I've enjoyed this whole "the economy is in the gutter" storyline as much as anyone. After all, it helped get my presidential candidate elected and has caused a delicious amount of bellyaching, whining and strife on the part of the CNBC set. Plus, I'm the guy that secretly rejoices when a huge snowstorm is on the way; I just love to see powerful natural forces get the best of people who think they have everything figured out. Call me morbid, call me what you will.
Considering my fatalistic mindset, it's probably not surprising that I find myself thinking the current economic downturn could ultimately be beneficial for the sports league most near to my heart - the National Hockey League. It's no relevation that the NHL overzealously overstepped its bounds by expanding into cities that arguably weren't suitable to support an AHL team. So in this period of financial uncertainty, now is the ideal time to clear out some of the deadwood franchises that are dragging the league down.
This isn't to say that Gary Bettman and his boys should be actively contracting the league; rather, I'm calling for a hands-off strategy that would allow failing franchises to drop off the map, with either a dispersal draft or relocation as the next step. In other words, you get all the benefits of declaring bankruptcy (restructuring/streamlining) without all the messy PR.
Which clubs would I like to see bite the dust?
1. Florida Panthers - The definition of lame duck. If someone could tell me exactly what this franchise has contributed to the NHL, besides making the New Jersey trap palatable for the masses while breaking up a dream Stanley Cup final of Colorado vs. Pittsburgh in 1996, I'd appreciate it. Oh yeah, toy rats on the ice. Thanks.
2. Phoenix Coyotes - They should be in Winnipeg and that's all there is to it. Although without the Coyotes, Sidney Crosby couldn't have done this:
3. Atlanta Thrashers - The final two on this list are tough calls. If the Thrashers don't get their financial house in order soon (members of the ownership group are currently battling it out in the courtroom), it would be the second hockey experiment to tank in the ATL. Who can forget the Atlanta Flames? Actually, as it turns out, almost no one remembers the Flames before they were moved to Calgary. As it stands, the Thrash's only playoff appearance was defined by none other than Sean Avery - with a little help from a rogue Phillips Arena glass partition.
4. Nashville Predators - Lord knows that when Jim Balsillie is stiffing up your tree, you might be in trouble. As a Pens fan, I know this better than most. (It's easy to forget how close the Penguins came to being property of Mr. Blackberry in the fall/winter of 2006.) But beyond Balsillie and the legal misadventures of investor Boots Del Biaggio - another would-be financier with Penguins connections - the Predators actually have been successful on the ice and have a sizable group of loyal fans. Those two things going for them separate the Preds from the first three teams on this list, but it might not be enough to keep them from being the Hamilton Predators in a couple of years. Sadly, this is the team that least deserves to get the axe, yet if I had to put $100 on an NHL team to be dissolved/relocated, it would be Nashville. Just for fun, here's the Preds shocking the Red Wings in last spring's playoffs.
Pens host the Isles tonight and I'll get to actually watch it for the first time this week. Look for a recap and crack analysis tomorrow.