. Well, they do.

As always.

Reality is — these up and downs are part of a natural cycle. Good teams stop being good, fan interest wanes. Bad owners struggle, good owners improve, and fan interest comes back. The only real difference in this CBA here is that there’s no longer a guarantee that a deep set of pockets can spend themselves out of bad management decisions, and that is something I find hard to see as a bad thing. Yes, you’re seeing weakness in some markets. But you’re also seeing growth and resurging attendance and interest in others. But mentioning that might weaken the argument, no?

Is Sean Avery good for hockey?

KuklasKorner : Hockey:

A friend of mine (not a Rangers fan) argues that—love him or hate him—Sean Avery is good for hockey in many ways. I’m not always sure, myself… but he certainly does does know how to draw a spotlight.

To a point — they’re right. “Bad boys” are a part of the league, and part of what makes the league interesting. Think about some of them in the NHL’s past:

How about Essa Tikkanen? who do you remember first? Tikkanen? Or Dino Ciccarelli? Chances are, Tikkanen comes to mind first, and he and Ciccarelli were very similar players, but very different personalities…

Claude Lemieux? Theo Fleury? How about Chris Pronger? For as good a defenseman as he is today, isn’t his prime attraction for most fans the ability to boo him? The wondering if he’s going to lose his temper (again) and if he oes, how long he’ll be suspended? Part of his attraction is that he DOES lose it, and always has.

Isn’t that “bad boy” image part of the attraction of the fighters in the league? Bob Probert, for instance.

If you think about it, some of the most famous people in the WWE are the bad boys.

The trick is to play near that line, but not step over. Sharks fans loved to hate Fleury when he came to town. Dallas fans don’t think quite so fondly of Bryan Marchment. Detroit fans (and Chris Draper) don’t send Claude Lemieux christmas cards, I bet.

But the funny thing is, I’m having trouble thinking of a guy who crossed that line on a “league wide” way in the NHL. It’s fairly easy in other sports (Michael Vick, anyone?) but in hockey, it’s tough to think of someone who simply went that sideways — and stayed in the league.

Avery’s definitely had control problems; I think Dean Lombardi did a wonderful job of reigning him in without screwing him up — and then selling him off after he was rehabilitated but before he went sideways again. If you realize that at one point, Avery was kicked off the team and banished, and most of us felt he was through and was going to be given away, that’s a stunning rehabilitation and credit goes to both Lombardi and Avery. But if you watch Avery since he’s gone to the Rangers, you also see that self-control wavering again, and I wonder if he’ll one of these days blow it big-time.

that, frankly, is one of the reasons we pay attention to him; since I’ve been talking about Gaetz the last couple of days, I think it’s the same kind of attraction. Avery is, in his way, a lot like Gaetz: we watch him not just because he’s a decent hockey player and a physical punisher, but because — if we’re honest — we’re wondering if this is the day he loses it, and what’ll happen if he does. And that edge is part of what makes his game effective, but it’s also that edge that makes him an interesting player in the game for fans, and not just another third liner with an edge.

Caps Fire Hanlon, Name Boudreau (with serious digression into Spiders and Sharks history)

Japers’ Rink: Caps Fire Hanlon, Name Boudreau Interim Head Coach:

The Washington Capitals have relieved Glen Hanlon of his coaching duties and named Bruce Boudreau the team’s interim head coach, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Congrats to Boudreau! In the word of hockey trivia you didn’t know you didn’t know, Boudreau is another of the San Francisco Spiders alumni to actually have a career after working with the team. He was originally hired as an assistant coach under Jean “that’s now how we do it in the NHL” Perron. There was some kind of falling out early, and he was “re-assigned” into a role as a roving scout. What that entailed I was never sure of, other than it seemed to require that he never actually be in the same city as the team for the entire season.

Lucky him, he missed most of the fun watching the team implode…

Yes, the coach of the Spiders for its one year of existence was Jean Perron, former coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and as far as I can tell, the only coach of an NHL hockey team to win a Stanley Cup and get fired before the next season started. His favorite phrase around the Spiders offices seemed to be “that’s now how we do it in the NHL”; to which the general response was “Jean, you’re not in the freaking NHL, or hadn’t you noticed?”

Actually, it was mostly said behind his back. He was a bit…. touchy… to work around based on our discussions with everyone who were in the offices all of the time.

Seeing Boudreau pop up into the NHL again got me thinking about the Spiders and some of the people involved with the team. I found the roster here on

The roster is this fascinating mixture of ex-sharks (trying to capitalize on the fans name recognition), career IHLers looking for one last shot, a few youngsters seeing this as a way to push their careers and some projects from the Montreal Canadiens organization that Perron convinced them to let him have.

Link Gaetz (mentioned the other day) was well on his way past his ability to play hockey at a high level, he only suited up for three games. His fight with alcohol in his life is well-known, unfortunately, alcohol kept winning. When he was with the Sharks, he as almost a prototype of the kind of player you now see in the league with Brashear or Laraque — big, bruising, tough and could actually play some pretty decent hockey. When the knuckles weren’t swollen and bleeding, he had pretty decent hands, and could have had a pretty good career. Unfortunately, off-ice he was pretty much a basket case, and when he had the car accident, that pretty much defined his life and ended any serious NHL career change; it happened around 10AM when the car he was in exited the freeway at way too high a speed and lost control. Gaetz was ejected (no seatbelt) and tried to pulp his brain on the asphalt — and almost succeeded. The accident was alcohol-related (yes, that early in the morning), but the alcohol may also have helped Gaetz survive by keeping him limp during the ejection and landing. He was passenger, not driver, by the way. There were questions at the time, given the severity of the brain damage, whether he’d walk again. He did, but his skating was never the same; by the time he was with the Spiders, he simply didn’t have the mobility any more, he was basically a “stand up and swing” type of guy like Dave Brown.

I normally don’t link to fight videos but this one *is* the Linkster; a classic bout between him and Probert at the Cow Palace. Look very closely as Link exits the arena at the end of the clip, and you’ll see Laurie and myself — our seats were right next to the team tunnel.

The stories about Link in San Jose are legion — no other player was such a fan favorite in the early days, or so legendary, and while much of what you hear through the fan grapevine on most players is bullshit, with the Linkster, you could see it happening. It’s not unusual for some players to get a rep for howling at the moon a bit, but Link had the reputation for climbing trees to try to beat the moon up because it was staring at him… The only other player with the Sharks that had that kind of “did you hear what he did this time?” rep among the fan rumor mill was Brent Myhres…

Linkster only played 3 games for the Spiders — and had 38 PIM. That pretty much sums it up.

Sandis Ozolinsh also played for the Spiders; it was the year after the lockout that the Spiders came into existence, and Sandis was holding out for a new contract. He played two games for the team, and scored the first goal in franchise history — then signed a contract with the Sharks, drove south 90 minutes, and suited up in teal again, and scored the Sharks first goal of that season. That’s probably a record that won’t be matched soon…

Other ex-sharks? Dale Craigwell, who was a really promising center for the team early on, until he broke his ankle badly; his major asset was speed, it never fully recovered, and he ended up with the Spiders and played admirably, but he’s another player that injuries hurt a promising career.

Also on the team — Robin Bawa, who also played for the Ducks, and was one of my favorite early Sharks. Not the most talented guy, but was willing to do whatever it took, including fight, although he wasn’t particularly good at it. The kind of lunchbox/character guy teams need. David Maley, who played for the team primarily because he was trying to start up a hockey business in San Jose and wanted the publicity. He’s now a Shark part-time broadcaster when Jamie Baker isn’t in town, and his Rollin’ Ice is doing just fine.

Ed Courtenay was most notable for his lack of speed. One of the most infamous calls in hockey was by Dennis Hull (who did color for the Sharks early on…) when a puck kicked free and Randy Hahn called out “It’s a breakaway!” and Hull responded “No, it’s Courtenay!” — and he was right. He got caught. But Courtenay had a good minor league career, and was closing it out with the Spiders.

Mike Lalor was another guy who wandered through San Jose for a bit, then came back with the Spiders until the Dallas Stars took him on. And Jeff Madill was a Sharks cup of coffee and minor leaguer who came and played for the Spiders. He was one of the team’s clothes-hounds (along with Ian Boyce), and would have given Drew a run for “best dressed” most of the time. He was also the one player who not only was very aware of the photographers around the rink, but would smooth the wrinkles out of his jersey before a faceoff if he thought someone was going to take photos. Seriously. Martha Jenkins (SF Chronicle, SF Giants) was the official team photographer (and hockey seriously scared the crap out of her, I’m not sure she ever got comfortable being inside the glass shooting — don’t blame her, either), but Laurie and I had full press passes, and she did a lot of photography as well — so she got very familiar with Madill’s ability to get in a picture and get out the wrinkles…

Madill finally retired, and last we heard, was selling cars somewhere in the midwest. Good, solid minor league hockey player, and I’ll bet his suits still have no wrinkles….

And that’s probably enough for now, but since I mentioned Laurie’s photography, it means I probably need to write about how she ended up scouting goalies for Ian Boyce, and the night Dan Shank tried to pick her up — while the game was going on.

Ah, the joys of minor league hockey…