Last week, I mentioned that some teams appear on the surface to have lost ground in the latest configuration of conferences. As of now and the next few years, the Flames and Blue Jackets seem to have been dealt a tough hand for the next few years. Am I wrong? We’ll see. Also, I mentioned that expansion could be on the horizon given the side effects, and now the ease of adding teams to the league given the new structure. Am I wrong? We’ll see.
I managed to find a few friends here on FanSided sports to respond, and talked to a very good source inside a potential destination for NHL expansion. It’s a brave new NHL on the horizon.
Being shuffled to the bottom isn’t the worst thing in the world on paper- look at the last few champions: Pittsburgh was terrible for a few years, drafted well, and won the cup shortly after. Chicago had the same effect, beating a Flyers team that also followed that same formula. Vancouver has always drafted fairly well, and rode the Sedin’s and Ryan Kesler to the finals.
Drafting well is essential for any league, but aside from the NBA, the NHL is the league most dependent on having a successful draft. Stacking up the conferences, there are a couple murderer’s rows assembled. “Conference A”- The Neo-Pacific/Mountain conference, looks just deadly on paper. LA, Anaheim, Vancouver, San Jose, Edmonton, Colorado… just take a moment to remind yourself of the top 6 on those teams. The Sedins, Kesler, Kopitar, Perry, Thornton, Marleau, and the kids in Edmonton and Colorado, and that’s leaving our guys like Mike Richards, Ryan Getzlaf, Martin Havlat, you get the idea. Hockey isn’t just played by forwards, but seeing the talent assembled by these teams out west is quite amazing. (For the Preds sake, that’s an arms race I want no part of)
Where does Calgary fit in? The Flames are built from the back end forward, backstopped by Mikka Kipprusoff and defended by the likes of Jay Boumeester. Their goal scoring has not been up to par with the division, and Jerome Iginla’s time is drawing short. The Flames can be a player, as they showed during the 4th quarter of the year. But seeing the onslaught they’ll endure throughout the year from the barrage of forwards, I’d be a bit worried.
Cait Platt is a FanSided.com blogger for Flame for Thought, and in addition to being an awesome person, she knows her hockey. I asked her about the new situation the guys in the Saddledome will be facing as of next year.
DB- On my first reaction, I listed the Flames as a team that “lost” in this new conference format. Seeing that now they are grouped with Vancouver, LA, Anaheim, San Jose, Edmonton, Phoenix, Colorado… all teams that have their franchise players either early or in the middle of their prime, what is the reaction from Flames fans about this new setup?
Cait Platt- To start, it is important to understand, that while I am a Flames fan and blogger, I am very isolated from other fans. Being located in NJ gives me a different viewpoint. So to speak for all fans, I’m sure my views would be very different. That being said, the Flames are at the bottom of this new conference, however it’s not much different than where they are now in this division/conference break down. Division wise, Vancouver, Colorado, and Edmonton are already a hassle for the Flames. Adding in LA, Anaheim (who is on a down swing this season), San Jose, and Phoenix won’t change the Flames playoff chances; the Flames still compete against them in the current conference set up. The biggest benefit would be the absence of the Minnesota Wild. This realignment isn’t the best for the Flames, but it isn’t the biggest change, Flames will struggle regardless of the conference set-ups until changes are made internally.
As you pointed out, every other team has franchise players that still have some youth. All of the Flames franchise players are on their down swing. With or without this realignment, the Flames would still have aging players. Foolish fans will blame next years struggle as a side effect of the realignment, but lack of changes in the off season will be the bigger problem.
My actual problem with the realignment is why they had such a massive overhaul. You can’t tell me that there was no way to accommodate the moving of Atlanta to Winnipeg in the current set up. So why change what’s working? Is it because Detroit whined so much it drove the Board Of Governors crazy? Was Anaheim tired of traveling so much? Did the time zone problems with Columbus create an unlevel playing field? Why did they change what was working? Put Winnipeg in the Western Conference and send Columbus to the Eastern. It works. Simple. No worrying about restructuring the playoffs, scheduling, or whatever dumb stuff will come up in the coming weeks will happen if you leave it alone! Stop breaking things NHL! (sorry that may have been off topic, but that’s my true problem with the realignment, not the fact that the Flames might be in trouble and at the bottom of this new 4 conference set up)
DB- Is there now even more pressure on the front office for a dynamite draft in 2012, after seeing who the Flames will be grouped with?
CP- As I’ve stated before, one draft will not turn around this team. Take a look at the Oilers, it isn’t Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle that have turned around the team. It is a group effort. It’s smart drafting that adds to the current roster. The Flames have a heavy need to clean house and to draft a player, based on where the team is at now, would do the Flames no good. The Oilers went into the draft knowing exactly what key players they needed, Flames won’t have that advantage. The Penguins did the same thing a few seasons back. For those of you who don’t remember, the Penguins were awful for a good chunk of time. However, with good drafting and building with what they already have, the Penguins are now a strong Eastern Conference presence. The Flames need a good draft pick but they also need a steady roster, a farm team that grooms their prospects properly, and an understanding that not every draftee will be like Jeff Skinner, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, and those lucky few who manage to have an explosive career right out of the gate. The Flames need to give their prospects to grow, which will require a level of patience that many don’t want. So is the 2012 draft important? Yes but it’s not as critical as to what the Flames do after the draft.
DB- Finally, as a fan: are you hoping Phoenix stays put and in the current conference?
CP- Yes. (Do I have to elaborate? I guess I should.) I understand that the game of hockey is a Canadian one as well as one of business. I can see and understand the desire to have the team return to Canada, obviously not to Winnipeg but else where, but is the money there? Sure the cities are willing to put the money up to have a beautiful arena, to support the team, but what happens in 30 years? Will they be willing to reinvest in the team if they are struggling? The city of Glendale is doing the best it can to support the team now. I’m sorry to say this but Glendale/Phoenix is a much larger economic pool than a smaller city in Canada. If the Coyotes cannot stay in Glendale/Phoenix, I think they should stay in the area. Put them in the Las Vegas! I’m sorry but I don’t think the southwest should lose their hockey team.
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Very few cities in the world love their sports like the fans in Seattle do. Last Saturday, the Seahawks fans caused all kinds of havoc for their team against the 49ers, urging their team forward for their slim playoff hopes to be realized. Have you ever watched a Sounders game in the MLS? Seattle brings the passion, just needs the building. The Thunderbirds, a WHL junior team, have thrived for years in the Emerald City. Hockey does have a footprint in the 11th largest media market in North America, and with the new conference setup, it could be the destination for a new or relocated team.
Su Ring is a Jill-of-all-trades, and is very knowledgeable both in the rink and around the city. Co-host of CCPT Hockey, TV producer, and all around good person; you can follow her on twitter at @Motley_Su, and visit motleysu.blogspot.com. Su recently answered some questions about the arena issue that is the restraint on the NHL’s future in the American Northwest.
DB- I wrote that the NHL’s new realignment is ideal for expansion, what is the feeling in Seattle about their new arena project?
Su Ring- There’s one serious group of business people exploring several arena options, including a proposal to build one in Bellevue. There has also been talk about revamping the TacomaDome to accomodate hockey, while KeyArena is a white elephant in the mix. I’m excited about the Bellevue option, which apparently has drawn interest from the owner of the Chicago Wolves AHL team.
DB- With the Thunderbirds having recently played at KeyArena, what is the public feeling regarding the older building at Seattle Center and renovating it once more for the NHL?
SR- The Seattle Thunderbirds have not played at KeyArena for several years. The City of Kent built an arena for them (ShoWare Center) – it’s smaller than the Key, but built along the same lines as a number of other arenas in the WHL. The Everett Silvertips also have an arena (Comcast Arena) up in Everett, so KeyArena has had to rely on concerts, circuses and the occasional Seattle University basketball game when the Seattle Storm (WNBA) aren’t playing.
DB- Donald Levin has mentioned making a new building out in Bellevue, privately funded. Which do you feel is more likely to garner public support seeing how Seattle area will then have two older arenas in Pudget Sound area (Tacoma Dome)?
SR- I have heard a rumor (RUMOR!!!) that the business group planning the arena in Bellevue are working under the “Field of Dreams” premise (if you build it, the team will come). I don’t know where this rumor started, but the person I heard it from is pretty high up in the sports media scene here in Seattle. I take rumors with a grain of salt, but with several NHL teams practically flatlining financially, I would not be suprised to see a team move here by 2015 if the arena is built. That’s just my personal opinion, but I don’t seem be alone in thinking this way.
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This is the first part of this series. I am of the feeling that this new look NHL could be the catalyst for a new golden age of the league. Two things build rivalries that hold stronger than anything else- playoff series, and geography. This new setup does allow for both to galvanize bonds of hate between teams that can hold for a long time.