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If these NHL franchises moved, would anyone care in 10 years?

VLM has now passed the 1,000 mark in terms of posts.  That is not exactly earth-shattering news, and likely is of significance only to me, but I wanted to thank everyone who has contributed to keeping this site alive and on its toes for the past now (almost) three full years.

Warm wishes!


It’s easy—and probably a bit smug sounding—for those of us based in or near major hockey centers in Canada to opine about the sad state of affairs in "non-hockey" markets that may seem, from a distance, all too prevalent throughout the modern-day NHL.  But it can indeed be frustrating at times to see teams playing in cities with buildings half empty (and many of those on hand for free, or on discounted tickets…) when there are places in Canada that would love to have an NHL team, including, say, Hamilton, Quebec City, and perhaps Saskatoon.

In any event, I’m not writing today to criticize U.S. franchises,  all of them trying their mightiest to make a go of the business end of things. (Surely the long and winding mess in Phoenix has to be resolved soon...)   I’m quite certain we will hear, as we move through another round of collective bargaining that is already underway, just how tough some franchises have it and how much money they are losing. (Maybe it would help if they stopped handing out absurdly rich contracts, but we’ll discuss that another day…)

But let's set ownership stupidity aside.  Here’s my question:  if certain cities lost their NHL teams, would very many people in those markets really, deeply care in say...ten years, or maybe even five?

I know there is a group in Hartford that tries to keep the memory of their one-time NHL team alive.  And there have been modest efforts to return a team to that market.  But I would have to think that is highly unlikely.

Atlanta has had two kicks at the can, just as Winnipeg is getting their second chance in the “modern” era.  I don’t doubt there are some ex-Thrasher fans who very much miss the Thrashers, but I don’t believe it is a big number. Nor do I think we’ll even hear the name "Thrashers" as anything more than a distant memory in a year or two. (It's possible many younger hockey fans don't know there was another NHL team in Atlanta in the 1970s- the old Flames, now, of course, in Calgary...)

So I think it’s a fair question to ask if any of the following franchises would actually, on a serious level, be missed in a few years, if they left town:

  • Florida
  • New Jersey
  • Washington
  • Carolina
  • Tampa Bay
  • New York Islanders
  • Nashville
  • Colorado
  • Dallas
  • Phoenix

Again, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that any or all of those franchises should or will be moved (or contracted).  What I am saying is that I just really wonder how much the teams would be missed by many of the fans in those markets as time went on?

Most of us here, in Canada, can't even conceive of the notion of there not being an NHL franchise in Toronto or Montreal, and of course Vancouver.  Ottawa?  Great city, great market, great fans.  Same in Edmonton and Calgary.

But can we say the same about the teams in the markets I mentioned above?  The irony is that in some cases (Long Island, Colorado, Dallas, Tampa, New Jersey and Carolina) these are markets where their team has actually won the Stanley Cup—in some cases (Devils and Islanders) several championships.  I’m quite certain if any former Islander from the early ‘80s era heard this, he’d say I was nuts.  But I just wonder, how widespread is the fan base beyond those who go to the games?  Is it a deep, passionate fan base in markets where hockey is so far down the list compared with baseball, football, college football, basketball, Nascar, etc..

(An aside:  I love what the Predators have done in Nashville.  They have been a model franchise in so many ways, in terms of how you build and maintain a start-up NHL team and organization.  I think a lot of David Poile, Barry Trotz and the way the entire organization goes about its business.  The fans have been outstanding.  But would the majority of people in Nashville really miss the team after a few years?  I include the Preds today on this list mostly because I would love the hear arguments from the thoughtful fans in that market about why the franchise is important, because I would like it to be...)

Again, I’m not advocating wholesale re-locations, though I admit I sometimes wish there were fewer teams in the NHL.  (I believe fewer teams would mean a better quality of game overall...)  Nor am I criticizing fans or suggesting they are apathetic in the markets that I've focused on today.  The fans that do show up at games and that do follow their teams closely are tremendous  hockey fans, no question.

But how many of them are there?

I’m not looking to debate, because I’m not “against” any of those franchises.  We’d all like to see all those buildings filled, in good times and bad.

But I would actually enjoy hearing from fans in those markets to explain why I am wrong.  I hope I am.


  1. Would anyone care in 10 years if the Raptors left town? Or if the CFL folded?

    I think so. I think these cities would care.

  2. I've wondered about the Raptors, birky. There is a core base of interest in Toronto, for sure, but I wonder how widespread a sentiment it would be if the team left town?

    The CFL is so huge in Western Canada that the teams are local staples, vital parts of the community. Is it the same for the Hurricanes, Panthers, Coyotes?

    I don't doubt many fans would miss the teams if the franchises moved. I'm hoping to hear from some who can express that depth of feeling that a lot of us in Canada perhaps don't appreciate....

  3. Chipping in from Colorado, I think it's a valid question. Hockey has thrived at the collegiate level for quite some time - DU and CC - and intermittently with the Colorado Rockies (now Devils) and the Avalanche.

    I had Avs season tix for the first 12 years, but left (partly) when new financial obligations arose. Still, it wasn't as hard to leave as it should have been.

    In my opinion, the Avs grew quite smug after their early success and forgot what it meant to service/respond to a fan base. That arrogance bred a measure of discontent and I know personally of several former season ticket holders that departed with similar feelings. For a decade the Avs put almost no money into youth hockey (beyond ticket discounts), and only in recent years have started opening the Pepsi Center for high school hockey championships. The Dallas Stars seem to have done a much better job, building/co-sponsoring several rinks with Dr. Pepper in and around their metro area. I'd speculate that a core component of their fan base is more loyal, since a generation of young players (recent and present) associate their ice time directly with the Stars.

    Today's Avalanche club is interesting and there's more fan chatter about a bright future. But outside of Stanley Cup winning seasons, they'll never be compared to the Broncos (who own this town) or Rockies (MLB).

    Denver will never become a Toronto or Montreal, or any other original six city. Probably not a realistic expectation for any of the other communities in question either. But there is certainly more the Avs could do to ingrain a deeper love of hockey into the fabric of our community.


  4. Tremendous post, Anon. Exactly the kind of thoughtful comment I am looking for.

    It's interesting that you use the term "smugness" regarding the Avalanche. Here in the Toronto area (a "non-traditional baseball" expansion market in a sense (though the old Triple A baseball Maple Leafs were quite popular in the1950s and early '60s), the Blue Jays grew incredibly smug after selling out for years and winning the World Series twice in the early '90s. They have never fully climbed back in terms of popularity, though a number of other factors also come into play, of course.

    I'm sure Denver won't lose the Avs, but I do wonder just how "deep" the base of support is in the market. You make a great point about what the organization does not only to give back (or doesn't give back), but to contribute to youth hockey development.

    I know it's a great college hockey area, as are Minnesota, Michigan and the North East U.S. (I remember a high school chum back in the early 1970s, who was from the U.S., telling me how big high school and college hockey was in Minnesota. I came to realize he wasn't exaggerating!)

    I really appreciate your dropping by, and commenting on this topic. Thank you.

  5. To respond to birky's point about the Raptors is a good example of how the cities Michael mentioned would react. Their small fan base would care but for the most part Torontonians wouldn't. The problem with the Raps leaving or NHL teams leaving the cities mentioned is the damage it does to the city's reputation as a sports town.

    Another interesting discussion I've had with Raptors fans is whether or not the Raptors would still be in existence if it wasn't for the Leafs and their requirement of forcing season ticket holders to purchase Raptors tickets

  6. Thanks furcifer. I don't doubt that the Raptors have a very staunch "base", but my guess is that the depth of the intense interest is, relatively speaking, fairly shallow. Would there be a broader base, with a better team? No doubt. (You also make an interesting point about the MLSE influence...)

    Again, I think the fans in the U.S. markets I mentioned today are obviously great hockey fans. But I question how many there are, and how much the teams would be missed down the road.

    If anyone tried to move the Broncos out of Denver, can we even imagine? When the historic Browns franchise left, it was awful, and the NFL made sure to go back there.

    I would love to hear from more U.S. hockey fans. Thanks furcifer.

  7. You have hit the nail on the head, Michael. Due to Gary Bettman's megalomanical obsession of creating a league with teams in every region of the US the NHL has been saddled with many weak franchises in non-hockey markets. It does the NHL very little good to be in the 4th largest US television market (Phoenix) if few people are watching the telecasts or attending the games. Compounding this, Bettman has recruited many underfunded owners and in one case a felon to run these teams.
    Atlanta, where I have lived for a number of years, is a case in point. The Thrashers fan base consisted of a small number of very loyal fans but hockey was an afterthought here behind UGA football & basketball, Ga Tech football & basketball, Atlanta Falcons, Braves & Hawks and NASCAR. Couple that with weak basketball oriented ownership and the Thrashers were doomed from the onset. The franchise was awarded because of Atlanta being a large TV market in the Southeast.
    I feel that the NHL will be saddled with this type of franchise as long as Basketball Bettman remains commissioner. I am afraid his next mistake may be Kansas City. The NHL would be a much stronger league if it were downsized to 24 teams.

  8. I've also long wished the league was around the 24 teams you suggest, Pete Cam. (I think I posted on that subject some time back...) While I don't like to see any city lose a franchise, a smaller league would mean better quality hockey.

    Your experience in Atlanta strikes me as the way things are in Florida and in Phoenix, too. If the NHL returned to KC, while I know things are different than they were when the Scouts were there in the '70s, I can't imagine the hockey interest would really be that great. Baseball and football are huge. Hockey would be an afterthought for most sports fans there.

  9. As a Bruins fan exploring this site, I found this pretty interesting. Although I'm no expert, I believe an NHL franchise in NJ should be kept in existence. As you have mentioned, they have won multiple Stanley Cups, but also have a strong and widespread fan base. I can cite bruins games against them that I've been to where there was a significant number of passionate Devils fans, as many as there would be if the opponent was, say, Ottawa

  10. Thanks Anon, well said. I'm glad to hear from a few U.S.-based hockey observers.

    The Devils certainly have a longstanding rivalry with the Rangers, for example, and have been a model franchise in many ways since the late '80s.

  11. Part of the problem, plain and simple, is that the League still thinks that every sufficient market (in terms of population) will have enough people to support a franchise 'as is'; that is, 'build it and they will come' as a managing philosophy. Many non-traditional hockey markets need to be introduced to hockey at grassroots levels to create demand YEARS in advance of even thinking about a high-level pro team. That doesn't mean AHL/ECHL teams that will just turn off the casual fan. It means more NHL support of minor hockey in non-NHL cities; getting stars and legends of the game to interact with the 'average paying customer'; school and community visits from Olympians that include hockey players; and that sort of good-will ambassadorship. Sure, franchises are always supposed to exist for one primary reason: make money. But if that isn't supplemented by a feeling of ownership, involvement, and tradition between a community and a team, then it's almost impossible to turn a profit. Too many teams these days feel like cash-grabs: for the league in terms of expansion fees, etc., and then from the fans to recoup the owner's investment.

  12. Outstanding post, Adam. All solid points. Thanks.