May 082009

Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of RIM, has reportedly made a US$212 million offer to buy the financially struggling Phoenix Coyotes, provided he can move the team to southern Ontario. This isn’t the first time Balsile has surfaced. He was previously thwarted in his attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Nashville Predators, either of whom he would have moved.

The NHL is going to fight this move, at least officially, on procedural grounds. The league contends that it is running the team and has the right to determine the location of its teams. At least on that ground, I tend to agree with the NHL. It should have the right to locate its teams, so as to take advantage of geography and keep its operations strong.

However, I take grave issue with Gary Bettman’s misplaced attempts to grow the game in non-traditional areas, specifically in the US south and southwest. It’s one thing to have a team in Dallas, where the Stars have been successful and have slowly built a fanbase. But teams in Nashville, Phoenix and Florida have had very mixed success and have done almost nothing to ingratiate themselves into the local sporting cultures.

Joe Choker

Let’s face it – hockey is mostly a northern, cold-weather sport. Unlike football, it can’t be played in warm weather so growth potential in southern cities will always be limited. It’s pretty well-suited to its northern cities – Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Boston, Buffalo, NYR, NYI, NJ, Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Minnesota. In addition, I think Colorado is well-served having a team.

Consolidate LA and Anaheim into one team because a region that tends to be as blase about sports as southern California shouldn’t have two teams. Keep San Jose for representation in northern California. Carolina has shown they can get rabid about hockey and Dallas is a successful franchise with room for continued growth.

I say abandon the southeast to college sports and Nascar for the time being. Eliminate or move the teams in Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville, Florida/Miami and Tampa Bay. Winnipeg and southern Ontario should get two of the cast-offs. Winnipeg isn’t a huge city but with a proper arena, hockey will flourish there. If Green Bay can support an NFL team, so can Winnipeg.

Focus on continuing to strengthen the game in non-traditional areas such as Carolina, Dallas, LA/Anaheim and San Jose. (I’m not particularly enamored of having teams in sunny California but these are still good population centers for supporting the game and have experienced success in the past).

This plan leaves the NHL with 26 teams overall. Probably still two too many but with room for growth. Build a strong footprint not just a large one.

Mar 292009

By and large, I consider myself to be a fortunate sports fan. My teams generally do well. Two Superbowl titles, 2 Stanley Cups, 7 Sweet Sixteens, 1 Elite Eight, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald, many others. And someday the Pirates will get to .500 and all of Pittsburgh will go nuts.

I think a reasonable standard of expectation for a fan is for one’s teams to be in the hunt, in any given year. Nothing more, nothing less. All the crazies who expect a title every single season can stay in Lexington or Tuscaloosa or the Bronx.

In any given year, I expect that the Steelers will win 10+ games and have a shot at the Superbowl. I expect the Penguins to make the NHL playoffs and have a shot at the Stanley Cup. I expect that Pitt basketball will make the Field of 65 and have a shot to make a run to the Final Four. I expect Liverpool FC to contend for the Premiership, Champions League, and/or FA Cup titles. Eventually, I would like to expect that Pitt football will win 8-9 games in most years and once every few years when the pieces fall into place, they should contend for a national title.

Pitt vs Villanova

But even with what I believe are reasonable expectations, you inevitably get heart-breaking losses. I don’t have to tell you which loss I’m “mourning” today. I would have to say that Pitt’s loss to Villanova ranks second only to Francisco Cabrera’s single for Atlanta vs the Pirates in the 1992 NLCS. Even the Penguins recovered from David Volek. The Pirates have never recovered from that loss.

Pitt basketball is a strong program and they’ll rebound, rebuild and contend again. I know we had a successful season. I’m proud of how they battled and banged with the big boys. We’ll be back. I expect it.