Why I gave up on the NHL

This article was originally posted on kingpinned in June.

The 2006 Stanley Cup will likely go to the United States this year, and I think that in general the United States will continue to dominate the championship.

I am not anti-American at all. As a Canadian I am glad the Americans are our neighbours. I use many American products and appreciate many aspects of their culture. I know Americans personally that I like, and have American friends. The United States is currently the greatest (most prominent) country in the world, no question. I study theology and I am very appreciative of the theological contributions the United States has made to the world, among other things.

I have been fed up with the Americanization of the NHL since 1990s. I firmly believe that most of the teams in the NHL should be located in the United States, but not with the current 24-6 ratio. That ratio makes it very difficult for Canada to win the Stanley Cup on a regular basis. Some may say that the last two finals have had Canadian teams in them, but I would reply that being in the finals and winning are not near the same. History is filled with teams that go on a run one year and never win championships in following seasons; in fact most finalists are in that category. Canada has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993, and with a 24-6 ratio it will be fortunate to win the Cup every twenty years.

Many Americans cities in the southern part of the United States are not really hockey towns. Those franchises in those cities are like the Montreal Expos, and Vancouver Grizzlies, basically sports teams that will make it if they contend, but if the teams are average they will not be that popular. Sure, winning the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay and Carolina brings fan support, but how long will hockey succeed in areas with a non-hockey culture and a mediocre team. Like The Expos and Grizzlies in other sports, those hockey teams should be moved to cities where the sport is popular.

The NHL did nothing to save Quebec and Winnipeg from moving to the States, caused largely by out of control salaries and a weak Canadian dollar. The league did not bring in a salary cap and revenue sharing until years later. As well, many in the Canadian media at the time thought it was for the good that the NHL was focusing on the United States at the expense of Canada. However, now many in the media complain about the non-hockey markets and that Canada has not won a Cup since 1993. When talking about good for the game, whose game are we talking about? Professional hockey in Canada has suffered since the 1990s. Sometimes I just shake my head at Canadian attitudes. I lived in England for two years, I did not hear the British media stating that it was good for football/soccer that top players and teams go to the United States, at the expense of England. If the United States was to succeed in soccer, then it was good for them and the game in a sense, but England would look out for its football/soccer program first and foremost. No one is really looking out for professional hockey in Canada first and foremost. This is stupid and ridiculous.

Without a salary cap and revenue sharing only the clubs in the bigger markets would have succeeded in the future. We have three cities in Canada that with the present salary cap and revenue sharing likely could support an NHL team. Those are Winnipeg, with a new arena which is barely NHL size, Hamilton, and Quebec, that could fix up their old arenas to NHL standards, until new arenas were ready. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman states that Canada may have viable cities without clubs, but has no plans to provide them with teams. In other words, too bad, no. The NHL does not care much about the growth of professional hockey in Canada. It takes Canada for granted.

Despite the fact Canada produces the majority of NHL players, because of the draft there is no benefit for Canadian franchises. In Europe football/soccer clubs have academies which can develop and then sign young players, but the NHL has taken away any advantage for Canadian teams by producing local players. Obviously with the 24-6 ratio, and the draft, the league is primarily American focused, hoping to make it big financially in the States one day. The American national TV ratings are mediocre despite the fact the hockey is almost as old in the United States as it is in Canada. Clearly hockey is a popular regional game in the northern states, and in southern states, at least temporarily if the team is a contender. The league has basically taken Canada for granted thinking that most Canadians will support at least one team despite the lack of championship success. This lack of success will continue in the future, unless there is a movement by the Canadian clubs and the NHL to stop taking Canada for granted. Not only is the growth of the professional game important in the United States, but also in Canada. Since the professional game has been taken for granted here, they have lost one fan, as over the last few years I have become just a casual observer.


A dear relative of mine who read an earlier version of this post stated that I appeared to be anti-American, or bordered on being anti-American, and that Canadian players earned money in the United States. These statements demonstrate a misunderstanding of my writing, which I know can easily happen when one is reading the writing of another person. I shall attempt to make myself more clear concerning this post.

I supported the moves of the Vancouver Grizzlies and Montreal Expos from Canada to the United States, a place where basketball and baseball are popular national sports. I am opposed to the Americanization of the NHL, to the extent that a major emphasis has been made to grow the game in non-hockey markets. I think this philosophy generally will not work, in hockey or any other sport. I would deduce, that a look at most professional sports in the world would show that successful sports teams generally succeed over the long term where the sport has been part of the culture before the professional team existed, or the sports franchise was one of the early members of a new league and a new sport. I am in favour of the NHL providing a team for Hartford for example, which is a legitimate hockey city, but as a Canadian, my main focus in the growth of the game in Canada. If the NHL was experimenting with non-hockey markets in one or two places, I would not like it, but it would not be the same large problem it is for the NHL today, in my view.

As far as Canadians earning money in the USA, I have no problem with the concept. The draft does, however, in my mind, prohibit some of the elite Canadian players from staying in Canada. If the Canadian clubs did have academies in place, the top Canadian players would often likely play close to home, which should be their right as Canadian citizens, although as I said, I have no problem with Canadians working abroad. I am in favour of the free enterprise system, and if a hockey club can succeed in the United States in the long run, so be it, but I think the NHL has blundered by putting teams in several non-hockey markets, overlooking three Canadian cities, and at least one American one as well. This is not only an questionable approach to building the NHL, but is also stifling the growth of the professional game in Canada, and ultimately will greatly limit the number of Stanley Cups won by Canadian clubs.

It is of course necessary for Canadian cities and business people to have the money to purchase teams and renovate and build arenas. Hamilton and Quebec do not presently have updated arenas, but I reason that if the NHL made it clear it wanted to come to those markets that the support and money would come. American cities, that are sometimes non-hockey markets, are often more willing to build the arena first and try to bring in a franchise later. But according to the media, many of these cities are looking for either a NHL or NBA team, and this approach would not work in Canada where basketball is not a national sport. It would therefore be even more risky for a Canadian city to build a new NHL size arena without knowing that the NHL was interested in placing a team there.

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