Thursday, June 2, 2011

NHL Border Wars

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

The Borders Wars in hockey are getting hot and heavy as Canada has a chance to jam it to the United States twice in the month of June.

Should the Vancouver Canucks defeat the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, it will be the first championship for a Canadian based team since the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings in 1993.

The City of Winnipeg, Manitoba., failed in its efforts to get back the Phoenix Coyotes, who were formerly the Jets, but NHL Hockey will be played in their new MTS Arena (15,015) and I'll bet this will be an Expensive Ticket.

While NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has fought hard to keep teams from moving out of Major USA Cities, there was no way he could stop this one from happening.

The Atlanta Spirit claimed that they have lost $130 million and the team ranked 28th in attendance drawing less than 14,000 fans a game. There was no serious local owner that came forward to keep the team in Georgia.

So who are the winners in this decision and will Winnipeg see a Stanley Cup Championship anytime soon?

Now that Bettman has seen his league lose the Atlanta Metro Area of more than 5 Million, plus a large TV Market, to a city with a population of less than 700,000, the only gain is the $60 Million relocation fee which gets split for the rest of the teams.

The Thrashers were sold for $110 Million and the only time you'll see them on NBC is during the Stanley Cup Finals.

But I have to admit that history works well for the new Winnipeg team. Five of the last six teams that relocated did eventually win Stanley Cup Championships in their new homes.

Ironically, the first team that won a title was when the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary in 1980-81 and celebrated their title in Canada. You can bet after two failed attempts at NHL Hockey,  Atlanta won't ever get a third chance!

In 1981-82, the Colorado Rockies became the New Jersey Devils and this franchise has won multiple titles.

In 1993-94, the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas and the Stars won the championship. The Stars were the second major sports team to win a championship in what is known as Dallas Cowboys territory.

In 1995-96, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado and Denver made the most of its second chance as the Avalanche took over a football town and led by goaltender Patrick Roy, then won two Stanley Cup titles. The Avalanche won their first in 1996 before legendary Broncos Quarterback John Elway won his first Super Bowl.

Finally, the Hartford Whalers departed Connecticut in 1997-98 and the Carolina Hurricanes would give their region their first major league sports championship by hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2006 when they defeated the tradition rich Edmonton Oilers.

While there will be no realignment next season, there is talk that Winnipeg is headed to the Western Conference in two years. The likely teams that could headed to the Eastern Conference are the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets or the Detroit Red Wings.

The Detroit Red Wings want to join their Original Six rivals the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers because it would be less demanding with their travel schedule in the regular and post-seasons.

For some reason, I have a feeling they will get shafted because there are too many Red and White Winged Wheel Jersey's in California, Arizona, Texas and Tennessee. The NHL will want to keep one Original Six rivalry intact when these two I-94 squads meet.

While I'm glad that the folks in Phoenix won't have Winnipeg hanging over their heads, unless the Coyotes solidify their ownership situation, markets like Kansas City which has a new arena without a winter tenant, Las Vegas and if Seattle ever builds a first class facility could be future NHL homes.

Bettman has worked diligently to keep NHL Hockey in Phoenix but even Morris only had Nine Lives.

As I wished My Friend Bettman a Happy Birthday on Facebook, I wonder if his cake had a sour taste to it because of the failed Atlanta debacle.

Losing Big Markets is a tough pill to swallow but he knows his hands were tied.

But for future Canadian markets like Hamilton, Ontario, Quebec City and others that may emerge, he won't be an easy sell the next time North of the Border.

The only way I could see Canada adding another team is if Toronto gets a second one.

I wouldn't be surprised if he's watching other cities struggle so he can find a reason to move them to the USA to make up for Atlanta's loss.

But for now, the fans of Winnipeg can be pleased that the past moves have turned out to be Greener Pastures.

According to an ESPN SportsNation Poll that had 18,606 voters, there were 79% that said the move was going to be a success while 21% said it wasn't going to work out. You can rest assure that the diehard Atlanta Thrashers fans contrubuted to that 21%.

As for Atlanta, I've never thought highly of that area as a SportsTown and now that it has been reduced to three major sports teams, the Hawks now own the winter sports market. Good Riddance to Atlanta on the Frozen Pond.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at http://www.scottsports33.com/.

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