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IIHF vs NHL

Today, according to an Olympic article from CTV in Canada, Rene Fasel (IIHF President) said that Gary Bettman was dead wrong in his assessment that the Olympics were worthless to th NHL. That when the games are played outside of North America, the benefits are less.  Fasel made the point that almost 14 billion worldwide watched the Olympics in 06, a number that clearly dwarfs potential audience in North America. While Fasel is correct in his assessment of Bettman’s statements regarding the Olympics, Bettman is not entirely off-base.  The NHL lacks any sort of nation prospect presence that football, baseball and basketball has within the US, outside of Frozen Four and when someone breaks the Memorial Cup. The Olympics offers just that sort of attention that the NHL needs for its youth.  While at the same time, the World Championships can offer the IIHF international exposure and a pan-European presence that the WCCH and the Olympics currently lack.  The NHL’s involvement with the Olympics, as well as its relationship with the IIHF  and the World Championship, needs to reevaluated.

While the Olympics are important and do draw an international TV audience of upwards of 14 billion, the hockey competition is rather limited.  Every four years, we see the same 8 super powers (US, Canada, Russia, Detroit, et al.) fight for medal contention, while  lesser squads like Italy, France, or Latvia compete to lose.   Looking at the rosters for the United States, there has been very little diversity since the 96 world cup team, and dynamic Canadians like Sidney Crosby are left off their national teams for role players like Shane Doan.  Not to take anything away from Shane Doan, or players like him, but they are hardly the marketable players that are Sidney Crosby in ’06 and in all likely hood, Steve Dueschne and Jon Traverse this coming Olympiad.  The numbers do not lie.  As Rene Fasel has stated, it would be foolish for Gary Bettman to ignore a potential audience of  14 Billion just to have the NHL season get ignored during the media hype that is the olympics.  However, this is the time where the NHL can take a page out of FIFA’s playbook and make the Olympics about prospects.

In the United States, hockey fans have had to put with essentially the same national team  roster.  Aside from a retired Hull and a Rick Dipeatro replacing a Mike Richter in 06, the national team has not had any infusion of fresh blood and talent. This year, fortunately, players such as Tim Thomas, Zach Parise, and Patrick Kane are rounding out the US Olympic cast.  But what Pens prospect and Philly native Eric Tangradi?  He’s a strong forward who can play wing and take faceoffs whose career was unknown in the US because he went to play junior in Canada.  The Olympics would be a perfect time to a player Eric Tangradi to be introduced to a national TV audience in the US.  Americans, without a minor league team, junior or college program near by their NHL teams hardly get know any prospects.  The Olympics is the perfect opportunely for the NHL to introduce the prospects, since they lack a large of collegiate feeder like football or basketball has.  Fans across the world would’ve been introduced to a duel between Crosby and Ovie 3 years earlier, had the NHL followed this route.  Also, not to mention the big game experience that would help these younger players compete for roster spots on their NHL clubs.   With a mature Crosby, Ovechkin, and a US national team infused with new blood, fans in the US and the world will see great and inspired competition.  In keeping step with FIFA’s model, the IIHF and NHL would naturally reserve roster space for veteran players.  Thus making the threats of defection from foreign stars like Malkin and Ovechkin moot.   

The NHL and the IIHF will benefit tremendously with their partnership for this coming games.    However, they lack a coherent plan that will help them to ride the wave of positivity that arises from the Olympics.  Post Olympic hockey enthusiasm can be best captured through the world championships.  Unlike the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey, the world championships are concentrated in one or two countries and attack a large media and fan presence.   The games are covered by TSN and Universal Sports in North American and by Sky sports in Europe.  Not to mention, Shalke FC’s soccer stadium is hosting a sold out game between Germany and the US.  The field for this tourney is greater than the Olympics and the WCCH and offers a chance for the smaller hockey nations like Italy or Slovenia to compete against top flight teams.  However, these teams lose some of their best players for parts of the tournament to play in the NHL playoffs.  Ovechkin joined the Russians after qualifications due to the Eastern Conference Semis.  As with the US in 1980, the chance for a team like Germany to defeat a hockey power like Russia, the US, or Canada can provide excellent opportunities for growth of the sport within that country.  Even just a solid game can do wonders for the sport’s exposure and the benefits would be greater than the premier games in Europe.  However,  the NHL and IIHF need to arrive at an agreement  as to when the Worlds would take place and when the NHL season would end, in order to achieve this.  The NHL is not going to drop any games and hockey in July is not an option for the IIHF, since that would be nearly a 3 month break between the Euro seasons and the start of the tournament.  But, where there is a will there is a way.   Maybe tightening up the playoffs to end in May and start the tournament in June or simply move the tournament to September and of course would be a mainly veteran affair.

The emotion that is emitting from Fasel and Bettman’s inability to admit an initial mistake suggests that  an agreement can be made.  And, looking at the good will fall out of tournaments past and the need for money, the NHL and IIHF will come to terms with the Olympics. Hopefully offering hockey fans, worldwide, multiple opportunities to watch great hockey.

Back to the Future

Wayne Gretzky, this week, formally resigned as head coach of the Coyotes and that he will get paid if the NHL wins its a bid for the Coyotes. So, for Wayne Gretzky, the situation in Pheonix is water under the bridge.  Its moving past him.  The situation in Pheonix has not sullied Gretzky’s reputation, however, as LA King’s GM Dean Lombardi stated that, “I’d like to bring (Gretzky) back in some capacity now that he’s done there,” Lombardi told the Fan 590. “I think when you talk about kids learning to win, I think it would be great if we could bring him back to where he almost brought this place to the promised land.”     Lombardi has not specified what position Gretzky would have with the team.

College Hockey in the Sun-Belt?

With the recent decision by Judge Baum not to make a decision in the Bankrupcy case of the PHX Coyotes, its time to play the waiting game before a decision is made as to whether the NHL or Ballisillie gets to own the team. The NHL has made the claim that due to the development of youth hockey in the State of Arizona will be hampered by the Yotes departing, thus without a team, the kids will loose interest in Hockey. For Hockey’s own good, the NHL claims, the yotes need to continue to rot in Arizona and with solid ownership and a good team, the sinking ship’s hull will be patched and the ship’s course righted. Yet, Ballisillie and all of southern Ontaria, claim the desert will never be interested in Hockey. Its clear that the Yotes are damaged goods, and I do agree they need a fresh start, however, the NHL is correct with its assessment of hockey in the desert. It does appear to be growing; however, that growth is slow. If the NHL cares about hockey in Arizona, then it should pull its bid for the Yotes and take that money and donate it to either of the big Universities in the State.

College sports have helped in some way to help elevate the status of other major leagues. The hype of bird, magic, and jordan in college basketball carried over into the NBA and helped to pull that league out its doldrums.  The same can be said for the NFL, as well.  The dramatic guarantee of victory by Joe Namath against the already legendary Baltimore Colts helped to make the Super Bowl more than just another bowl game.  If College Hockey became more attractive to superstar players, without negatively affecting the Junior leagues in Canada, hockey too, can become more then a blip on the sports radar every five years.  And, now time is better than right now for the NHL to directly invest in college hockey.

This past year the NCAA frozen four in DC, during Easter, actually beat out the NHL in ratings this year.  Thoses games feature BU, Notre Dame, Bemidjdi State, and  Miami of Ohio. Imagine how big the game would’ve been had it featured someone with the talent of John Traveres and Eric Tangradi.

As with the case with the rise of the NBA and NFL, college sports hooked people to the players like Jordan and Bird and made Namath’s guarantee are the more relevant.  People follow players who’s dramatics win championships for their alama maters and rivalries in sports are also created during these dramatic moments for players and fan’s a like.

The NHL can start by getting limiting funding for USA hockey and giving it directly to college programs for recruiting and clinics. While USA hockey does do a lot of these already with the large amounts of cash the NHL gives them, the donation mainly feeds the National Developmental Program, whose best players, like Tangradi, end up in the OHL.  Even donating directly to each college hockey conference a tenth of what is given to USA Hockey, would be a substantial amount for these schools. Especially schools that are being forced to cut college hockey.  The NHL can also follow the lead of the other leagues by raising the age limit of players coming into the NHL from 18 to even 20.  This way someone like Steven Stamkos has more time to develop physically and a team like the tampa bay lightning  from wasting valuable marketing dollars promoting a player who wasn’t NHL ready when he arrived.  Lastly, the NHL could also given a portion of what is given to hockey canada, to Canadian universities with hockey programs that are planning to make a jump in the NCAA.  With the status and appeal of College hockey players in the eyes of NHL teams and the growth of some of the US college teams, some of the best players in Canada may consider going to a University to play puck instead of Jr and it gives other players more time to develop.

College hockey, and college sports in general, provide a base for pro sports. While pro sports teams, at times bring interest to a sport in certain areas, like the penguins in pittsburgh, the base of the interest in sport comes from the collegiate level.  Someone from Arizona is more likely to follow hockey and have a connection with the sport, when a nonsuperstar player comes from ASU rather than Gatineau.  College hockey is the key to hockey in the sun belt

From now on…

This blog will be dedicated to the bankruptcy drama in Pheonix and their possible move to Hamilton. Once the season begins, I’ll begin tracking Ro Scuderi’s career with the kings at Missingthepiece.wordpress.com and once the issues surrounding the Yotes get resolved, the blog will deal with the coming olympic games.

gillie

The Kings onto Something!

So says TSN in their 30 teams in 30 webisode. With key signings such as the Piece from the Pens, Ryan Smith from the Aves, and resigning Jack Johnson, the Kings have secured their future with Johnson and added some much needed grit and leadership to their locker room.  Yet, the biggest issue, as the author as well as everyone else who watches the Kings, is that they lack a face for their franchise.  Players, such as Johnson, are still developing and are not at the point to really step up and lead. Also, the team lacks a real dynamic scorer, who, as the article states, can turn Kings games “into must see events”.     It appeared that the Kings were looking to fill this void by signning Heatly, however, that turned out to be merely a rumor. And thank God for that. While Heatly is a very good player, judging by his time in Ottawa and Atlanta, he is someone who needs solid centers to play to his level and help him to remain focused. And, due to the youth of the Kings and the signings of players like Symth, the Kings lack like that kind of player.  In order to make Heatly a signing that could work for them, they’d have to find a center. Yet, if the solid center can improv Heatly, then he most certainly help to raise the level of play in a player like Dustin Brown.  

With these Additions, the Kings will be vying for a playoff spot and be an attractive option for players looking for a Cup.  Not only will players like Scuderi  assist in helping Drew Doughty the other young Kings become soild players and leaders, however, they can, or the developed players can, also be used to entice teams into deals, which potentially could bring that needed center to the city of angels.  Think of the Ryan Whitney trade that brought Chris Kunitz to the Penguins, or the Penguins’ trade of Armstrong the season before, which helped them reach the cup finals the past two seasons by filling the Penguins similar need of a Top Line winger. 

With this potentially good young team and ample room in the finance department, the Kings look to be on the Cusp of entering a breakout era.  An era that hasn’t been seen with the Kings since the days Wayne Gretzky laced em for the, then, silver and black. Bringing the Kings, as well as the NHL, into the lime light of the nations’ second biggest market.

TSN.ca

Wayne’s a sweater Diva

During an interview with Luc Robitalle on Inside Kings Hockey, former teammate of Lemieux’s and Gretzky’s, states that his favorite Kings jersey was the silver and black. And, to this day, lucky Luke thinks it was the color of the jersey that brought Wayne to LA. As a the new owner of Luc’s junior hockey team, Hull, Wayne changed the Colors from Blue and White to Silver and Black. Bruce McNull, originally thought of using NAvy and Silver;however, once he heard Luc Suggestion, to make it black, McNull faded it to black. 

I guess that is something that is left out of the story books about Wayne’s journey south. I’m sure the trade prospects, the Money pocklington needed, and the fact that Gretzky’s new wife at the time, was a burgeoning Hollywood actress.  At first glance, it appears that Luc is trying to be funny and is ignoring all of those facts when thinking of the Wayner coming to LA.

But then again, if anyone remembers Darren Pang talking about the Text message from Wayne Gretsky, he recieved during the winter classic, gushing over the Pens’ baby blue, maybe all Wayne needed was a jersey to be the tipping point.  He was gone from LA a year after they adopted these burger king rag; He was in St. Louis for a year and they had ugly jersey, then an even uglier 3rd jeresy, before deciding to play out his career with the Rangers. Ugly team, but great uniform.  Finally, when he joined the Pheonix ownership and got into Coaching, the Yotes’ got new uniforms.  

Wow, it has to be true. When your the best player in the world of the 1980’s and ownerships are throwing all kinds of offers at you, I guess a jersey would be the deciding factor.  Wayne wasn’t chasing dough, but rather, new threads when he went to play in LA.

Since the kings went to the Cup one time with the Silver and Black, they should go with that jersey full time, again.

-Inside Kings Hockey