Tag Archives: Arizona Coyotes

How the salary cap has essentially killed in-season trades in the NHL

Kids, both those who qualify due to age and those who qualify in thinking young have always loved trading things and none more so than sports cards. For as long as we can remember kids have been into “got him”, “need him”, “got him”, “need him” with their friends, essentially playing real life GM’s.

It has always been easier for the kids because nothing is at stake other than fun and bragging rights for making the best trade or for being the first to complete a set. For real life GM’s it’s always been a challenge because no GM wants to lose a transaction. At the very least they want it to work out evenly for both sides, but even better if it worked out more for their team. The ideal trade of course is one that works out for both sides because not only does it help the two (or sometimes more) teams involved, it also stirs fan interest and keeps the GM off the hot seat even if only for a little while and also keeps all of his options open for future trades. A GM who fleeces everyone he trades with will quickly get a reputation as someone that others will treat with a wide berth any time a trade is proposed. Trades were always unique, sometimes role player for role player, sometimes a superstar for two or three younger players, sometimes “your problem for my problem”, sometimes a superstar for a superstar, sometimes the trade of a veteran in order to give him one last legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup.

But since the end of the 2004-05 lock out, another factor has come into play. The salary cap. The salary cap was the big win for the owners in the season long lockout of 2004-05. Smaller team owners felt they needed it in order to compete with the bigger market teams and the bigger market teams felt they needed it because if they were limited in how much they could spend on player salaries, they would be more profitable, since there were no intentions of reducing revenues. We’ve discussed before the impact that the salary cap has had on all teams, from top teams having to shed salaries after successful seasons simply to make the cap the following season (Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins being the prime examples in recent years) to lower budget teams having to add unwanted players and salaries simply in order to meet the cap minimum (Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes). Good or bad, the cap is undoubtedly here to stay so everyone has to work around it.

The challenge that it has created for NHL GM’s is somewhat ironic, since the intent of the cap (other than controlling expenses) was to make more teams competitive as they all have to play under the same rules. It is good for the GM in small markets like Florida and Arizona to know that even the Rangers, Maple Leafs, Flyers and Blackhawks can only spend as much money as he can, but in other ways it prevents him from improving his team. The essence of trading is using existing assets as the purchase price of obtaining better assets. In other words, if money can’t be the equalizer, then the talent being traded has to be pretty much equal. The better teams have better talent so it becomes hard for a Florida, an Arizona or a Columbus to trade equal talent with a Montreal, New York Rangers or Chicago team. The cap always dictates that pretty much any trade now has to be close to an offset in terms of the salaries of the players involved.

The current NHL salary cap for 2015-16 is US$71.4 Million with a minimum of US$52.8 Million. Using the most recent data on the website www.spotrac.com 1based on data on the site Nov 15/15 only seven teams, Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey, Nashville, Arizona, Colorado and Winnipeg have more than 10% of their cap space available for player additions. In other words, 23 teams (76.7%) of the 30 teams are operating at 90% of their cap or higher. That doesn’t leave much room for those 23 teams to trade unless there is a reasonably close dollar for dollar salary exchange in the trade. Assuming that most GM’s have negotiated salaries at fair market value for the player’s ability, that usually means that most in season trades would likely involve players of equal ability. Unless it is a clear need of team A having an extra defenseman and needing a centre and team B has an extra centre but needs a defenseman and the two teams can exchange players making almost the same amount of money it is easy to see how a GM’s hands can be tied in terms of trading, especially early in the season.

Many teams keep their cap space as an emergency fund in case they are very close to winning a division or securing a playoff spot at the March trade deadline in order that they can go out and pick up a player with a big salary in exchange for prospects. The current salaries of prospects would not match the current salary of the big name player acquired, so the cap space is eaten up paying the acquired player’s salary on a pro-rated basis for the balance of the regular season. Usually there are approximately 15 games left in the regular season at the trade deadline, so the additional expense equates to approximately 19% of the acquired player’s annual salary that has to be funded from the cap space.

In short, teams that want to trade for quality established players are generally already good quality teams operating at/close to the cap. That means the players they are looking to acquire are also likely well paid, established veteran players, thus putting more pressure on the payroll. Take the Pittsburgh Penguins as an example. According to www.spotrac.com they currently have $369,956 in available cap space. That isn’t going to let them acquire even a journeyman player, so GM Jim Rutherford has to be creative when considering a trade. Teams that are bordering on success want to acquire good players (read highly paid) and trade away younger players, but with his team being that tight against the cap how does Rutherford make a hockey trade that helps his team, even if the farm system is sufficiently stocked to make such a deal? The ideal situation would be for Rutherford to obtain a young, quality player with a lower salary but which GM would give him a player that fit those characteristics? Likely no one. Rutherford may talk to another team about a straight exchange of bad contract for bad contract, hoping that a change of scenery helps the player coming to Pittsburgh, but most likely he has to sit back and hope that the Penguins are still close at the trade deadline and then try and swing a deal for an expensive/impact player whose salary he is only responsible for paying for a few weeks.

Injuries are also a factor in trading these days. If an injury to a star player occurs later in the season and justifies putting the player on Long Term Injured Reserve (“LTIR”) the team does have some flexibility. Players on LTIR continue to get paid of course, but their salaries do not count against the cap while they are on LTIR. The classic example of this situation is the Patrick Kane injury in the latter part of the 2014-15 season. Chicago was up against the cap and they needed to try to replace Kane’s offense. They were able to acquire Antoine Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes without upsetting their cap budget because with Kane’s salary out of the way, the acquisition of Vermette did not have a negative effect on the Hawks payroll against the salary cap. In fact, it actually helped Chicago because when Kane was ready to return for the playoffs they had the benefit of being able to have both players in the lineup because the salary cap limit is not applicable for the playoffs 2Vermette was a pending free agent in July 2015 so the acquisition was always seen as short term. If that injury had occurred early in the season, the Blackhawks would likely not have been able to make that trade because Kane would have been eligible to return to the active roster before the end of the regular season, so it is unlikely that they could have kept both players and still stayed below the salary cap. It is in those situations where a GM really earns his money.

There has been talk of allowing teams to borrow against future years’ salary cap in order to make it easier to make a trade but I believe this creates an even bigger nightmare. As well as the possibility that the cap could go down in future years the possibility remains that a current GM, fearful for his job security might make a poor decision in trading for a player and “borrowing” from a future year’s salary cap. If the GM didn’t retain his job, someone else would be coining in to clean up the financial mess left behind. That would likely shy away some very good candidates for the job.

The salary cap, expensive salaries and the various factors influencing a GM’s ability to make trades are just some of the reasons driving NHL GM’s to the draft and develop strategy that we see many teams moving towards. As we move forward we will likely see teams continue to increase their budget on scouts, minor league coaches, and front office people with player development and/or analytics backgrounds. It is a trend we are already starting to see.

Sadly hockey trades, especially those before the March deadline have now become hockey business trades, rather than hockey talent trades.

References
1 based on data on the site Nov 15/15
2 Vermette was a pending free agent in July 2015 so the acquisition was always seen as short term

Questioning Fanhood

Sometimes, I wonder if I am, indeed, more than a fan. After all, I moved away from the city where all most of my teams reside.

The more I do this stuff, the pods, the writing, the live radio show, I wonder if it actually makes me less than a fan. After all, I’m taking on a stance of less subjectivity. In fact, if all the dysfunction and failure to see my teams reach the pinnacle doesn’t take away from my fanhood1You know, of the Cleveland teams., I’m not sure what will. I’ve come the conclusion that only an obligation, by way of occupation, the whole “no cheering in the press box” will deter me from the tears of joy. Who am I kidding? Cleveland only offers tears of agony.

My father once watched a childish demonstration2I’m not proud to admit he’s witnessed many of these immature displays, mostly when I was an actual child., and in the interest of full disclosure, it wasn’t that long ago that I pouted over a Phil Taylor offsides penalty that reduced the Browns chances of victory from slim to none against the Ravens, that begged the question, “I don’t know why he still cares so much”. I do care, and sometimes it brings me shame to show that, but it always defines my character. We see it so much, why do we settle for this shit show that is the Browns? My answer is simple…I ain’t got no place else to go. Could I shut down shop, and just root for the local Cardinals? Of course, I could, but it’s my decision not to. I don’t want to show my middle finger to my friends and family back home; I’d rather poke my own eye out3In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal I like the Cardinals.  Living vicariously through my local friends, I’m thrilled with their current success.

I could take the cop out, you know, that the “real” Browns left in 1995 and they aren’t coming back. Had I left before this ridiculous knock-off stepped onto the scene, maybe I’d have grounds to do that, not for the approval of others, but for inner-peace, but I don’t go that route.

Putting the Browns on the back-burner for a moment, they’re only a fraction of the agony of my fanhood. I have more history with the Indians, and I marry myself to them more than I probably should. I remember taking on the unfathomable plan of what exactly it was that I would do when they finished the job in 2007. It wasn’t even a matter of “if”, and that was before they’d put away the Yankees in a best-of-5, even before they took a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead over Boston in the best-of-7 in the American League Championship Series, where actuality revealed a much crueler fate for the Sons of Geronimo. I’d gotten married that summer4Ironically, it was on a weekend that saw the Tribe swept by the very Yankees they took down in the playoffs, but I spent more time thinking about renting the tuxedos and limousines to celebrate the Indians’ first World Series win since 1948 than for any of the particulars of my own wedding. There was going to be champagne, and there wasn’t going to be any concern for sustaining employment. I don’t know if it’s accurate to say a state of depression followed, but I promise a very un-Christian period of hatred for all-things-Boston culminated from that point. I have a very dear friend from Cape Cod, and quite frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t kick my ass to the curb in the aftermath of that ALCS and subsequent Red Sox sweep of the Rockies in that World Series, but he’s a fan too, so I’m pretty sure got it/gets it.

If you think it’s just Cleveland, you’d be wrong. I’ve grown an affinity for a few of my new home’s local teams, specifically the Phoenix-turned-Arizona Coyotes. After Game 7 of the NHL’s 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals, things got weird with me and Detroit. I was a little more numb when the Winged CCCP swept my Desert Dogs out of the 2011 Stanley Cup Tournament, but when my hockey team actually started advancing in the playoffs, my hate, and I don’t use that word lightly, shifted to the Kings of Los Angeles. Phoenix had grown on me.

By 2013, I was a partial-season ticket holder with the Arizona Diamondbacks and a full-fledged Arizona State Sun Devil Football season ticket holder. That was the summer that Ian Kennedy put a pitch in Yasiel Puig’s earhole, which included a subsequent brawl that was the flashpoint for the Dodger ascent and Arizona’s fall to the bottom of the pack, a fall they’ve yet to fully recover from.

By the time the Dodgers clinched the National League West at Chase Field that September, I had such a low opinion of that organization, and all of Los Angeles, that the news/rumor of a few Dodgers players draining the main vein in the center field pool had me feeling like Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

I guess the point is, I don’t know how to do casual. I’ve adopted my wife’s Northern Illinois Huskies, and I sometimes feel guilty about not being all-in, not hating Toledo and Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck5Fleck was a great receiver at NIU when they first stepped on to the national scene, behind the great running Michael “The Burner” Turner, earlier this millennium.. I guess I’m getting there, but I’m pretty far in for a guy that spent the early part of his adulthood just paces away from Kent State, with friends at MAC schools in every part of Ohio.

I think leaving Ohio is as much to blame for my passion as being from there is. I feel like I have some sort of obligation to serve as an ambassador, while 2500 miles from the place I called home for so long. I don’t know how to be anything other than passionate and loyal; while it destroys any hope for normalcy in my life, I feel it can be quite the virtue. If I’m a genuine sports fan, but fake at the other things I do in life, I’m exposed as a fraud.

With Yours Truly, there isn’t anything fraudulent to be revealed. I’m the genuine article, even if it means admitting that I’m not proud. Browns fan? Duh. Tribe fan? You know it. Cavs fan? With or without LeBron, you know I am, and I’m unapologetic for being so against him and the possibility of a return for four years, until it happened. If I want to leave a legacy of any sort, it’s that I root for the home team, just like my father in my love life. He says, if you like her, I like her.

It’s a front of the jersey thing. It says Cleveland, Phoenix, Arizona, or whatever’s important to me, I’m on board. Being a fan is cool; never be ashamed.

I never claimed to be brilliant, but I think that’s a principle that gets you through life, whether that concept is subject to scrutiny or not.

References
1 You know, of the Cleveland teams.
2 I’m not proud to admit he’s witnessed many of these immature displays, mostly when I was an actual child.
3 In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal I like the Cardinals.  Living vicariously through my local friends, I’m thrilled with their current success
4 Ironically, it was on a weekend that saw the Tribe swept by the very Yankees they took down in the playoffs
5 Fleck was a great receiver at NIU when they first stepped on to the national scene, behind the great running Michael “The Burner” Turner, earlier this millennium.

More Than A Friday: Cavs, Cups, Coyotes, Keely and Cavuto

There’s so much going on this week, I feared I wouldn’t be able to drop a subtle #MACtion reference into this week’s column1Let’s just say the table is being set nicely for yet another Bowling Green-Northern Illinois showdown in Detroit, for the MAC Championship.. We have civil unrest in Missouri2Again., and it’s such a mess that I’m legitimately uncomfortable talking about it, other than to acknowledge I feel the sports angle is gone from that saga, at them moment. We’ve got three sports in full-swing, as we approach mid-November, and while I usually stick to the entree portion of the menu (football, of the college and professional variety), this week I found myself willing to sample the entire menu.

How to Combat Boredom While Waiting for the Playoffs

There’s been a lot of back and forth about how to deal with the 82-game season, between the Cleveland fans who watch basketball and the basketball fans who like the Cavaliers. Both groups are waiting for that race to 16 wins, which begins in April and ends in June. One side says, the regular season doesn’t matter. The other side says, who cares(!), be entertained.

Neither side is completely wrong, though finding myself somewhere in between, I put a little more stock in the regular season than the casual fan might. It’s not just about staying healthy for the run in the spring, but no matter how much the narrative wants to highlight the individual superstar, these teams need to get a feel for playing with each other.

For 36 minutes on Tuesday, the Utah Jazz were not intimidated by the star-power of the Cavaliers. It isn’t always going to be this way for the 7-1 Cavaliers, but it was one of those nights when everything was going well, but they still needed Lebron James to find a new gear. He won’t always be able to answer the call, but he found a way in the win over the Jazz.

Actually, he found a few ways. When you think about the classic triple double, you wonder if it’s the net result of a well-rounded effort or stat-padding. In the case of James, to the dismay of the visiting Jazz, it was the former, and what led to the Cavs being on the positive end of a 118-114 final. He found and exploited mismatches to score, even when it required an ambidextrous effort on the offensive side of the ball.

When you talk about that feel for playing together, you appreciate the chemistry he’s created with Kevin Love after just a season on the same bench, and you remember why you loved Mo Williams being on the same roster, especially when both are hitting their jumpers.

Lebron owned the glass late, at both ends of the floor on Tuesday, extending possessions for the Cavaliers and putting an abrupt end to Utah’s offensive trips down the floor after one shot. It’s difficult find enough defensive opportunities to lock down that elusive quadruple double, but his two steals3Albeit, versus five turnovers. both came in the fourth quarter, and led to scoring opportunities on the other end, inlcuding an amazing “And 1”, where the shot fell despite James being bear-hugged on his way up.

Save a big night from Jared Cunningham or Joe Harris, nothing from these contenders should surprise you, but it’s still fun to watch…and these games matter, no matter how simple it is to suggest something to the contrary.

Why is the Song Called Cups?

This isn’t about Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, or the song that mostly just repeats “you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone”4If you watch the video, you’ll see that a plastic cup and clapping of the hands are the only “instruments” in this mostly a capella song.. I guess the point is that cups have nothing to do with that song, and I might add they don’t have anything to with faith or the celebration of holidays.

Of course, I haven’t seen anyone bitching about cups, just people bitching about people bitching about cups. The closest thing I’ve seen, regarding outrage of the now-snowflakeless Starbucks seasonal cups is Donald Trump’s endorsement for the outrage.

Honestly, at this point, if you choose to take Trump with anything more than a grain of salt, I am unable to work through these things with you.

On that note, it’s just matter of aesthetics, and it doesn’t affect the taste of your caffeinated beverage of how you celebrate the holidays, so maybe we just move on from this? Aesthetics don’t affect the result of a football game either, but man, it might affect my decision to watch. I was going to a hockey game on Thursday evening, but I caught a glimpse of the Jets and Bills in their Technicolor garb. I mean, I’m not going to watch that one, willfully, because it’s Jets and Bills, but that color explosion was for the birds.

No McDavid? What Are We, Savages?

Perhaps it’s just a sign of my privilege, but I like sarcastically throwing out that savages line over first world problems that present themselves. November 12th was just a day to go to a Coyotes home game with a friend and some of his clients, the fact that the Edmonton Oilers were in town, and we were promised the next big thing in hockey was just a bonus. Last week, that bonus was taken away, but the kid has a broken clavicle. Honestly, my tale of woe isn’t as bad as Connor McDavid’s, at least in this context.

So, I ended up seeing a below average team from Western Canada take on my5I really do love this hockey team, despite all the turmoil they’re going through and the vitriol from opponents of the NHL in the Sun Belt. I didn’t have a team growing up in Cleveland, and I didn’t just automatically adopt this team. This is about a 12-year relationship, more time than I had with the original Browns (1985-1995). Arizona Coyotes. Unlike the Cavaliers, there are surprises with this club. Some of the usual suspects are still around–Shane Doan, Mike Smith, Dave Tippett–and there are some familiar faces that were traded away and returned via free agency, but you always like to see promising youth. That’s what the Coyotes have, and you can look at teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, and Carolina Panthers6You could throw the Cavaliers in there, when you consider they netted Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson from a dreadful 2010-2011 season., and how they’ve made lemonade from lemons by netting high draft picks after miserable seasons.

While trying to get the imagery of Jets vs. Bills out of my system, the Oilers got a quick one on Thursday night, giving them a 1-0 lead. Oilers fans packed our arena in Glendale, Arizona, with hopes they could be better than their 0-5 mark against the ‘Yotes a season ago. As the game went on, you could see Arizona was having none of that. This is a team that doesn’t have any desire to throw everything on net, but they pick their places for the breakaways and one-timers. The old seems to mesh with the new pretty well, and even with the guy picked two slots after McDavid in last summer’s draft still slumming it in the minors, you have to like the youth on the ice for the NHL club just outside of Phoenix.

4-1 final, Coyotes win on a fun night at the arena.

Some Are Calling It Child Abuse; I Mean, Absolutely

You’re probably going to see it at some point, whether you want to or not. It’s Fox News, so most of you will immediately dismiss it, sight unseen. I know Neil Cavuto, because he does the business report on our local FOX affiliate, not from what he does for the cable channel that’s either a big hit or a big miss, depending on the eye of the beholder. I didn’t know Keely Mullen and I withhold judgement on someone I only became familiar with moments before she faced the firing squad in a now-infamous interview for the right-wing network.

She was supposed to speak to the motive of the Million Student March, but she got tangled up in a web of follow-up questions that she was unable to answer about the “1%”. Going in, she didn’t have a chance; the entire strategy of the conservative news organization was to make sure she didn’t look good in promoting this effort, in the name of today’s student. The point was to undermine the youth not understanding the economics of their demands7Tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, $15 minimum wage for all campus workers, and while I don’t feel there’s a reasonable way to satiate these requests, I’m not applauding the smearing of this young lady, regardless of how confident she appeared to be in supporting her views and this activism we’re seeing this week.

You know who I’m going to call out? It’s your turn to the carpet, Facebook commenters. Le sigh.

This isn’t even exclusive to one side of the argument or the other. I cringe when I look at comments8I have no shame; it’s like rubber-necking a car accident, but as my old man and his pals say at the poker table, “I gots to know.” and see the destruction of this beautiful English language. It’s not so much the ignorance as it is the apathy, with the defense mechanism of calling those who correct “Grammar Nazis”.

Misuse of “their”, “there”, and “they’re”, not to mention improper application of “your” and “you’re”, are just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t even get me started on “would of”, once defended as a Southern thing…gross!

These are the people that live in glass houses and throw stones. The ones saying Cavuto abused this child that was trying to get her message out, if they’re breeding, and they honestly care that little for the English language9Not to mention, how would they feel if their child was the victim of grown folks abusing their young-adult child on social media?, they’re would be the ones abusing America’s youth?

Don’t you think?

References
1 Let’s just say the table is being set nicely for yet another Bowling Green-Northern Illinois showdown in Detroit, for the MAC Championship.
2 Again.
3 Albeit, versus five turnovers.
4 If you watch the video, you’ll see that a plastic cup and clapping of the hands are the only “instruments” in this mostly a capella song.
5 I really do love this hockey team, despite all the turmoil they’re going through and the vitriol from opponents of the NHL in the Sun Belt. I didn’t have a team growing up in Cleveland, and I didn’t just automatically adopt this team. This is about a 12-year relationship, more time than I had with the original Browns (1985-1995).
6 You could throw the Cavaliers in there, when you consider they netted Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson from a dreadful 2010-2011 season.
7 Tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, $15 minimum wage for all campus workers
8 I have no shame; it’s like rubber-necking a car accident, but as my old man and his pals say at the poker table, “I gots to know.”
9 Not to mention, how would they feel if their child was the victim of grown folks abusing their young-adult child on social media?

More Than A Friday: We Remember New York, and We Still Live in Fear

It was fourteen years ago today, when we learned that we are never safe, not in this world. Yes, I remember where I was when I learned of what happened. Yes, it was terrible in every way. And yes, it changed a lot of things for a lot of people, but most of all, the events of that morning instilled a level of fear in all of us, about things that perhaps we were previously too blissfully ignorant about.

We fast forward to this week, where we have a new, legitimate fear in our own backyard in Arizona this very week. Maybe back then, on the day of, we didn’t understand the motive, why those planes hit those buildings, but maybe those answers came with time, even though those answers were never what we deemed acceptable. Right now, we don’t know why we fear the very highways we travel every day, other than the fact that we don’t care to be hit by random gunfire. I find myself assuming a level of vigilance, keeping my head on a swivel, eye-balling rooftops and roadside mountains for snipers. I hear that, while the highway shootings are of a serial nature in Arizona, this is happening in Chicago now as well. What the hell is happening? I don’t want to be next, but I really don’t want there to be a next at all.

I guess it’s important to remember how fear brings us together, and makes us collectively brave. We remember those who ran toward the trouble, when so many were running away. Those rescue workers died, so that so many could live. At this point, I’d like to take a deep breath, and let the honorable stand on their own plane.

Alright, new thought. This is a sports site, so I want to mention how Mike Piazza’s home run and President Bush’s first pitch at the World Series helped begin the healing process in New York and across the country. The Mets wore caps honoring the police and firefighters, who we will forever remember as heroes, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t talking about baseball and level of heroism that is above reproach in the same breath. Speaking of which, let’s breathe one more time.

Here are ten thoughts from the week that was:

  • Former tennis star James Blake had a rough run-in with the New York Police Department the other night, and I suppose that’s putting it mildly. The former #4 tennis player in the world was tackled and cuffed on Thursday in a sting operation gone awry. Blake, who bore a reasonable likeness to a suspect, according to police, said he told police he wished to comply and that he was very scared throughout the entire ordeal. On a day that we’re honoring your fallen brothers, this is not okay, NYPD.
    https://twitter.com/RyanRuggiero/status/642425084070756352/video/1
  • Amid some heavy investigative reporting on the part of ESPN’s Outside the Lines and a similar multi-author report by Sports Illustrated, the New England Patriots had their Super Bowl homecoming game on Thursday evening in Foxboro. They took the field, not as champions, but certifiable cheaters in the eyes of many. Accusations of sabotage and things of that ilk weren’t easily dismissed, especially when the visiting Steelers headsets malfunctioned in the first half of Pittsburgh’s 28-21 loss to the Patriots. Mike Tomlin wasn’t happy, and I’m no Steelers apologist, but his anger was justified. Apparently, he doesn’t get a leg to stand on, because he stood on the field of play during a kick return, a few years back. Get the hell out of here with that noise.
  • Back to New York, where the Yankees strangle-hold on the top American League Wild Card spot and realistic chances in the division are being largely ignored, the Mets have become my favorite “I have no dog in the fight” team to watch on MLB.tv. On Labor Day, I tuned in for parts of their most important game of the season, versus the Nationals in DC. Yoenis Cespedes did what he’s done since arriving in Queens, and that’s to provide a spark for the previously hapless offense that Terry Collins has marched out there. The other takeaway from the Mets’ 8-5 victory, was more about the man than the ballplayer that Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos is. He hit a grand slam in the game, shifting momentum before Cespedes took it back, but this is a guy that survived an abduction in Venezuela back in 2011. That kind of thing always stays with me, and I take great joy in any success that he has.
  • Ohio State wore the #1 ranking, given to them by the Associated Press and the Coaches, very well on Monday, at Virginia Tech. The result of the game, a 42-24 rout of the Hokies, came secondary to the story we’ve wondered about, on and off, for the last eight months. How would Urban Meyer deal with “too many cooks in the kitchen” at the quarterback position. Many figured Braxton Miller would transfer, and that the odd man out would be visibly unhappy. JT Barrett was named a captain early in the week, and seemed anything but disgruntled about being the backup to Cardale Jones. As for Miller, he didn’t transfer, but he stepped aside, switching positions, and it looks like he might be one of the best receivers in the country. Well played, Urb.
  • Talk about a state of misery! Both of the Missouri ballclubs look like they’re slowing down at exactly the wrong time. Kansas City has the luxury of an 11-game lead in the American League Central Division, despite being losers of seven of their last ten. Up in St. Louis, the Cardinals have taken themselves out of the best ever conversation, and they’ve just looked flat-out bad at times, recently. They’ve dropped two of three to both of their relevant adversaries in the National League Central Division since last weekend, and they aren’t off to a good start in Cincinnati either. The fact that Pittsburgh has a fighting chance at that division spells doom for the Cardinals, who lost 11-0 in the ‘Nati on Thursday.
  • The Pirates defeated the Reds on Wednesday at Great American Ballpark, in a game the Reds finished without Joey Votto. The Canadian slugger got jobbed all game by plate umpire Bill Welke’s strike zone, and he let him have it after a called strike 2 in the eighth inning. I recall how angry you can get about things like that, so I understand, but I’ve never been labeled a star of the stature that Votto is, so I’m surprised. Major League Baseball was nice enough to spare him on his 32nd birthday Thursday, but stay tuned on Friday. They may be giving him a belated gift of a day off, probably without pay.
  • Did I miss something about Tennessee football? I see that they’re now ranked #23, and people seem to believe their game with visiting Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon at Neyland is a big game. Not buying on the Vols after what I saw of their opener against Bowling Green, but we’ll see. Of course, I didn’t shell out the $99.99 to pay-per-view Bob Stoops’ Sooners clobber Akron last week, so who knows.  I also see we’ve got Mississippi State ranked, just in time to host LSU this weekend. What the pollsters won’t do for the SEC!
  • On the other hand, Oregon and Michigan State should come as advertised. Forget that the Ducks gave up 42 to Eastern Washington or that the Spartans looked less than spectacular at Western Michigan last Friday; look for a close, low-scoring game. That doesn’t bode well for Mark Helfrich and Oregon in East Lansing on Saturday night.
  • I know most people live in the “what have you done for me lately?” realm, but I’m still a sucker for the nostalgia of a Packers-Bears game. No dog in the fight, but these two organizations have played about as even as two teams can play over the entire course of history, though Sunday won’t be even in any way, shape, or form.
  • If you don’t give a damn about a rivalry that happens to be lopsided in 2015, you probably care less about my opinion on the night Rob Gronkowski gave my Little White Beanbags fantasy team, my first go-around with fake football in about 8 or 9 years. I can’t begin to imagine the level of apathy non-hockey fans would have over an Oilers-Coyotes game in November, but I’m still excited to go to Glendale on November 12th, but if hockey people are comparing Edmonton rookie Connor McDavid to LeBron James, that’s some hockey I don’t want to miss.

And no one ever gets excited about going to Glendale, even before we were scared of being hit by rounds of seemingly random gunfire. Stay safe, everyone.

If You’re Reading This, It’s Already Too Late

If anyone objects to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Yeah, I didn’t exactly give anyone the chance to do that.  It was one of two requests I asked of the Justice of the Peace that officiated our nuptials.  The other, I stole from Spaceballs.  We required the short, short version for our outdoor mid-summer Phoenix wedding.  While I’m on the subject, allow me to tip my proverbial cap to Jen, my bride of eight years.  Without her blessing to do this, we wouldn’t be here right now.  As an act of gratitude, I may even unload the dishwasher or take out the trash.

For some reason, I’ve been trusted with the master key to all of More Than A Fan, and I have to tell you, this is all so surreal.  I keep expecting to wake up and I’m actually waiting for someone to yell at me, to tell me what I can’t do.  Don’t get me wrong, the ‘ghost’ of Josh Flagner will linger in my head, and it will haunt me if get out of line, but that isn’t my intention.  In fact, my intentions are not a priority these days; my obligations are.  Let me break those down.

First, it is paramount that we keep the lights on.  I laughed about it in BASEketball, when Squeak went to turn off Doug and Coop’s gas, but it wasn’t very funny when the natural gas ceased to flow in my own residence.  You’d think you could live with it, especially on nice spring days, but a week of ice-cold showers and painful shaves had me changing my tune.  It’s a good excuse to grow a beard, but my mind hadn’t gone there.

I learned from a friend, who had little money and no power, how to rough it with easily bought neighbors, an extension cord, and a power strip. Unplugging the TV, to open an outlet, to plug in the coffee maker, to heat up the water to shave, well, that’s no way to live.  It’s obviously not how you run a website.  Keeping the lights on, in this figurative sense, it requires money, so you’re going to see advertisements and we might even do some things we’re not proud to do (but, hopefully not).

Next, I have an obligation to these fantastic writers, as well as our loyal readers.  A glance around More Than A Fan reveals that Matthew Kline always sees something that could use tweaking or fixing in sport, Jared Andrews knows the peaks (present-day Blackhawks) and valleys (historically, the Cubs) of being a Chicago sports fan, and what a time for Britt Zank to be waxing poetic about his beloved Kansas City Royals!

Our resident Canadian, John Poulter is writing about and talking about his hometown Toronto Blue Jays at the right time.  Let’s see how all of that plays out.  When we get to football season, Jared may be slightly less elated to speak on the tragedy that the Chicago Bears have become, compared to the suddenly-inspired, Joe Maddon-led Cubbies.  Outside of Arizona, there can’t be too many folks longing for the cold days of winter, but maniacal hockey fans probably have their countdowns down to the hour by now.  Though his Maple Leafs are so cursed, they might as well be Cleveland’s fourth team, John still makes his way to the Air Canada Centre more than a few times a year, come win, lose, or shootout.

They do play their fair share of hockey south of Ontario, and our hockey staff has you covered with opinions from Anaheim to Boston, and everywhere between.  As for me, my biggest NHL interests reside in the desert, specifically in a small-time city that generally seems not to care about at least one of its major professional sports franchises.  Never a dull moment with the drama surrounding the Coyotes, my favorite hometown team.

It’s weird to say it and a little awkward to see it typed out, but Phoenix absolutely is my hometown.  I’ve been here 14 years, later this month.  However, if you know me at all, you know my birthplace and long-time home is a seldom-respected city of yesteryear in Northeast Ohio, known as Cleveland.  As More Than A Fan and I are brought together once again, I remember our common bond, we were both born in Cleveland, as was the site’s founder.  Deny it, as anyone might, that’s our home base.  It’s where our original readers come from, and in February 2013, Daniel Zaleski and the rest of management decided those readers had earned their own page.

The voices at MTAF: Cleveland are different from what they were in the beginning, but the tone is the same.  We’d be speaking out of turn to evaluate fan bases, but I personally understand the dedication of those fans, near the shores of Lake Erie.  In some cities, the night ends when the games end.  The 2-1-6 is different; they’re talking Browns on the 4th of July and the discussion about a 7:05 Indians game could well into the AM hours of the next day, both online and on the airwaves.  We cannot understate how the Cavaliers are overwhelmingly the best team in town at the moment, but they aren’t the only basketball team in downtown Cleveland.

A few blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena stands the once state-of-the-art Wolstein Center, and while crowds are a far cry from what they used to be for Vikings basketball, the entire Cleveland State Athletic Department remains near and dear to the heart of the many alumni that reside in and around the city.  I cut my teeth on underdogs and upsets when the ’86 hoops team knocked off Bobby Knight’s 2-seeded Indiana as a 15, and rooted hard for this mid-major that’s never lost an Opening Round game in the NCAA tournament, as they went toe-to-toe with Butler in the Horizon League, before Butler bolted for greener pastures a few years back.  For everything else on Cleveland’s only Division I athletic program, I defer to our own Bob McDonald.  He is the decided authority for all-things-Cleveland-State.

I’m the one who decided that, so take that for what you will.  The bottom line is, for our readers from Cleveland to parts unknown, we know you have options.  We owe you good content for following our crazy views on the wide world of sports, and we need to deliver it on a consistent basis.  If that does not happen, I have failed in my role.

On that note, my last obligation, or really, my moral imperative is to take care of (MTAF Founder) Josh Flagner’s baby the best way I know how, by treating it like my own.  He has an actual baby to take care of now, so he should appreciate that.  Josh, I promise not to drop this thing on its head, feed it paint chips, or let it be a Brian Hoyer fan.  All kidding aside, if there’s a better way for “my” More Than A Fan to pay homage to Josh Flagner (and co-founder Lisa Pitz) than to recognize their charitable efforts, I don’t know what it is.

Off the webpage and in the community, philanthropy is a big part of our mission statement.  I want More Than A Fan to be more than a place that simply houses brilliant, unfiltered sports opinion, but good-standing members of society.  This team should demand that of me, as well as of themselves.

We aren’t just more than fans in these parts.  We hope to be more than readers, writers, editors and publishers, but a community that takes care of one another and looks out for our own.  Together, we make More Than a Fan a place that we can all be proud of, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ’til link-rot do us part.

Previewing the NHL’s Pacific Division

The NHL’s Pacific Division will continue to bode some of the heaviest competition and feature some of the heaviest hitting teams this upcoming season. With the recent integration of the wildcard playoff standings format, competition for placement has become tighter among the top teams in the division.

Unlike in seasons past in which there was a large discrepancy between the top teams of the division and those who have consistently missed the playoffs, all teams have a competitive chance at improving compared to how they did last season. The motives for each team and where they are hoping to land in the standings may askew, however, no divisional game between two Pacific teams will be easy to win.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes had a rough 2014-2015 regular season. The team finished with just 56 points and finished in last place in the Pacific Division. Goalie Mike Smith had his worst save percentage and goals against average since joining the team and the Coyotes were the lowest scoring team at even strength last season. Not a good combination.

Arizona Coyotes GM Dan Maloney did make great moves in acquiring highly touted prospects like Anthony Duclair in the Keith Yandle trade with the Rangers and had two first-round draft picks this year taking Dylan Strome with the No. 3 pick and Nick Merkley with the last pick in the first round. Max Domi is another young player that will help the Coyotes in the near future and will help the Coyotes with a talented center depth the organization has been lacking.

The team also brought back Stanley Cup winner Antoine Vermette and defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Both have spent multiple years with the organization and were traded last season as, in the truest form of the word, rentals. The team also acquired defenseman Nicklas Grossman and Chris Pronger’s contract to help round out the defense. Pronger’s contract will not help the defense, but it helps the team reach the salary floor.

The Arizona Coyotes are still not a playoff team, but have a strong core of young talented players revolving around a great young defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. At the point, the Coyotes need to establish an identity for themselves and start seeing what some their young talent has to offer.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers went through a massive change over this offseason and are one of the most improved teams in the league. Starting at the top with their newly appointed GM, Peter Chiarelli, down to the hiring of new coach Todd McLellan and the addition of a few great players.

Chiarelli was gifted with the first overall draft pick as the lottery somehow decided to push luck into the hands of the Oilers front office once again. With the first overall pick, the Oilers chose Connor McDavid. McDavid is exactly what the Oilers needed and it will be exciting to watch the young center apply his skills to the NHL level.

The Oilers landed veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera via free agency. Sekera makes great decisions with the puck out of the defensive zone, can eat a lot of minutes and has a great deal of NHL experience. Sekera is the kind of defenseman the Oilers have needed for a long time.

The biggest question heading into the season will be new goalie Cam Talbot. Talbot put up great numbers as a backup behind Henrik Lundqvist for the New York Rangers, but will be facing a lot more shots and not have as good a defense as the Rangers had.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks had a tumultuous year dealing with off-ice issues and on-ice struggles. The team missed the playoffs for the first time in ten seasons and let go of their head coach. GM Doug Wilson still remains with the team and did make moves to shake things up a bit.

Former New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer will be replacing Todd McLellan behind the bench this season and Wilson acquired goalie Martin Jones in a trade with Boston. Jones only has 34 games of NHL experience, but the big goalie played so well for the Kings in the short amount of time that the Sharks were willing to sign him for three years at $3 million a year.

The Sharks still have no captain and players that were once offensive threats like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are aging and watched their point production decline last year. The team will have to switch focus and rely on younger stars like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Tomas Hertl to help push the team back into a playoff position.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have had a lot to be thankful for the last four years. The team won the Stanley Cup twice in a three-year span, most recently in 2014, before being the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the playoffs the following season since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007.

In addition to fatigue on the ice having played 64 playoff games the previous three seasons before last year, the team was hit hard with off-ice drama that most definitely had an impact on the way the year turned out. Defenseman Slava Voynov is still suspended by the NHL for domestic violence charges filed against him, Mike Richards’ contract was terminated and the NHLPA has filed a grievance, and Jarret Stoll was busted with narcotics in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Voynov’s future remains unclear at this point as he is not only serving time, but also healing from an injury that happened away from hockey operations. The team also lost playoff hero Justin Williams to free agency as the former Conn Smythe winner signed a two-year deal with the Washington Capitals and trade deadline acquisition Andrej Sekera left for the Edmonton Oilers.

The Kings still have one of the best cores in the league though. Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Jake Muzzin and Jonathan Quick is one of the best center-defense-goalie groups in the league and the Kings have talented young stars like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson who will compliment the core nicely. Captain Dustin Brown will have to put up better numbers in order to help carry his team back into the playoffs and newly acquired Milan Lucic will certainly help the Kings’ top line net a few more goals.

Calgary Flames: When thinking of teams that had the best possible offseason, the Calgary Flames have to be one of those teams. The fact that the team landed a young, big, right-handed shooting defenseman with loads of upside and NHL experience is incredible. New Boston Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney wanted to alter the landscape in Boston and certainly did that by giving the Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton.

Add Hamilton to a core that involves Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Sean Monahan and John Gaudreau and you have a very formidable team. Furthermore, the Flames made it to the playoffs for the first time in six years (despite poor possession numbers) and knocked off the Vancouver Canucks in the first round.

It certainly was a great season and year for the Calgary Flames and there is no reason to think the team will and the young core will only get better. Captain Giordano should be ready for the start of the season and it should be all smiles for Calgary fans.

Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning is one GM with the most to prove this year. Benning has made bold moves since being hired last season and continued to do so this year sending goalie Eddie Lack to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick. Lack had a good year last year with the Canucks and even replaced Miller in the playoffs last year before losing to the Flames in the first round. The team will now give Jacob Markstrom a chance to play behind Miller this season.

The Canucks are in a retool-as-we-go phase with young stars like Bo Horvat establishing himself as an NHL player while Henrik and Daniel Sedin are getting older and slowly starting to show signs of aging. The team still has a good defensive core with Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, and Chris Tanev, but will need good goaltending from Miller and/or Markstrom if they want to continue to contend for the Stanley Cup.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks have been one of the most intriguing stories the last few years. A team that once relied so heavily on Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, now have a great supporting cast that have elevated the team into a Pacific powerhouse.

The addition of Ryan Kesler last year to give the team a one-two punch down the center was key in order to stay in contention and it was evident with Kesler’s play last year. GM Bob Murray also acquired and extended Carl Hagelin for a reasonable price and added another goalie to the mix sending defenseman James Wisniewski to the Carolina Hurricanes for goalie Anton Khudobin.

The only questions that face the Ducks this upcoming season is goaltending, defense, and head coach Bruce Beaudreau’s inability to succeed in the playoffs at the NHL level. Goalie Frederik Andersen had a good year last year and John Gibson is being looked at as the future goalie of the Ducks, but why add two more goalies with NHL experience to the roster if there was confidence in the goalies the team has now? Will the loss of Francois Beauchemin leave too big a hole to fill with the young defensemen the team has? And will Beaudreau ever advance further than the Conference Finals in his NHL coaching career?

The margin of error was so small and the divisional games were so close last year that the results left some fans scratching their heads. While questions surround each Pacific Division team, no one questions how competitive the division will be and that every team has a chance to improve on the previous season.

 

Players Returning to Familiar Places Via Free Agency

When a player leaves a team he was originally drafted by or had played for at one point in time, it is considered the nature of the business. Very few teams have an elite core of players that are untouchable and only a small percentage of fans can marry themselves to those elite players on their favorite team(s). Fans can still have their favorite individual players on their favorite teams, but those players can sometimes be forced to leave that team only to return to that team at a later point.

Players like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews will most likely never leave the respected teams that drafted them. Both players are a number one center and both players have signed big contracts with the teams they were drafted by. Fans do not have to worry about those two testing free agency anytime soon and neither player will be traded.

A player like Toews does not make a team though and it takes an entire team, comprised of individual players, to win championships like the Chicago Blackhawks did this last season. One of those players that won the cup alongside Toews this summer was Antoine Vermette. Vermette was a second-round draft pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2000 and played five years in Ottawa before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009.

In 2012, Vermette was traded by Columbus to the Arizona (then Phoenix) Coyotes for a second-round draft pick, a fifth-round pick, and goalie Curtis McElhinney. Vermette would play four years before being traded to the Blackhawks as a deadline rental this last February at the trade deadline. Sure enough, Vermette would return to the Arizona Coyotes via free agency and sign a two-year contract with them after winning the cup with the Blackhawks.

Vermette was not the only Coyote alumni to return to the sunny state of Arizona after leaving the team at the trade deadline. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek and the Coyotes agreed to a two-year deal worth $6.4 million.

Michalek is known as a shut down defenseman that can eat up minutes, play on the penalty kill, and will be a great veteran presence for a rebuilding Arizona team. Michalek has obviously enjoyed his time with the organization, as this will be his third time returning to the Coyotes.

Another player that will be returning to a team he had formerly played on is Rafael Diaz. Diaz and the New York Rangers agreed to a one-year deal worth $700,000. Diaz began his career with the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011-2012 season and has played for four teams totaling 49 points in 201 NHL games.

The New York Rangers have one of the best defensive groups in the League including Ryan McDonaugh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, and Keith Yandle. Throw in an aging veteran with Stanley Cup experience, Dan Boyle, and that makes a very capable top-six defensive group. Diaz will have a hard time seeing any playing time for the Rangers; however, it did not stop the defenseman from returning to a former team via free agency.

The nature of the NHL, as a business, can guide the hands of players to new locations. And even though those players spent time with other teams, they would return via free agency this summer and hope to start a new chapter in a familiar environment.

 

Hockey’s Fifth Season

Former NHL great Wayne Gretzky once said hockey had four seasons: the pre-season, the regular season, the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Finals. We now have a fifth season.

If we thought that the presentation of the Stanley Cup two weeks ago was the end of the hockey season, we need to think again. The front office staffs of all 30 teams have to crank it up almost immediately once the playoffs are over because during the three week period after the on ice action is over, the hockey world goes through the league’s annual general meeting, the NHL player/executive awards, the amateur draft and the free agent period, which began July 1.

coyotesThis year was no different and included a couple of extra attractions: some rule changes and the (what seems almost) annual Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes crisis.

The rule changes are both minor and significant. Coaches will now get a coach’s challenge, but only in certain situations and only if the team still has its time out intact. The only situations where a coach’s challenge will be permitted are to a) review an offside play leading to a goal or b) scoring plays involving potential interference on the goaltender (that includes plays ruled as goals by on-ice officials where the defending team feels there was goaltender interference and plays where on-ice officials have ruled “no goal” because of goaltender interference and the attacking team feels the interference call was unjust). If the on ice officials’ ruling stands, the challenging coach’s team will lose its time-out. If the challenge and subsequent review confirms that the on-ice ruling was incorrect, then the challenging team will retain its time-out.

The face-off rules will also change slightly. For face-offs at centre ice, the visiting player must put his stick down first. At all other face-off spots, the defending player must place his stick on the ice first.

The most significant and visible change is the move to three-on-three (plus goaltenders) overtime, from the previous four-on-four. In its attempts to reduce the number of games being decided by a shootout, the League, through its Competition Committee considered a change to the overtime format that would stretch the overtime period from five minutes to seven minutes and would blend four-on-four and three-on-three. The initial proposal was to use the format tested in the American Hockey League this past season where teams started out playing four-on-four and then switched to three-on-three at the first stoppage after the three and a half minute mark of the seven minute overtime period. But the players wanted no part of the extra two minutes of play, so the five minute three-on-three was agreed to as a compromise. No team shall have less than three skaters on the ice at any time, so if a penalty is called during the overtime session, the non-offending team will get to add an extra skater rather than the offending team losing a skater.

Whatever the two sides agreed to was going to be “gimmicky”, since neither scenario occurs frequently/at all in regulation time, but if it helps reduce the number of games decided by an even bigger gimmick, the shootout, this change is seen as positive in my view. We will never see a tied NFL game decided by a field-goal kicking contest, a tied NBA game decided by a free-throw contest or a tied MLB game decided by a home running hitting contest, so this has to be positive.

While I do see this as a slight improvement, I’d still like to see the points awarded in a regular season game be adjusted to encourage teams to go for the win, rather than see teams play defensively for the last ten minutes of a game in order to preserve the point they automatically get for being tied after regulation time. This could be achieved by going to the soccer format for points: three for a win, one each for a tie and none for a loss. Point distribution would not be even in all games, but it isn’t now as some games are two point games (if there is a clear winner in regulation) and some are three point games (any game decided in overtime or by shootout). Changing the point distribution would force teams to push harder to win in regulation, get all three points and possibly make a significant gain on those teams it was contesting for a playoff spot/divisional title. It would also stop teams from backing into a playoff spot by simply playing for a tie and subsequent overtime/shootout loss. I think it will be a while before the NHL tries something that adventuresome, but I think it would work.

However the biggest news out of the meetings was an indication by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that league expansion was being seriously entertained. One would have to think that any expansion would be by an even number of teams, in this case two and most believe that Las Vegas has a firm hold on one of the spots. It is thought that the NHL would like to expand with two Western Conference locations in order to balance the two conferences. There are currently 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference. That would give Seattle or Portland a leg up for the second spot, but neither city is ready with an owner or an arena, two pre-requisites for any expansion. Quebec City has everything going for it except geography. There is an arena ready to open before next hockey season, strong ownership and a dedicated fan base. If Quebec City got a team, the fan response would be similar to what we saw in Winnipeg when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to the Manitoba city. My feeling is that the league would really like to hold on to Quebec City as a safety net in case another franchise has to be moved quickly, a la the Atlanta move to Winnipeg, but of course that would mean expansion money lost and Bettman indicated in his comments that any expansion fee “would start with a five”, and we can bet he doesn’t mean $5,000. $500Million is a huge increase over the last expansion fees of $80Million, but the new TV deal with Rogers means that income is significantly higher than it was when the last round of expansion took place and now of course that revenues has to be shared by more teams.

We can talk about the lack of sufficient talent available to stock any new additions to the league, but the fact remains that expansion makes no logical sense when you already have a couple of franchises that are teetering in terms of financial stability and/or attendance. I’m talking about the Florida Panthers and of course the Arizona Coyotes. The Panthers appear to be on the right track except for attendance. They have reasonably strong ownership, strong management and are committed to rebuilding the only way possible in today’s game, through the draft. The Coyotes are a breed all to themselves.

Why the NHL is so keen about keeping the team in Arizona is hard to understand, other than Bettman is stubborn and he is the one that has pushed for the franchise’s survival throughout the years. Unfortunately, the whole situation in Arizona over the years has become an embarrassment to the league. For years there was unstable ownership, poor fan support and a disagreement with Gretzky, one of the game’s greatest ever players who had a small ownership stake in the franchise as well as being the team’s head coach for a couple of years. The other 29 teams and the league kept the Coyotes afloat until a new ownership group, IceArizona was found in 2013.

At the same time IceArizona took over, a new lease agreement was signed with the City of Glendale for the team’s home arena, then known as Jobing.com Arena. The agreement was for 15 years and was in the amount of US$225-million. Recently, the City of Glendale chose to exercise a clause in that agreement that allowed the City to cancel the remaining term of the contract. It seems the central figure in the dispute is Coyotes general counsel Craig Tindall, a former City attorney. Tindall left the City’s employ in April 2013, some three months before the deal between IceArizona and the City of Glendale was signed. While Tindall was hired by the Coyotes in August 2013, it is believed that he received severance pay from the City through September 2013 and the City is now invoking a clause that allows a party to cancel a contract if an employee who was directly involved in the agreement “switches sides”. Best guess is that the City is unhappy with the deal financially. Whether they are losing money or just not making as much money from the agreement as they expected isn’t clear, but money is usually the reason any contract is cancelled. The City claims it is open to renegotiating the agreement, but the Coyotes have filed for injunctive relief, a temporary restraining order and initiated a lawsuit so it sounds as though the courts will be involved once again over the Coyotes future.

Greater Phoenix, where all four of Arizona’s major professional sports teams play is somewhat unique in that each of the four franchises has its own building. No one shares. Perhaps the real answer is for the NBA Suns and the Coyotes to join forces and build a new shared arena downtown, where fans can easily get to games without crossing the city as those in the east valley now have to do to get to Coyote games in Glendale.

Personally I can’t understand what the City hopes to achieve by their actions. There isn’t much else that goes on in that arena, so if the Coyotes up and left, the City would have a great deal of trouble finding replacement revenues/tenants. If the goal is to simply renegotiate the deal, then surely there are better ways of doing it. The risk to the City is that Coyotes’ ownership can now pack up and relocate the franchise to another city, so Glendale may be playing with fire on this one and frankly, from my seat, it appears they are allowing greed to overtake common sense. Kansas City has an arena that is ready/almost ready for NHL hockey, so a move isn’t out of the question and Kansas City would meet the requirements of a Western Conference location. I believe that the NHL sees Kansas City in the same mould as Quebec City; a safety net.

To date, the Coyotes front office and coaching staff has worked diligently to go about improving the team and operating the team in a professional manner, despite the circus atmosphere they have been asked to operate in. General Manager Don Maloney and Head Coach Dave Tippett have done terrific jobs in very trying circumstances. For years the team operated in uncertainty and this must have affected not only the players on the roster but also those players who might have considered Arizona as a place to sign once they became free agents. This latest situation just brings all of that back again.

While the League has firmly stated that the Coyotes are not moving, I don’t think this is something anyone should hold their breath on. The Coyotes are the pimple on the NHL’s rear end. There is no other way to put it. If the situation can’t be fixed once and for all in Arizona, it’s time the team re-located.