Saturday, February 4, 2017

Talking Hockey and Land Grabs Over a Beer

A full menu of items to talk about and a fresh shipment of Labatt's Blue in the commemorative Goodbye to the Joe cans is here in the Lounge thanks to the good patron Wayne from Port Huron, who likes to bring in all things Michigan when he returns to New York after a visit to his parents' home in The Thumb.

Nothing like having good friends to feed your hockey memorabilia tastes and have the items come with some cold adult beverage inside. (If only the cases could have had a few Lafayette Coneys inside, but that would have been way too much to ask for.) Ah, I do miss Michigan, the food, the beer, the hockey, the cold. But not the summer. You can have the summers, with the high humidity, the sleep-inducing drone of Tigers baseball on the radio and the steady supply of mosquitos waiting outside your screen door to suck the life out of you.

As a whole, summer is the worst, which is why we are happy to be in the Lounge, windows open to give the room a chill before the Capitals visit the Canadiens and the Kings face the Flyers. Both games will be on in the Lounge, starting at 1 pm Eastern, joined at 3 pm with the broadcast of the Jets at Avalanche.

When given a choice, I go with the Canadian feeds to get more solid between-periods gossip/reporting on the shows. The US broadcasts, particularly when it comes to news around the league, are well behind those of our northern neighbors. And on Saturdays, its like getting the old Sunday newspaper notes columns a day early.

I cannot imagine how quick the Canadian shows will discuss the collapse in arena plans in Arizona, and I will put a fiver down on the bar that it will not take more than 30 seconds for someone to mention that there is a brand new building in Quebec City waiting for an NHL team. Mortal lock, I say, with a better chance of paying off than those Super Bowl pools, where you put your mark in one or two squares to win big or, at least in my case, lose the $40 I invested with Jersey Paul, a friend of the Lounge and the man whose thirst for the NFL cannot be slaked.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has quite a shopping list to distribute to those on his team. He gets to answer in the negative all those questions about the ownership issues or nonissues in Carolina. And then there is issue with the Coyotes and their lack of a home they can call their own, and the Islanders, who try as they might, do not have an idea where they may be in the immediate or long-term future. Time to queue up the Frogman on the jukebox.

To me, with no skin in the game, the answers are quite simple. In Phoenix, the old Veterans Coliseum is available for the interim, and it is much closer to the Coyotes' fan base. At least, the fans in Scottsdale, Tempe, etc., may be more willing to try to get to a more central spot near Interstates 10 and 17 rather than drive in deadly traffic halfway to Las Vegas, which is a kind description the route one must take to reach Glendale on a weeknight.

Problem one solved. The Islanders? There is talk of possible, tentative, wish list, dreams of a gleaming building in Queens near that hellhole that is Laguardia/CitiField/U.S. National Tennis Center/World's Fair traffic tangle. But that would be a new dog with the same old fleas.

I say move the Islanders to Quebec, putting an established team in an appreciative market, while reducing the number of teams in metropolitan New York from three to two.

In my book, the next smart move would be moving the Devils out of the always overpraised, undervisited downtown Newark. Perhaps Houston or Salt Lake City would be a smart move to enhance a western footprint, while leaving New York with only one team, which is the proper number. Right now, the Rangers, Islanders and Devils all play on the same night at the same time. Even when they go on the road, they manage to line up their start times within an hour of each other.

It is funny/sad to see the sports TV writers to ignore the surplus of supply and the limited demand for the Islanders and Devils. The Rangers' numbers tend to remain steady, which is to their fans' credit. So ease the situation and share hockey with other areas.

(A quick news update: A mousehole-like crack at the bottom of the dasherboard behind the net of Washington's Braden Holtby has delayed the game as the Bell Centre crew comes in like a NASCAR crew, with power tools, pry bars and shovels to make what they hope is a quick break. And the good fans of Montreal get to run for another adult beverage and some snacks early in the period. Meanwhile, the Sportsnet broadcast turns into a DIY fixer-upper show on the Home and Garden channel, with play-by-play on how to drill new holes, etc. Actually, it is quite compelling.)

Back to the Lounge Solves the NHL To-Do List: Next, I watch the Carolina situation more closely, with interest as to who might have the money to spend on more nights in Raleigh, N.C. Players speak warmly of the area and the fans have come out when the team was good. Funny how that works, isn't it?

But there is a new wrinkle to look at thanks to the Atlanta Braves. Their move from central Atlanta to a new stadium in DeKalb County (population of 720,000) puts them, the team says, closer to its fan base. Sound like the Coyotes' situation to you? Well, there is bad traffic in the central city, a supposed dedicated fan base that is not in the central city and an opportunity to extract money from a government entity willing to give away public money?

Yes, but Glendale, Ariz., did not have the fan base to start with. So where am I going with this theory? OK, the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators did well when the Thrashers were around, and managed to maintain their business when the NHL team left Georgia for Manitoba. The Gladiators rebranded themselves as the Atlanta Gladiators though they remained in Gwinnett County (population 860,000). And this is where a dedicated fan base was mentioned/rumored to be when the Thrashers were exploring options that did not include staying in downtown Atlanta.

So, might this push for a suburban county to be big league attract the NHL and a land speculator? Well, it worked to get a carpetbagger to move his team from Hartford to Raleigh, so it could work again. Hey if DeKalb County has a new big-league industry, why can't Gwinnett County have one, too, the thinking goes. This type of logic has inspired companies, large and small, to move all across this great continent. So I have faith this idea will not be ruled out immediately.

What I will rule out now is to keep this post going. I have taken great advantage of your patience, but you are missing a good game (1-1 in the first period) in Montreal and the Kings' usual strategy of no one scores until we have to. It is Zed-Zed in Philly.

I thank you for your patronage in the Lounge. I promise to be back behind the bar more often. As an enticement, here is a Sportsnet Big Read article on Bill Barilko. Consider it a Sunday sports page feature a day early. Visit that site early and often as well. It replaces their magazine, which was put down way before its time. (Of course, I was a paid subscriber. Did you really have to ask?) I'll raise a glass for the magazine, which delivered more hockey than any copy of Sports Illustrated or ESPN the Magazine has presented in the last 30 years.

After I top it off, you should raise a glass, too.

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