By Ryan Stieg, AllPuck.com
Two weeks ago I wrote a column about the worst team to cheer for in the NHL, and apparently things have gotten worse for one of the franchises on the list.
Things have hit rock bottom in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets still have the worst record in the league at 13-31. They are last in goals scored with 115 and are currently on a three-game slide. Tuesday, the Jackets were shelled by San Jose, 6-0.
Columbus also has a god awful difference between goals scored for and against at -55, which by the way also leads the league. Just how bad is that statistic? The next closest team entered play Thursday at minus-29.
Recently it appears that Jackets fans have had enough. A few hundred of them gathered at Nationwide Arena to protest the state of the team and the fact that Columbus hasn’t amounted to anything of note since its inception in 2000. (They’ve made one playoff appearance, but were swept aside easily by Detroit). Fans were hoping that President Mike Priest and GM Scott Howson would be dismissed after the protest, but that hasn’t happened – yet. There’s still plenty of season left.
The good thing is that struggling goaltender Steve Mason will be let go at the end of the season (Mason currently has a weak save percentage of .881 and a pathetic GAA of 3.53), and that Jeff Carter, who signed a huge deal before the start of the season, will be available for trade. Unfortunately, I’m not sure any team will be jumping to grab Carter, who has a lot of talent but has been slumping all year.
Another good sign that progress might happen next year is that Jackets owner John P. McConnell wrote an email to all season ticket holders apologizing for the state of the team. McConnell also planned to offer hot liquids to the protesters, which has been given mixed reviews from fans.
Look at it this way Jackets fans. At least your owner is paying attention to your woes and seems as if he is as fed up as you are. You may not get what you want right away, but it appears like some changes will be made at the end of the season to attempt to get things on the right track. You also get to host the All-Star Game next year, so that could be fun.
At the same time that the debacle in Columbus is going on, the debate continues to rage over what to do with that team in Arizona. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is remaining as stubborn as ever, still under the delusion that middle of the desert is a fantastic market for ice hockey.
The Phoenix Coyotes are now heading into their third straight trade deadline under the ownership of the NHL and things don’t appear to be changing anytime soon. During this time, the city of Glendale has been forking over $25 million a year to keep the franchise going.
Bettman is insisting that a deal can be reached with one of the three potential buyers who can keep the team in Arizona. The commissioner also made sure to dispute concerns by residents of Arizona that the NHL’s asking price of $170 million is too high, saying that the price hasn’t been an issue in any of the negotiations.
One of the groups interested is led by former Sharks President and CEO Greg Jamison, while another group is led by Chicago kingpin Jerry Reinsdorf. According to Bettman, there is a third group interested in buying the Coyotes, but he won’t reveal who that group is or what they do.
League officials insist that the third group is legitimate, but the fact that they won’t reveal who it is concerns me. Coyotes fans should take note and wonder just how much Bettman is pulling their leg.
Bettman also recently said that there is no timetable for a sale (because apparently owning a financially strapped team is a real boon for the league) and told other hockey-obsessed cities without teams that they shouldn’t make plans to get one soon.
I’ve never been a fan of Bettman. I’d like to tell those cities that they should start making relocation plans, because the Coyotes aren’t going to stay in Arizona much longer – despite how much the commissioner wants us to believe that having teams below the Mason-Dixon Line is a dynamite idea.
Several cities would offer a better home for the Coyotes. The first that comes to mind is Quebec City, which had the Nordiques until 1995 when they moved to Colorado to become the Avalanche. The main reason is that Canada is the perfect place to have a hockey team (Winnipeg has sold out every game since the Thrashers relocated there, and French-Canadians love their hockey), and the city is already planning on building a new hockey arena in hopes of notching the Winter Olympics in 2022 as well as a NHL team. If you already have a city building a sparkling facility in hopes of getting a franchise, wouldn’t that be the logical place to move the barely afloat Coyotes?
Another good alternative would be Seattle. It may seem odd, but being located not very far from the Canadian border could create a large fan base fairly quickly. Ever since the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City, Seattle has been yearning to find a replacement. Hockey could fill that void and Vancouver would be a great nearby rival.
Other good possibilities:
• Milwaukee: Large city, already has a facility with the Bradley Center, currently has an AHL team, and there’s a strong following for Wisconsin Badger hockey
• Kansas City: Had an NHL team once, citizens have been wanting a third professional franchise for quite a while, recently built a top-notch arena that would be perfect
• Indianapolis: Hockey may not be huge here, but Indy has always hoped to be considered a legitimate sports town. If a hockey team arrived, they could build up a good following fast just like Seattle. There’s also a great-looking basketball arena that could easily hold hockey in the formerly named Conseco Fieldhouse
• Regina, Saskatchewan: There’s not a really solid reason to place the Coyotes here; I just always found it odd that Saskatchewan didn’t have a team and the other five main provinces of Canada do.
All of these cities would be a great fit for the Coyotes and would help the NHL build a new fan base – unlike the Sunbelt, these cities geographically make sense to have a hockey team. The question is will Bettman wake up and realize that he made a mistake trying to expand the league southward. Hopefully he will figure that out sooner rather than later.