Tag Archives: NHL

“Let the Vikings Leave” – from a Vikings fan

As out-of-state millionaires representing the NFL desperately ramp up the pressure on Minnesota’s elected state government to give the Vikings almost $400 million for a new stadium, the spectre of relocation is being increasingly leveraged as a negotiating position, and may soon cross over into the realm of real-world possibility.

I say let them go.

I know there are probably quite a few in Minnesota who share my sentiment, but largely because they don’t like the Vikings or just don’t care enough to be sorry to see them leave.

I am not in that camp, although in some ways, it would be easier if I was. That attitude certainly would have made many winters less heartbreaking (specifically 1998/99 and 2009/10) or just embarrassing (too many years to list).

But the truth is, I’ve allowed myself to become emotionally invested in the Vikings to varying degrees over the years. So while I definitely don’t count myself among those eager and willing to show the Vikings the door, I also won’t be too troubled if they do leave.

This wouldn’t be the first time a professional sports team left Minneapolis — heck, it wouldn’t even be the first time that a team left Minneapolis for Los Angeles. That westward trail was first blazed by the then-aptly named Minneapolis Lakers who spoiled their name by moving to Los Angeles in 1960.

More recently, and controversially, Norm (censored) Green moved the Minnesota North Stars to Dallas in 1993Although otherwise a terrible human being, Green at least had the good sense to alter the team’s name.

But here’s the thing: both times that a major sports league left the Twin Cities, they came back.  The State of Hockey was only left vacant by the NHL until 2000 when the Minnesota Wild arrived. And the NBA also returned to Minneapolis with the Timberwolves (true, they’re only technically an NBA team).

It seems that some cities are made for sports, or at least certain sports, and some aren’t. Think of Atlanta and hockey; twice the NHL has tried to put a team in Atlanta, and both of those teams left for the Canadian prairies (The Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets).

Or think of San Diego and basketball. The Rockets left San Diego after only four years there, and the Rockets survived only slightly longer — 6 years — in a city that clearly wasn’t cut out for the NBA.

Minnesota, on the other hand  is well-suited for professional sports, and not just on the basis of the evidence that the major leagues always come back. The elements that make for a good sports city are much more numerous than just a state or municipality’s willingness to build expensive playgrounds.

Minnesotans can get enthused enough to carry on a conversation about the weather for 20 minutes. Do these sound like the kind of people who can get excited about something as seemingly unimportant as a game involving a ball or a puck? Yah, sure!

Minnesotans will passionately defend “Duck, duck, grey duck” as the name of a children’s game that involves sitting in, and then running around a circle. Isn’t this the sort of blind state loyalty you want in a fanbase? You betcha!

It's not getting any better...

So let this iteration of the Minnesota Vikings leave. If ever we were going to lose the team, now is the time to do it. Their on-field performance is at an all-time low, with no real prospects of returning to form in the near future. We can wait out the next few years in smug satisfaction as the Los Angeles Vikings struggle.

But soon enough, when Buffalo finally shrinks to the point that it can no longer support an NFL team, or perhaps when the league’s voracious appetite for new revenue causes it to expand to 36 teams, the NFL, like the NHL and NBA before it, will come back to the land of 10,00o lakes.

In the meanwhile, maybe we could fill the football void with an MLS team…

My thoughts on a few things

I would never suggest that my friends back in the US are predictable, but oftentimes, if there is a particular development in the news, I know someone is going to ask me about it at a party. Since I have yet to establish myself as a repository of opinions on the same topics here, I find it necessary to answer the questions you would’ve asked me if you’d seen me the last few weekends.  Here are my thoughts on…

Protests in Russia

I’m quite frankly just as shocked (if not more so) as anyone else. Protesting is a very un-Russian thing to do, which suggests that either there is some outside influence (possible, but not in the way you might think), or the Russian body politic has reached a hitherto unreached breaking point (in my view, only slightly more likely).

The idea that the US or any other Western power is behind the protests is absurd. Western governments have an interest in the political stability in Russia, and would probably rather take their chances with a rearranged Putin-Medvedev duumvirate than gamble by supporting a popular uprising that might bring to the fore a more ardently nationalist leader.

But I think there is some external influence emanating from the Arab Spring and the various other protest movements that have gained traction around the world this year. Once again, it would be absurd to suggest that the same sequence of events that played out in North Africa could be repeated in Russia. There are plenty of reasons why this is the case, but the most significant is rather practical: It’s not SPRING. The revolution in Egypt gained steam as the protestors camped out in Tahrir Square and became an immovable presence. I’ve been in Russia in December and I can assure you that no one will be camping outside. It will be very hard for infrequent demonstrations that disperse at night to gain much momentum.

I’ve heard several Western news outlets suggest that the reason Russians are disgruntled is the announcement by Putin and Medvedev that they would once again trade places (currently they are Prime Minister and President, respectively). This view holds that Russian people were upset by their leaders so brazenly announcing the future of Russian politics without first consulting the people. This is pure bollocks. Russian politics has been carefully orchestrated for some time, and in fact, these two announced an identical switch-a-roo in 2007 (except with the roles reversed) and executed it in 2008 with little backlash. Clearly this is about more than just the two men at the top…

NHL Realignment

I am unequivocally in favour of it. I give the NHL kudos for deciding on a complete overhaul rather than just a minor adjustment to the current division format.

For starters, the new format is a lot greener, as it will require fewer cross-continent trips. This has the added advantage of decreasing players’ fatigue from factors other than actually playing hockey!

There have been some legitimate criticisms of the new four-conference format, but most can be easily dealt with.

One argument is that, by giving playoff spots to the top 4 teams in each conference, weak teams in weak conferences will unfairly get in while good teams in stronger conferences will unfairly be left out of the playoffs. This is inevitable in any system, though, and is already present in the current one anyway.

If last year’s teams had been divided up into the four new conferences, and playoff spots had been allocated using the new model, 15 of the same 16 teams would have made the playoffs. And the one team that would have been cheated out of a spot last year (the LA Kings) would actually be unfairly awarded a playoff spot this year if the season ended today. So the new model giveth and it taketh, but it doesn’t seem that it creates any inherently weak conference that would perpetually benefit from the imbalance.

Another objection to the new format is that it, by having a schedule so heavily tilted toward intra-conference match-ups, it will kill off other rivalries.  It must be said, however, that the best and most enduring rivalries are regional rivalries, which this new format enhances.

For example, during the late 90s and early 2000s, one of the best rivalries was Colorado-Detroit, a hate-filled rivalry fueled by several hard-fought playoff series in consecutive years. Now, that rivalry has faded as the players from those years have moved on. In the last few years, Chicago-Vancouver has been a great and bloody rivalry, spurred by the exact same causes. But it too, will soon disappear and is indeed already fading.

The truly enduring rivalries are those that are built by teams playing each other multiple games every regular season, sometimes evenly-matched, sometimes with the possibility for a legitimately surprising upset, but always with animosity borne out of the two teams being so close that the teams and their fans can really rub each other the wrong way. The best rivalries in the NHL are Montreal-Toronto, Boston-Montreal, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, and some would add the “Battle of Alberta” between Calgary and Edmonton.  These are all regional rivalries and all will be preserved in the new format.

New, enterprising, innovative ideas

I have some! Even though this blog has been entirely inactive for several months, my mind hasn’t. Soon, I’ll be sharing more of my crazy schemes with you…

One simple way YOU can save the NHL

Just because I’ve moved to Africa doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the plight of North America’s (currently) second least popular major sports league.

Shortly after the end of the last NHL season, which was a few weeks ago, at least, I wrote that, in order to save itself, the NHL needs to have shorter seasons.  Surprisingly, Commissioner Gary Bettman did not call me (or anyone else, I imagine) to discuss the idea.

So now it’s time for grassroots action by all of us.

Just to remind you, a shorter NHL season benefits everyone:

  • For players, a shorter season means less fatigue and chance of injury
  • For owners, fewer games (i.e. less supply) can mean potentially higher ticket prices (see NFL)
  • For fans, a shorter season would be less taxing on attention spans, and would mean we don’t have to wait as long for something interesting or consequential to happen
  • For the sport as a whole, a shorter season would be easier for casual fans to follow and would mean the NHL regular season would no longer have to compete with the playoffs of EVERY OTHER SPORT for viewership
But as with so many other noble causes, it appears change may only come if there’s pressure from the masses.   So now that the pre-season has already begun (nothing says September like pre-season hockey!) and the regular season is only two weeks away, I think it’s time for all fans who care about the sport to organize ourselves and take the following action:

Boycott the NHL until November

And when I say boycott, I mean boycott.  Don’t go to any games, don’t watch any games on TV, don’t even watch highlights online until November.  If you are a diehard fan, this might be very hard.  If you are a casual fan, you might have accidentally done this anyway.

If tonnes of people join in, it could make the first month of the season so unprofitable that the powers that be in the NHL might start wondering if they should just chop a month or two off the schedule.

Normally at the end of my posts, I ask for your thoughts.  As always, I welcome them.  But this time, I would also suggest that you share this post with anyone you know who cares about the future of the NHL.


On Saving the NHL

NOTE: My recent lack of blog posts is due to a tornado hitting my house and me having to help plan Bread for the World’s National Gathering in DC. Sorry!

June always brings with it annual shock among Americans that the hockey season is still going on.  And this year, the only reason most of them know that the Stanley Cup Finals just ended is because of looting and rioting in Vancouver.  Although there was plenty of drama in this year’s Cup Finals, it was running concurrently with an epic NBA Finals, further siphoning attention away from a championship event that has experienced declining viewership in recent years.  I think one key to reviving the Stanley Cup’s popularity in the States is shortening the season so that the Finals take place during a time when Americans feel it is reasonable to still be watching hockey.

Toward that end, I am going to emulate my friend Brandon Hundt, who often writes “sports reform” posts.  Here is how I believe the NHL can increase its relevance with one simple step:

Shorten the season to 66 games

This might not seem like a big deal since it’s only 16 fewer games, but here’s my calculation: The 2010-11 regular season was 185 days long, during which each team played 82 games.  That translates into one game every 2.25 days. Cutting 16 games from the regular season would thus shorten the season by 36 days. That would mean the regular season would end in early March, and the Stanley Cup Finals would take place in late April and early May — still not wintry hockey weather, but much better than mid-June.  In terms of what a 66 game season would look like, each team could have 4 games each against the other teams in the division (16 games), and 2 against each team outside their division (50 games).

This is not only a matter of timing, but also of making the sport safer.  Hockey is far too brutal a sport for the NHL season to drag on so long — this season it started before, and ended after the NBA, which is much less physically taxing. Shorter regular seasons mean fewer injuries, which in turn means more interesting playoffs: Sidney Crosby’s absence due to a late-season injury effectively eliminated the Penguins before the playoffs started and deprived TV cameras of the sport’s poster boy.  Anze Kopitar’s injury in the dying weeks of the regular season also meant that the Kings entered the playoffs as a different team than the one that qualified for the playoffs.

Team owners would probably oppose this plan, but the NFL demonstrates that fewer games can actually create more demand and thus more revenue.   Players would probably be all for this idea.  But what about fans…