Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gone With the Winn(ipeg)

Atlanta Thrasher Hockey Fans: "Oh NHL, if you go, where shall we go see hockey, what shall we do?"

The NHL: "Frankly, suckers, we don't give a damn."

(With apologies to Margaret Mitchell)

For the second time in the history of the city, Atlanta has been burnt in their relationship with an NHL team. Soon, the moving trucks will back up to their arena and begin the process of relocating the Thrashers to Winnipeg as True North Sports and Entertainment announced an agreement to purchase the team from the Atlanta Spirit Group, pending approval by the NHL's Board of Governors. The total purchase price of the Thrashers is $170 million, of which $60 million is a relocation fee that will be divided among the other 29 NHL clubs.

While the excitement builds for a return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg, the hearts have been ripped out of the hockey fans in Atlanta.


Believe me, I have long thought that there should be more NHL teams in Canada. This is not, however, how I wanted it to happen. For the loyal and passionate hockey fans in Atlanta, today's announcement is doubly painful, because it was a direct result of the ineptitude of the ownership group that ran this franchise into the ground.

The autopsy of this franchise will yield some instructive results for other owners and for the League itself. There are important lessons to be learned that, if taken to heart, will hopefully help prevent the recurrence of this painful process.

Lesson One: Vet the Owners

The history of the NHL is replete with sketchy owners. Unfortunately for hockey fans in Atlanta, the Thrasher ownership group will be added to that ignominious list. Almost from the outset, the Atlanta Spirit Group fractured, with lawsuits being filed among the partners. The distractions in the front office detracted from the efforts to market to and build the fan base in Atlanta, not to mention had a bearing on the on ice product. There is no secret that building a successful franchise in a "non-traditional market" takes nurture and attention to detail. With the tumult in the front office of the Thrashers, this did not happen. In fact, one of the owners, Michael Gearon, Jr., stated that the owners had been trying to attract investors or sell the team since 2007, but could not interest potential investors/buyers because of the losses suffered by the franchise and because of the on-going litigation among the owners. That litigation was settled in December, 2010, but by the then, the franchise had suffered a mortal wound.

Who knows if the Thrashers owners would have managed to make the franchise successful in Atlanta. The fact that they were involved in litigation among the ownership group certainly did not help the efforts to attract fans and ultimately potential investors. Overcoming these additional obstacles almost certainly doomed the Thrashers.

If the NHL wants to avoid the mistakes of Atlanta, it is incumbent that the vetting process that the League uses must improve. That process, especially with multiple owners in an ownership group, must examine not only the financial aspects of the partnership, but the business and interpersonal relationships between the partners. As the situation in Atlanta has shown, a fractured ownership group at cross purposes will quickly take down a franchise. The approval process must include a dispute resolution mechanism rather than leave owners to their own devices. The nasty and lengthy litigation among the partners in Atlanta spooked potential investors who possibly could have stepped in and helped to save the franchise. If potential owners feel as if they have been through a rather painful proctology exam, so be it. That doesn't compare to what hockey fans in Atlanta have been through.

Lesson two: Franchises Must Be Nurtured

The situation in Atlanta demonstrates clearly that a franchise must be nurtured. It takes a hands on, tender loving care process that engages the individual fan and the attracts the corporate dollars. I am not privy to the financials of the Thrashers, and I don't know the level of corporate support they were receiving from the local business community. It is telling that in a city that boasts the headquarters of international companies like Home Depot, Coca-Cola, and Delta Airlines, the ownership group could not attract sufficient corporate support to help keep the team. This indicates to me that the ownership group had not connected with the local business community in a meaningful way.

One can look at the empty seats in Phillips Arena to realize that the effort to cultivate a growing fan base was lacking as well. In a city the size of Atlanta, there are numerous alternatives for individuals to chose from to allocate their entertainment dollars, and those individuals have to be attracted and persuaded to spend their dollars with the hockey club. This did not happen consistently. The fan experience has to be attractive enough to bring the casual fan back and get them hooked on the game. With the distractions that the team faced, they obviously were not successful in doing this.

One has to acknowledge the fragility of a "non-traditional market". Face it, there are numerous entertainment options; the weather is nicer for a greater part of the year than in northern markets, which lures individuals to outdoor activities; and hockey is not in the DNA of a new market. All of these factors mean that a hockey team in these markets has to work harder to attract- and more importantly retain- fans. The Thrashers internal strife distracted the team from successfully luring and retaining fans.

Lesson three: Economic Conditions Change

Right now, Canadian franchises enjoy a strong Canadian dollar, which obviously helps their teams show a profit. Given the monetary policies of the United States, this condition is likely to persist for some indeterminate time. But it will change. One has to only look back to recent past to see Canadian franchises struggling because of their weak dollar.

The point is that economic conditions change, oftentimes in a manner that is not favorable. Many U.S. franchises suffered, and continue to suffer, because of the recession. Franchises that need to have the sun, moon, and stars, align perfectly to survive are skating on thin ice (pardon the pun). This is the case for many teams. Every franchise has to have financial staying power, and this goes back to lesson number one: the vetting process has to realistically determine the ability of an ownership group to absorb loses. Not only from a financial standpoint, but from the strain that it will  put on the partners. The strain of absorbing losses from the operation of the Thrashers contributed to the dissension in the ownership group.

Lesson four: Lose the Parochial Attitude

There are too many who believe that hockey only belongs in colder climes; that hockey is Canada's game and doesn't belong in the sun belt of the United States. Yes, hockey was perfected in Canada, and it is interwoven in to the culture and fabric of that great nation. But hockey is no more Canada's game than football is the United States' game. Look, you Canadians play a screwed up game of football: the field is too big; you have too many men on each side of the ball; the ball is the wrong size; and you have men in motion on every play. Yet you don't hear the outcry in the States that football doesn't belong in Canada.

Here is the problem with that parochial attitude: you are fighting the growth of that beautiful game in parts of the States that have a growing population and that are learning to love the game. Frankly, small minded "pundits" like Ken Campbell and Howard Bloom, who promulgated an unfounded rumor that Nashville would be relocated within five years, do nothing to help the game. These guys resent hockey in the sun belt and will never be persuaded that it belongs here. Yet the fastest growth of participants in hockey is occurring in the sun belt. Kids are growing up with the game, refining their skills, and learning to love this sport. I am still waiting to hear a rational explanation from these folks, and others like them, as to why this is bad.

Growth of the game at all levels is good and desirable. Fighting that growth every step of the way with an attitude that can only be described as neanderthal is foolish and short sighted.

There are probably other lessons that we will take away from the painful relocation of the Thrashers. As I mentioned earlier, I think there are Canadian markets that deserve teams. There are also U.S. franchises that are struggling, and there will be those that posit that those teams should be uprooted and relocated. That is again short sighted and foolish. The fact is, fans will not commit to a team that is constantly rumored to be on the move. This is detrimental to the long term health of the game. And the fact is also that hockey is thriving in many sun belt markets, and will continue to do so, in spite of the sentiment expressed by some that it doesn't belong there.

Take these lessons and learn from them. Strengthen existing franchises and make sure that new ones are properly vetted and prepared for the challenges of operating a team.

And keep other teams from being gone with the Winn.


Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Remembrance

Memorial Day is a holiday that can come and go without a lot of fanfare. Schools are letting out for the summer, it is the unofficial start of the vacation season, and our hectic days get filled up with all sorts of family activities. All of these things, and many more, we enjoy because of our status as a nation that is free.

That freedom didn't happen by accident or chance. The freedoms that we enjoy were hard won, paid for at a dear price. Our freedoms were bought with blood and sacrifice. Men and women laid down their lives so that we can live as we want.

On this day, we pause briefly to remember those who have died so we can be free. A moment out of a busy schedule, a nod to those that have given all, a brief respite in our otherwise hectic routines.

Those that have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free are owed our undying gratitude. As individuals and as a nation, we stand upon the shoulders of these giants. Our freedom cost them everything.

And for that, we stop and remember you and your sacrifice.

Thank you is not enough, but it is all we have. And a promise never to forget you.

What Heroes Gave

Robert J. Robicheau

Each donned their uniform to be
Defenders of our liberty

Their mission sure, their spirits bright
Guard freedom’s home, be brave to fight

One final day each faced their call
Each gave their best enduring all

We’ll never know what they went through
But know they loved this country true

Deep down inside we should all feel
What heroes gave, their cost so real

We must stay thankful, grateful of
The gift of freedom through their love

Their loved ones bore the gravest pain
What we can’t know, some now sustain

To God I pray their pain will cease
And each will find long-lasting peace

Remember this from year to year
What heroes gave – shan’t disappear

We’ll never let their special day
Their time for honor slip away

These brave fought for a nation free
If not for them, where would we be?

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Time to take a look at the View's Conference Finals picks and look ahead to the Stanley Cup Finals. First, a look back at the Conference Finals picks:

Western Conference

The Pick:     Vancouver in 7

The Reality:  Vancouver in 5

The Canucks proved to be too much for the Sharks as their offensive firepower overwhelmed Antii Niemi and the San Jose defense. The re-emergence of the Sedin twins in this series provided the offensive spark that the Canucks needed to dominate the Sharks. It is amazing the number of injuries that the Sharks disclosed after this series was over, nevertheless, the Canucks were not going to be stopped in this series. The Canucks were especially impressive with their forecheck and dominated play in the neutral zone, thwarting the offensive rush of the Sharks. This was by far and away the most dominating series that the Canucks have played in their playoff run.

Eastern Conference

The Pick:     Boston in 7

The Reality: Boston in 7

By far and away, this was the more interesting of the two series. Both teams were like heavyweight fighters trading punches throughout the seven games. The Bruins rode goaltender Tim Thomas to the victory, and he was outstanding, especially in game 7 with the shutout. The Bruins took advantage of opportunistic scoring throughout their line up and were constantly pressuring Tampa netminder Dwayne Roloson. In fact, Roloson was pulled in favor of back up Mike Smith for game 6, which will leave Tampa coach Guy Boucher open to second guessing in the off season.

And now on to the preview of the Stanley Cup finals.

This match up should be interesting. The challenge for the Bruins defense will be containing the explosive offense of the Canucks. The strength of the Canucks is the scoring threats through out their line up, and while Zdeno Chara will most assuredly be on the ice with the Sedins, it will be imperative that the Bruins defense keep the likes of Ryan Kessler, Mason Raymond, and the rest of the Canucks forwards in check. Tim Thomas will have to be at the top of his game to keep the Bruins in the series. For the B's, they are going to have to pressure Roberto Loungo and get a lot of pucks on net. Until Luongo wins the big prize, there will always be questions about his fragility in net. If the Bruins can get early goals and make the Canucks play from behind, this could be an interesting series. It is going to be necessary for the Bruins to at least split the first two games in Vancouver to have a chance in this series. Fail to do so, and this one could be over quickly. I think the Bruins will present a stiff challenge to the Canucks, but in the end, the offensive firepower of the Vancouver squad will prevail.

My Pick:    Vancouver in 6

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

As many industries in the United States face fierce competition from overseas competitors, the call for protectionist trade barriers rises. Seems logical, doesn't it? Countries that have lower wage and benefit costs because they do not have a union wage scale, as stringent workplace safety regulations, or an onerous regulatory burden have an unfair advantage, don't they? Therefore, according to this skewed logic, we shouldn't allow them to sell their products here. One of the many flaws in that argument is that it ignores how beneficial free trade is to our economy. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, our trading partners that have a free trade agreement with our nation buy on average four times more goods than those countries that do not. For example, in 2004, Chile signed a free trade agreement with the U.S. and our exports to that country have increased 300% from $2.7 billion to $10.9 billion . Big labor opposes free trade agreements because it places the union wage scale in stark contrast to what global competitors pay and because of the mistaken notion by labor that free trade costs the U.S. in terms of jobs. Here is what Teamsters President James Hoffa, Jr. said in a press release at the time the free trade agreement with Chile was signed, "The U.S.-Chile trade agreement will likely lead to the same deteriorating trade balances, lost jobs, trampled rights, and inadequate economic development that resulted from NAFTA." Here are the facts that Mr. Hoffa and Big Labor conveniently ignore: 500,000 net new jobs were added after NAFTA was signed, reversing two decades of labor declines; and there are 18 million jobs in this country directly tied to our 17 free trade partners. Think free trade is bad? Try telling that to one of these 18 million employees. It's time for the unions to realize that this is a global economy, and rather than do everything to prevent U.S. workers from participating, they should embrace this economic reality and work to create more jobs.

I went to a very emotional wedding this past weekend. Even the cake was in tiers.

Have you heard about the new White House Office of Progressive Media and On-line Response? Probably not, so let me tell you about it. Ostensibly, this an adjunct press office whose purpose is to identify and  counter what are perceived to be negative news items that emerge. Fair enough. Every administration attempts to put as positive a spin on the news as they can. This particular effort is a bit different, however, in that it is a thinly disguised attempt to control the news flow that would criticize the Administration and its programs, and more specifically, President Obama, especially news that flows over the internet. The director of this office is one Jesse Lee. Name doesn't ring a bell? Let me tell you about Jesse Lee and his association with one of the most virulent anti-American organizations operating today. Lee is married to Nita Chaudhary, on of the people responsible for the 2007  MoveOn.org attack on highly decorated Army General David Patraeus as well as the war in Irag and Afghanistan. You may remember the attack ads that referred to General Patraeus as "General BetrayUs". Jesse Lee and his wife are members of an extreme left wing group that has consistently taken a stance that belittles America and makes no attempt to hide their hatred for our great nation. Lee is now in charge of the press office that is designed to "correct" mistakes- and more importantly- people and institutions- when they dare question the Obamessiah. Oh yeah, MoveOn.org? Funded by the notorious George Soros, an avowed hater of America, Americans, and our way of life.

My dog is so tough he can lick anyone.

The AARP helped to push through the socialized health care program known as Obamacare by contributing a $121 million ad campaign in support of the program as well as millions in lobbying to have this travesty passed by Congress. AARP stands to benefit as a seller of MediGap insurance coverage to seniors, and is one of several MediGap vendors, but is by far and away the largest. This week, we learned of the payback to AARP for their support of Obamacare. All MediGap insurance sellers have been exempted by the Administration from federal oversight of their rate increases. This means that AARP and the other companies that are selling MediGap coverage do not have to justify any of their rate increases that are passed along to buyers of their policies. Insurers that are not exempted have to justify and obtain federal approval for every rate increase that they attempt. Who is the insurer that is the AARP's biggest competitor in this arena? Medicare Advantage, which by the way, was not exempted. At best, this is crony capitalism. At worst, this is the AARP selling its corporate soul on the backs of its senior members, who will awaken in the near future to the fact that their health care options are severely limited and much less favorable than they are today. AARP will reap enormous profits; the members it putatively represents will suffer immensely. As I have always told you, follow the money.

If I was going to run away to join the circus, I think I would join the Cirque de So Lazy.

And that, my friends, is my view.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Change the Model- A Proposal to Make the NHL and Its Teams More Profitable

Part 2 of a series

In the first part of this series, which is here, the question was raised, "Does the NHL's Business Model Work?"

There are no simple answers to that question, but it is a question that merits examination.

Looking at the revenue components, it is a given to say that different markets will allow a team to command different ticket prices. The demand in a market like Toronto will allow the Leafs to continue to support the highest average ticket price in the League. This is simply an economic function: demand is greater than the supply of available seats, which allows the team to price their tickets higher than a market that does not enjoy that level of demand. It is this high level of demand that allows the Leafs to command the highest ticket prices in the NHL and to be the League's most profitable franchise.

Venue revenues are negotiable from franchise to franchise and it is incumbent on each team to attempt to negotiate the most favorable revenue arrangement possible. The lack of revenue from the Nationwide Arena in Columbus is an prime example of a franchise that is starved for revenue from their facility. Each franchise is responsible for negotiating their lease and the accompanying revenue split from non-hockey events. One can examine the situation in Columbus, where they get no naming rights revenue or suite revenue to see how a poor lease can cripple a vital source of team revenues.

The broadcast revenue stream is also a function of market size and the ability of a team to negotiate favorably. Large market teams hold a distinct advantage in this area, and this disparity will remain in place simply because of demographic factors. Teams in a larger media market will command higher broadcast rights fees than those in smaller media markets.

The revenue from merchandise sales will vary according to the longevity of a franchise, the size of the fan base, and the on ice performance. Again, these factors vary from market to market, with newer franchises and smaller market teams at a disadvantage.

Which brings us to revenue sharing. The current revenue sharing arrangement is complicated, to say the least, and attempts at re-vamping the revenue sharing arrangement will be complex and have lasting ramifications for the League and its franchises. Fundamentally, the question is "Should the revenue sharing arrangement be re-worked, and if so, how?"

So should the League change its business model to make its franchises financially healthier? If the business model is changed, what modifications are needed?

The answer to that question is provided by looking at the numbers. When more than 50% of your franchises are losing money, it is safe to say that something should change.

Foremost in considering a change to the business model is the necessity to keep costs contained. The primary driver of franchise costs is player salaries. Obviously, the players do not want to see limitations to their salaries, but the advisability of a League that has numerous money losing franchises spending near or up to a consistently rising salary cap is questionable.

The first change to the business model that should be considered is the removal of the salary floor. The cap should remain, but the floor should be removed. As League revenues rise, the salary cap rises and teams are forced to spend more money on player salaries to meet the League mandated minimum. This is problematic for teams in smaller markets that derive lower revenue streams from all sources due to demographic and market limitations. Removing the salary floor will allow smaller market franchises more flexibility in tailoring their payroll to the demands of their market will having no impact on teams in larger markets. While this would not have an impact on players currently under contract, it allows more leeway to a team in filling out their roster. This "wiggle room" will become even more important to small market franchises if League revenues continue to rise.

As for that cap, the calculation should be changed. Rather than calculate a cap based on League revenues, which take into account television rights and revenue streams from other sources including gate receipts, the cap should be a function of gate receipts only. Revenue collected at the League level would be distributed under a new revenue sharing arrangement. This change in calculation ties the salaries of the players to the product on the ice and is a more equitable arrangement for each club and for the players. Their salary level is directly related to the product on the ice on a league wide basis.

There is an obvious problem with this change in the way the cap is calculated. Franchises that struggle on the ice, such as the Islanders, Thrashers, Blue Jackets, and Coyotes have done recently, have a direct impact on the total gate receipts for the League. Players have benefited from rising League wide revenues regardless of the quality of the product that is put on the ice. This disconnect is unfavorable for individual franchises and for the League. Using this method of calculation will put more pressure on franchises that have not put a quality product on the ice to improve their play and their fan experience to drive traffic into their barn. It also could result in a lower cap than is presently enjoyed by the players, which would be a point of serious contention with the negotiation of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Currently, teams keep 54% of their hockey related revenue, with the balance being remitted to the League. Under this proposal, each team will keep 100% of their hockey related revenue.

A more complex change in the business model should be a change in revenue sharing. Revenue sharing has a disincentive that is built into the system in that teams that want to participate in the program are voluntarily constraining their spending to the mid-point of the salary cap. This can impact the League's stated goal of competitive balance because team's that desire to receive their shared revenue are not going out and signing high priced free agents or retaining unrestricted free agents on their roster that accept higher contracts from a competitor.

There is no doubt that revenue sharing has to be part of the NHL. So how should it be modified?

The NHL was the last major professional sports league to begin revenue sharing. The program used in the NHL is a complex process. As mentioned, the three criteria are average attendance above 14,000;  a team must be in the bottom 15 clubs in total revenue; and the team must spend no more than the mid-point of the salary cap. By contrast, the NFL splits locally earned television revenues and gate receipts between the home and visiting team with the home team receiving 64% of this revenue and the visiting team 36%. The NBA has a similar arrangement, but the home team keeps 95% of the revenue and the visiting team receives 5%. Major League Baseball puts 20% of all revenue into a pool with 75% of that pool shared among all 30 teams and the remaining 25% split among the lowest revenue producing teams based on how far below the mean revenue number they may fall.

The distribution of revenue for the NHL, provided that the initial criteria are met, is determined by a complex formula that is as follows:

Description of the Sources of Funding for the Shared Revenue Pool

Funding Phase                  Percentage of Pool            
League Revenue
Phase                               Up to 25% of minimum

Distribution requirement:     League may use up to half
                                          of any centrally generated
                                          league revenues (NHL Enterprises,
                                          television, sponsors, etc) in
                                          excess of $300 million to fund,
                                          at most, one fourth of the minimum
                                          redistribution requirement.

Escrow Funding Phase      Up to 33% of remaining
                                         balance (25-33% of total)

Distribution requirement:   At the end of the season,
                                        money accrued in the escrow
                                        accounts of the top ten teams
                                        in terms of revenue will be
                                        committed to covering up to
                                        one third of the remaining
                                        balance after Phase 1.

Playoffs Funding
Phase*                            50% of remaining balance
                                       after phase 2 (25-50% of

Distribution requirement:  Each playoff team will be
                                       taxed a certain percentage of every
                                       playoff ticket sold. Teams in the
                                       top third of the league in terms of
                                       revenue will pay 50%, second third,
                                       40%, and bottom third, 30% of each

Supplemental Funding      50% off remaining balance after phase 2 (25-50%)

Distribution requirement:  Supplemental funding phase will be
                                       funded by the top ten revenue teams,
                                       with each paying a proportion of the
                                       total based on how much higher their
                                       revenues are from the 11th ranked team.

Understand all that?

One factor that stands out is that the League only distributes a portion of  Phase 1 net revenues above $300 million. The aspect of the Phase 1 distribution that stands out is that until recently, the League has struggled to hit the $300 million net revenue mark

There are numerous inequities in the revenue sharing model the NHL uses. It was mentioned earlier that the current revenue sharing model provides incentives for teams in the bottom half of the salary scale not to spend money in order to achieve revenue sharing qualifying status. Teams in larger television markets are ineligible for revenue sharing, even if they are in the bottom half of the League in terms of spending. The current system is disproportionately  subsidized by teams in strong markets.

So what should be done?

Revenue sharing should continue. The continuation of the program should be simplified radically to provide more equity among the thirty teams. Here is how:

Keep the attendance metric.This ties revenue sharing to the on-ice product and the fan experience in each market and will keep teams focused on icing a competitive squad and providing the paying customers a quality experience.

Secondly, remove the escrow clause. Instead, set profit goals for the League and allow the players to share in the League's profitability as a component of their compensation. Essentially, this is a form of escrow, but escrow has been a burr under the saddle of the players. Re-framing escrow as profit sharing ties the players to the profitability of the League and removes the onus of the "give back" that escrow creates. The calculation of the profit sharing pool could be the same as the current escrow arrangement or a similar arrangement that was agreed upon between players and management.

If you understand that complex revenue sharing formula that was presented above, you have a job awaiting at NASA. Simplify the formula, and include all 30 teams in the profit sharing. First lower the threshold for profit sharing. More realistically, Phase 1 distribution targets should be in the neighborhood of $150-200 million. Once that threshold has been surpassed, all thirty teams should participate.

The distribution formula should be simplified significantly. Adopting an NFL type of revenue sharing would fit that criteria and would work as follows:

Once the agreed upon target is surpassed, 60% of all revenue above that number is deposited into a pool to be shared by all thirty teams. The remaining 40% would be divided among the bottom 15 teams in terms of revenue and the demographics of each team's market. Demographics would carry a heavier weight in the final formula with teams in smaller markets receiving a greater share of the remaining 40%.

For instance, a team in a market with 2.5 million people or less would have a higher weighting  in the final calculation of the revenue sharing. Presumably, teams in larger demographic markets will have higher media revenues than those in smaller markets, and weighting the final distribution more heavily to those smaller markets will allow a balancing effect.

Each team should be allowed to retain 100% of the revenue that their venue generates. This causes teams to evaluate the most cost effective manner in which to deliver a quality fan experience on game nights, from concessions to ushers to security. This also provides added impetus to negotiate a favorable lease with the owner of their barn as well as increasing the utilization of their facility for non-hockey events. Most teams have a revenue sharing arrangement with an arena management company, and non-hockey utilization will increase the revenue flowing back to the team.

Each team would be allowed, as they are now, to keep 100% of their regional broadcasting income.

Merchandise sales should be pooled and distributed evenly among the teams with the League receiving a portion to cover licensing and administration. It becomes critical for the League to effectively market merchandise much like the NHL has done. Centralizing the marketing for all teams gives the League leverage to negotiate more favorable contracts for merchandise and is more cost efficient. The League does some of this now at their shop.NHL.com site, but their is great room for improvement in this area.

Is this proposal perfect?

Absolutely not.

Is it simpler and more equitable than the current system.


Regardless of how the system is modified, it is essential that the business model of the League be critically examined and made more workable so that teams move toward sound financial footing.

Fail to do so, and the presence of financially troubled franchises will continue to be a fact of life for the NHL.

And that is a business model that doesn't work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Does the NHL's Business Model Work?

This is the first of a two part article.

The uncertain saga of the Phoenix Coyotes continues. The Atlanta Thrashers have lost scads of money and could be relocating to Winnipeg. The Columbus Blue Jackets announced they lost $25 million over the past season. Other franchises are losing money. In fact, according to Forbes magazine, 16 of the 30 NHL franchises showed an operating loss for the just completed regular season.

This should cause a prudent person to ask, "Does the NHL's business model work?"

That question is central to the overall health of the League's franchises and the League itself.

The history of the League is replete with mismanaged franchises. Recent history has seen the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins all file for bankruptcy. Obviously, mismanagement will quickly doom a franchise, but is mismanagement solely to blame for the financial problems that have plagued various franchises throughout the history of the NHL?

Or is the business model of the League a contributing factor?

To answer that question, one must look at the sources of revenue for a franchise and compare that with the operational costs of fielding a team. Examining both sides of the equation yields some interesting results and gives insight into not only team valuations but into the long term viability of individual franchises.

Looking at the revenue side of the equation, the major areas of revenue for teams come from five sources: gate revenues, or ticket sales; venue revenues;  merchandise sales; media revenue; and revenue sharing.

In the just completed season, the average ticket price for an NHL franchise ranged from a high of $114.10 for the Toronto Maple Leafs to a low of $35.66 for the Dallas Stars. One can extrapolate a median ticket price for the League at $74.88 using this data. The main driver of the difference in ticket price will be the demand for tickets in the local market of the franchise. Franchises will price their tickets for what their market will bear and the demand for tickets in markets like Toronto is decidedly different than is a market like Atlanta.

Gate revenues are the single biggest driver of the profitability of a franchise, and the disparity of ticket prices among the teams points out the inequality in demand for the League's product in various markets. The high demand for tickets in Toronto skews the median price of a ticket for the NHL. Teams that have consistently struggled on the ice lack leverage to raise ticket prices to meet rising costs as they often play to less than sold out arenas. The dilemma for many franchises is that although League revenues are rising, and therefore the salary cap, the revenue for a particular franchise may not be keeping pace.

Rising League revenues are problematic for franchises that are in smaller markets or are unable or unwilling to raise ticket prices because even though these franchises can choose not to spend to the salary cap, the salary floor is also rising, causing the smaller market franchises to have to spend more money on payroll.

The second source of revenue is the revenue that comes from media sources. The just completed season saw each team receive $1,935,000 from the national television deal. Each franchise also has a a local deal with a regional sports network (RSN), and these will vary with each franchise. The franchises in larger markets will obviously be able to negotiate a higher fee for their broadcasts simply from the size of the potential viewing audience. Radio broadcast rights add to this revenue stream, and the variability between franchises is enormous.

Merchandise sales are driven by the size of the team's fan base and the success that a team has on the ice. The depth of the original six team's fan base is sizable, as is that of long established franchises. This leads to a strong revenue component from merchandise sales. Franchises that have experienced recent success also see an uptick in merchandise sales.

Another source of revenue for an NHL franchise comes from the venue itself. Naming rights are the most prominent source of venue income. Suite sales provide an additional revenue stream. Additional revenue comes from non-hockey usage, as most teams get a revenue split from concerts and other events. Again, this varies dramatically from team to team. The Columbus Blue Jackets are at the extreme, for example, as they receive no income from naming rights, suite sales, or parking.

The final source of franchise revenue is revenue sharing from the League. To qualify for a full share of the revenue sharing pie, a franchise must have an average attendance of 14,000 throughout the season, must be in the bottom half of the League in terms of total revenues, must spend no more than the mid-point of the salary cap, and be in a market of 2.5 million people or less television households. The current revenue sharing arrangement distributes 4.5% of revenue from the top ten revenue producing teams to the bottom revenue producing teams. The revenue sharing process in the NHL is a complicated process and has generated much discussion about the fairness of the process.

So what does it cost to operate an NHL franchise? Outside of  team payroll, most teams assiduously guard this data, so once again, we must extrapolate the cost data. Operating costs function as a percentage of operating revenue, and franchises adjust payroll and other costs they control in light of their projected revenue. Some do this better than others.

According to Forbes magazine, the results for all 30 teams for this past season were as follows:

TEAM                  REVENUE          OPERATING INCOME
                                ($Mil)                              ($Mil)

Maple Leafs                187                                  82.5

Rangers                       154                                  41.4

Canadiens                   163                                  53.1

Red Wings                  119                                  15.3

Bruins                         110                                    2.6

Flyers                         121                                   13.3

Blackhawks                120                                   17.6

Canucks                     119                                   17.6

Penguins                       91                                   -1.6

Stars                            95                                     6.4

Devils                         104                                     6.9

Kings                           98                                       .7

Flames                         98                                     4.6

Wild                             92                                   -2.3

Avalanche                     82                                     2.3

Capitals                        82                                    -9.1

Senators                       96                                    -3.8

Sharks                          88                                    -6.2

Ducks                           85                                    -5.2

Oilers                            87                                     8.2

Sabres                          81                                    -7.9

Panthers                       76                                     -9.6

Blues                            79                                     -6.2

Hurricanes                    75                                     -7.3

Blue Jackets                 76                                     -7.3

Islanders                       63                                     -4.5

Predators                      74                                     -5.5

Lightning                       76                                     -7.9

Thrashers                      71                                     -8.0

Coyotes                        67                                    -20.1

Not a pretty picture, is it?

While there is some dispute about the numbers that Forbes compiles, there can be no disputing that many franchises are operating with little to no margin for error when examining their revenues.

There are certain factors that affect these numbers. Generally, teams that are in established markets and have deep roots with their fan base are profitable. The ties of a team to their community and to their fans are instrumental in building a consistent stream of revenue. These teams have cultivated a fan loyalty factor that allows them to survive down periods. That is not inexhaustible, however, as the Islanders have proven.

Closely related is the stability of the owner or ownership group. Turmoil in the ownership group, as the Nashville Predators have shown, can affect the entire operation, from the quality of the on-ice product to marketing efforts and ticket sales. The franchises that have shown the most consistent profitability are those that have consistency in the owner's box.

The on-ice product obviously drives ticket sales. A franchise can survive a slump in the level of play, but only for a finite period of time. Consistently put a bad product on the ice, and eventually the fan interest will wane. The Maple Leafs are an exception to this rule, but few franchises enjoy this luxury.

Even if these factors are favorable, there are franchises that are showing an operating loss. So we come back to the question, does the NHL's business model work?

In the second part of this series, we will look closely at the components of revenue and suggest some proposals to improve the process and the results for the teams and the League.

A special thanks to James Mirtle at the Globe and Mail for his input on this article

Friday, May 20, 2011

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

According to the Federal Reserve Economic Database, the United States spent $42.5 billion dollars in the month of April to import oil to meet our needs. Annualize that number, and you can see that our country sends nearly a half trillion dollars to places like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iraq, and Nigeria. That's a group of countries that are not exactly friendly toward our nation, and one can see that with our energy policy, or lack of one, that this transfer of wealth is only going to get worse. Here is what you should know: the pain at the pump we all feel is a direct result of our energy policies that have curtailed exploration and have thrown numerous roadblocks in the way of making our nation energy independent. We are taking your money, my money, and the financial resources of our nation and transferring them to governments that at best dislike us and at worst would like to see our nation destroyed.  The incoherence and ineptitude of our nation's energy policies are painful right now for us, and could result in even greater pain for our nation in the future.

I thought I had found my groove. Turns out it was a rut.

The federal government has acknowledged that funds in both the Medicare and Social Security programs will run out sooner than previously expected. Medicare will not be able to pay full benefits starting in 2024, which is five years sooner than expected; and Social Security will lose the ability to pay full benefits in 2036, according to the latest projections. Medicare will have to cut payments to doctors and hospitals by 10% and Social Security will cut payments to retirees by 23% in order to continue making payments. Here are the facts: both programs are broke by any legitimate accounting standards, and our economic condition will limit our ability to get these programs on solid footing. If we choose to continue these programs, and I think we should, then we are going to have to re-think our approach. Whether it is vouchers that allow individuals to purchase insurance in place of Medicare coverage or privatized Social Security accounts, innovative new solutions are going to have to be put in place. Fundamental to this is a change of mindset in Washington. Recognition that Congress and the bureaucrats there are not the seat of all knowledge and in fact are a great majority of the problem is the first step to correcting this dire situation.

My wife said she wanted to renew our vows. I told her I try not to make the same mistake twice.

In the next few weeks, the U.S government plans to sell most if not all of the shares that it, uh, we, own in General Motors. If you haven't kept track of GM stock, the price performance has been somewhat disappointing. How disappointing? For the government to break even, and for you and I as taxpayers to be made whole, the stock would need to be sold for $53 per share. As of this post, GM is trading for $31.25. The stock was offered to the public at $33 per share. At these prices, the taxpayer would be saddled with a loss of over $10 billion. Why has the stock underperformed, you ask? For the same reasons that it underperformed before you and I bailed them out: poor strategic decisions and product mix; management turnover and inconsistency; and a union that has not given the kind of concessions that would be necessary to make the company competitive with its products. Face it, folks, the bailout of GM has produced no change in behavior that would indicate the company has long term viability. This bailout was a sop to the UAW and the votes they deliver to Democrats. My prediction: you will see GM in need of another bailout within 10 years.

I really like birthdays, but too many can kill you.

And that, my friends, is my view.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ken Campbell- A Symbol of a Bigger Problem

The Hockey News resident troll, Ken Campbell, has decided that he wants to rain on the feel good parade that is the Nashville Predators and their recently completed successful season. Campbell is quick to point out that although the Predators got to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in their history, there are two more rounds to be played before you can claim the Cup.

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

I guess at The Hockey News, that qualifies as in-depth reporting.

Campbell goes on to to "report" that the Predators are more successful than the Atlanta Thrashers; that our fan base is small, albeit, devoted; and that interest in our team is a short term spike and will not stick. Oh yes, there is his obligatory opinion, stated as fact, that the Predators will continue to have trouble selling tickets.

Oh, really?

The Predators ended the season with a 7.3% uptick in average attendance, third best in the NHL. Season ticket sales and corporate sponsorships are noticeably up over previous years. All positive momentum, which counts for nothing in Campbell's insular little world.

Campbell cites the Predators average attendance of 16,142 as being good for 21st in the league. No mention that this is 94% of the capacity of our barn, or the fact that our facility seats 17,113. 94% capacity is good for 19th in the NHL, and ahead of franchises such as Dallas, Colorado, and New Jersey, to name a few.

Campbell also cites the fact that it took the Predators 13 seasons to get to the second round, while Philadelphia won the Cup after 8 seasons of existence and the Islanders won their first cup after 9 seasons. This is a fine example of Campbell's selective memory: there were far fewer teams in 1975 or in 1981, and the odds were more favorable for a team to win a Cup earlier in their existence. Oh, and there is no mention of the fact that since the lockout, the Predators are in the top five teams in the NHL in wins in the regular season.

That tickets were available before our first home game of the second round are also mentioned as a black mark against the Predators. He failed to mention that every home game of the playoffs was a sellout.

Again, I guess that qualifies as "reporting" for The Hockey News.

It would be easy for those in Smashville to direct their anger at Ken Campbell.

That would be a waste of energy. Why direct anger at an irrelevancy?

Campbell lumps the Predators in with the Lightning, the Ducks, and the Hurricanes as franchises that have, in his mind, not properly received the grand sport of hockey.

And therein is the problem that Campbell represents.

Yes, he is an irrelevant troll. He probably can't find Nashville on the map. Yet as much of a troll as he is, he represents the view of many of the hockey pundits and cognoscenti. These "purists" resent the fact that "non-traditional" markets have hockey teams, and it chaps their ass that these non-traditional markets are successful and doing hockey their way, without the blessing of people like him. These "experts" will continue to disparage hockey in Nashville and other markets they do not deem worthy to have a hockey club.

This attitude has been pervasive among many in the hockey world north of the 49th parallel. That view was changed when many of the Canadian media made their way to Nashville for the second round games against Vancouver. The energy and intensity of the fan base and the quality of the play of the Predators was impressive to them. Nashville was revealed to not only be a hockey town, but a serious hockey market that was doing things the right way.

And you and I know that a small minded person like Campbell chaffed at those realities.

The perception of many in the hockey world was changed when they came here. They realize that this market is here to stay and hockey will be successful in Nashville. Those are facts that will not change.

For those that are small minded trolls like Campbell, no manner of success in Nashville or other "non-traditional" markets will ever change their world view.

Which calls to mind the wise old adage, "Don't argue with idiots. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Conference Finals Preview

Time to review the second round playoff picks and look ahead to the conference finals. Let's take a look back at the second round and my picks.

Western Conference

Predators vs Canucks

The pick: Nashville in 6

Reality: Vancouver in 6

San Jose vs Detroit

The Pick: Detroit in 7

Reality: San Jose in 7

Eastern Conference

Boston vs Philadelphia

The Pick: Boston in 7

Reality: Boston in 4

Washington vs Tampa Bay

The Pick: Tampa Bay in 7

Reality: Tampa Bay in 4

After a 7-1 first round record, the View comes back to earth with a 50% record in the second round. Once again, I prove that I should stick to my day job.

I will, however, launch out fearlessly to make my Conference final picks.

Western Conference

Vancouver vs San Jose

The explosive Canucks will look to continue their regular season success against the Sharks, where they captured 3 of four contests. The task the Sharks will face will be to slow down Ryan Kessler and continue to contain the Sedin twins, which so far in the playoffs have been held in check by their opponents. Antti Niemi is going to see a lot of pucks, and it is critical that he is at the top of his game if the Sharks are going to have a chance to win this game. For the Sharks, it is a simple proposition: on offense, get pucks to the net with traffic to make Roberto Luongo uncomfortable. If Luongo can see the puck and isn't harassed with lots of traffic, this can be a short series. The Sharks can score and have the talent to make it tough on Luongo, and they are going to have to make him move and work. The deciding factor in this series could be the play of the Sharks D, lead by Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle. If their D can keep Kessler and company in check, then the Sharks could capture the series. I think this one will go the distance, but the Sharks will fall short.

My Pick: Vancouver in 7

Eastern Conference

Boston vs Tampa Bay

I think this series will be a series that will also go the distance, as the physical play of the Bruins matches up against the speed of the Bolts. The story within the story in this one will be the play of Tampa netminder Dwayne Roloson and Boston netminder Tim Thomas. Rollie the goalie has been outstanding in the playoffs, leading the Lightning to 4-3 win against the Penguins and a 4-0 sweep of the Capitals. Roloson, the ageless wonder, will be the key for the Lightning as the Bruins will fire the puck and create traffic in front of the net. He will have to be sharp against the Bruins for the Lightning to have an opportunity to capture this series. At the other end, Tim Thomas continues to shine. Unconventional in his technique, Thomas gets it done for the B's. He will face a stern test as the Lightning have the ability to put the puck in the net. This series will hinge on the Boston D containing St. Louis, Lecavalier, and the suddenly emergent Sean Bergenheim. Tampa Bay will attempt to use their speed to counter the physical style the Bruins play. I think the Bruins will wear down the Lightning in this series and although it will go the distance, they will prevail.

My Pick: Boston in 7

This should be a fun Conference finals for hockey fans. I expect both series to be a war that will take the full 7 games to decide.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

Economic growth equals jobs growth, right? That maxim is deeply ingrained in our economic thinking and strategies. There is emerging data, however, that is suggesting that this relationship is not as solid as once thought. Beginning with the fourth quarter of 2007 until the second quarter of last year, the U.S. economy lost 8 million jobs, causing unemployment to soar from just over 4% to over 10%. During the same period, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, economic activity as measured by our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), declined only 1.3%. In the second half of 2010, economic activity picked back up while unemployment remained stubbornly over 9%. The data is indicating that as our economy improves, jobs are not being added. Why is this? Two main reasons. The first is the globalization of our economy. Many manufacturing and technical jobs have moved off shore to other nations that have a lower cost structure than the U.S. Manufacturing as a component of the economy is lower now than at any time over the last three decades. This trend will continue. The other reason presents a more difficult problem for our country. Much of our new job creation is in technology and other "knowledge" based industries. The difficulty that this shift creates is that it means that we must reconsider our approach to education and equipping our students to compete in a knowledge based economy. The lag time to make a structural change in our educational system and better equip graduates to compete in a global economy is significant. Fail to change our educational system and our economy will suffer continued significant job loss, and the jobs created will not be the type that will generate income levels to which we have been accustomed. And even with appropriate changes in our educational system, it will take a number of years to reverse this negative trend.

This "if you want something done right, do it yourself" thing didn't work out so well with my last surgery.

We all know the housing market is bad, and the hope is that we have seen the bottom in housing prices. Stabilizing housing prices will eventually help to stabilize our economy. New data from Zillow, the real estate pricing information company, suggests that perhaps we are not at the bottom for housing prices. If they are right, this is not good news for homeowners or the economy. According to Zillow, average home prices are down 8% from this time last year. There was hope that prices had reached their nadir when the first time home buyers credit was introduced by Congress in 2008, but all that did was create a sucker's rally in prices. Once the credit expired, prices continued to fall (and the American taxpayer had another $22 billion added to the deficit). It is estimated that a record 16.3 million Americans are underwater on their mortgage- they owe more than the house is worth. This has negative repercussions for the lenders that hold these mortgages and for the homeowners that live in the homes. How much farther will home prices fall? That is any one's guess, but some economists expect another 20% decline in home prices before the bottom is reached. Regardless, this data suggests that home prices, and subsequently our economy, are a long way from recovering.

I like to enjoy a quiet beer, followed by 12 noisy ones.

With April 15th and the tax deadline fresh in our minds, one has to wonder what will happen with tax rates. The two year extension of the Bush tax rates will expire at the end of this year, and as sure as the sun comes up in the east, you can expect tax rates to go up next year. Congress will soon take up the debate on where tax rates should go, and this will be something we all should watch. Where will rates go? No one knows, but I would expect rates to rise at least 25% across all tax brackets. Watch for Democrats to engage in class warfare and vilify those that are working and look to confiscate even more of their hard earned income. And while income tax rates will most assuredly rise, also look for the introduction of a value added tax that will be assessed on all goods and services that are produced or rendered in this country. There is no doubt that we as a nation are in dire financial straits. The knee jerk reaction of many in Congress will be to raise taxes. It will be interesting to see if Congress is serious about reining in spending as well as taking more of your income.

It is said that "I am" is the shortest sentence in the English language. I will submit that "I do" is the longest sentence.

And that, my friends, is my view.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Random Thoughts at the End of the Season

Some random thoughts from your humble blogger about the just completed Predators season...

The Coaches and staff

Rightfully so, Head Coach Barry Trotz has been nominated for the second year in a row for the Jack Adams Trophy, awarded to the best head coach in the NHL. Trotzy and the staff, Brent Peterson and Peter Horachek, guided the Predators to a 5th place finish in the Western Conference despite a roster that was patched together for much of the season. I continue to be impressed with the way the coaches get the most out of their talent. In the course of the season, I had an opportunity to talk to several players off the record, and to a man they all indicated they have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Trotz and the staff. It showed in the way they played for them and the way they responded to the instruction- and occasional chastising- they received.

Trotz will have a vacancy to fill as Assistant Coach Brent Peterson is stepping from behind the bench due to his on-going fight with Parkinson's. While Trotz merits the kudos he has received, keep in mind that Brent has coached the defense for the Predators since their inception, and he has molded the Predators blueliners into a solid unit, with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter emerging among the elite defenders in the league. His contributions, while quiet, have been invaluable to the success of the team.

One other unsung hero is Dan Redmond. As the Head Trainer for the squad, Dan was constantly challenged this season to get players patched up and back on the ice while at the same time protecting their physical well-being. I have watched Dan work with the players, and he is very good at what he does, and the players relate well to him. Dan is solid as a professional and invaluable to the team, considering...

Man Games Lost

The Predators lost 348 man games due to injury or illness and 2 man games due to suspension. When you look at what they accomplished in the face of the staggering number of games lost, it is remarkable. Which leads me to my point about...

Depth and Development

The benefits of having a deep farm system and the philosophy of patiently developing players paid huge dividends for the Predators this season. As the injury toll mounted, the Predators could call up players such as Matt Halischuk, Blake Geoffrion, Chris Mueller, and Jonathan Blum and plug them into key roles and give them critical minutes. Predator fans have seen in times past our call ups look like boys among men. Not now.

Although this is the first year for him to serve in this capacity, I think part of the success with our younger players is attributable to the efforts of Martin Gelinas, the Director of Player Development. Marty was a consummate professional in his playing days, and knew what it took both in-season and in the off season to prepare for success. His influence on the development of our younger players will continue to be profound and positive.

The 7th Man

Just when I think the Citizens of Smashville cannot impress me any more, all of you take it to another level. Both Pierre McGuire and Darren Pang commented in the national media about the energy and the noise that in the tire Barn.

From my vantage point at the games, I could look down the visiting team bench, and there was nothing better than seeing the opposing team looking around with a "WTF?" expression on their face as the 7th Man rose as one to exhort their warriors on the ice. Or watching an opposing coach's head nearly explode as he tried to shout instructions to his team. Am I biased? Oh, absolutely, but I believe there are no better fans in the NHL than those that reside in Smashville.


I will have more to say on this later, but suffice it to say this off season will be big for the team. General Manager David Poile has his work cut out for him, and job number one is signing this guy:

We have all seen teams that have gotten trapped in contract hell and how that has devastated their fortunes, sometimes for long periods of time. GMDP has deftly avoided those situations for the most, cough *jpdumont* cough. Weber is an RFA this season and Ryan Suter is an UFA next season. Time to open the checkbook, David.


Getting to the second round of the playoffs certainly felt good, didn't it. For a while there, it seemed as if our team was named "The Nashville Predatorswhohavenevermadeitpasthefirstround", because that was how all the pundits referred to us. And as good as it felt getting to that second round, the loss there hurt even more. Just like last season, when we used the first round loss to Chicago build upon, I think this team will use the this loss to motivate themselves to go farther than ever.

It was also a first to get an abundance of the Canadian media types here to Nashville. In a perverse way, it was amusing to hear their surprise about how solid a hockey market Nashville was and what a great city and fans were here. Guess what, hosers, we have had some bumps in the road, but we have always been that way. And we are getting better. Now that your parochial view of Nashville and the south has been shattered, all y'all come on back more often.

One of the main drivers of the improvement in the off ice product is...

The Front Office

Jeff Cogen and Sean Henry were the high profile additions to the front office, and their energy and direction created a marketing and sales dynamo this past season. Corporate sponsorships were up significantly; individual ticket sales increased as did season ticket sales; and the marketing effort was strong and focused all year long. Using this playoff run, I expect to see the momentum continue to build with these two experienced executives at the helm.

I have some more thoughts and some items to which I will give a lot more attention, but these were just some first thoughts and impressions from the recently completed season.

For fans of the Predators, I believe there are good things ahead, and I look forward to taking that journey with you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Canucks Win Series 4-2 With a 2-1 Victory

The Vancouver Canucks beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 at the Bridgestone Arena to claim the series by a margin of 4-2. Vancouver won all three games they played in Nashville, while the Predators two victories came in Vancouver.

Vancouver's two goals came in the first period on just 7 shots. Mason Raymond was able to slide the puck between Pekka Rinne and the post after Ryan Suter got the puck tied up in his skates and turned it over in the low slot. Raymond's tally came at 7:45 of the first period.

The Predators had pressed the attack well early in the period but had been unable to solve Roberto Luongo. Unfortunately, that trend would continue throughout the game.

The Predators Jordin Tootoo dumped the puck into the zone and was attempting to chase it down when he was elbowed in the face and knocked down. Referee Steve Kozari saw it as diving on Tootoo's part and sentenced him to the sin bin. Daniel Sedin would score the game winner on the power play at 9:28.

David Legwand gave hope to the citizens of Smashville at 3:28 of the second period as he took a shot from the goal line that slid under Luongo and into the net with Luongo lying on top of the puck. After a lengthy video review, it was deemed a goal. Unfortunately for the Predators, that was their last offensive thrust, and the game would end by that 2-1 margin.

Let me congratulate the Canucks. They are a talented team and they played well. Head Coach Alain Vigneault is pushing the right buttons with his squad.

As for the Nashville Predators, this was a loss that is difficult to take. The Predators showed that they could compete and compete very well with the Canucks. Head Coach Barry Trotz and his staff is to be congratulated for getting the last drop of effort out of the talent that they put on the ice.

The players fought and scrapped and played with heart. I cannot and will not for a moment fault their effort.

But here is the fact: when you go 1 for 21 in the series on the power play; when 2 of your offensive leaders fail to register a point in the series; and when you fail to finish your offensive chances, it is very difficult to capture a series. Especially against a talented squad like Vancouver.

For this young franchise, this run into the second round caps a season of firsts, a season that has seen the fortunes of the Predators both on and off the ice take a positive turn.

As painful as this loss feels, this is part of the growing process as a group of players and as an organization. The desire that was kindled after last season's untimely first round exit grew into a driving force that carried this squad to the second round.

Now you know what it takes to get there, and more importantly, you know how much more it hurts when you get knocked out in this round.

Lessons- sometimes painful- that have to be learned.

Congratulations to the Predators and their organization. The team on the ice represented Smashville well and we are proud of you.

And we will stand with you through this loss and the the expectation of even better things next season.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Just One

"Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man. but sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can."
Vince Lombardi

After the Nashville Predators dropped game 4 to the Vancouver Canucks to trail in the series 3-1, Head Coach Barry Trotz framed the task ahead as not having to win 3 games, but just one. Fail to win that one, and the other two games did not matter.

The Predators have won one, and now face the Canucks back in Nashville for another backs against the wall, have to win game.


Just one.

Just one is going to take dipping deep into the personal and collective reservoirs of will. We as your fans have seen you do this all season. This one is different, though. This is for your playoff lives. So you go deeper, reach farther, push harder than you have done at any time this season.

Just one means that the sweater you wear is a sign of the bond and commitment to your mates that you are putting it all on the line tonight. You are bound by a will to win and a willingness to lay it on the line for the other guys in that locker room.

Just one means this: you will not get outworked; you will leave it all on the ice every shift; and you will play Predator hockey.

No excuses.

No holding back.

Just one.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nashville Battles Back to Take a 4-3 Win Over Vancouver

Facing elimination, the Nashville Predators held off the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 to send the series back to Nashville for a game 6 confrontation. Vancouver leads the series 3-2, with game 6 to be played Monday in Nashville.

This win was nothing but a character win for the Predators. Facing elimination, where they had been 0 for forever, the Predators fought and scrapped and came away with a gritty win over the Canucks.

This game was a war of attrition, as the Canucks lost Mikael Samuelson to an lower body injury and the Predators lost Nick Spaling after he was boarded. Oh guess what- no call on the boarding. Ryan Kessler took a puck to the face and required some stitches before returning to the contest..

It was a war, and the team with the biggest heart and the most grit was going to come out on top.

That team would be the Predators.

In the first period, the Canucks had all the jump and energy. They outshot the Predators by a 12-5 margin, and the Predators looked nothing like a team that was fighting for their playoff lives.

The Predators started well. With Sergei Kostitsyn in the box for another weak holding the stick call, Joel Ward slipped the puck to David Legwand, who broke in alone on Roberto Luongo and beat him to the blocker side with a snap shot at 3:42 of the first period.

The Canucks would even the contest at 5:59 of the first as Raffi Torres would be the beneficiary of a bouncing puck that eluded the Predators defense. Jannik Hansen was able to gather in the puck and slip it to Torres, who was all alone and beat Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne just inside the post.

Ryan Kessler would extend the Canucks lead to 2-1 as he took a lead pass from Mason Raymond and beat Shea Weber to the net. Kessler would slide the puck over the pad of Rinne on a beautiful goal at 15:06.

The Predators appeared as if they would tie the game as the puck slid over to Sergei Kostitsyn and he had a yawning open net into which to shoot the puck. Maxim Lapierre dove across and just got his stick on the puck to deflect it wide of the net.

Down 2-1 at the end of one period, it remained to see how the Predators would respond.

They responded very well.

The Predators opened the second period skating very well and generating numerous chances in the offensive zone. Although they could not get a puck past Luongo, there were several good scoring chances for the Predators.

The Predators would tie the game on what can only be called one of the strangest goals of the playoffs. David Legwand had the puck behind the net and flipped it over the top of the net. The puck hit Alexander Edler in the leg and caromed past a surprised Luongo to tie the game just 51 seconds into the second period.

Hey, they all count. No one grades them on style points.

The Predators sates much better throughout the second period and created some opportunities, but could not solve Luongo. At the other end of the ice, Rinne made some great saves, occasionally channeling his inner Dominick Hasek to make some saves. Because of the play of the netminders, neither team could find the twine for the remainder of the period.

One period. Twenty minutes to decide your fate and your season. How would the Predators respond?

Enter Joel Ward.

There are moments in a game when a player takes a team on his back and carries them. This was Joel Ward's moment.

Wardo took a nice cross ice feed from Mike Fisher just 1:14 into the third period and rifled a shot top shelf that beat Luongo blocker side.

Ward wasn't done, however, as he tallied again at 5:45 of the period off an assist from Jordin Tootoo. Ward ripped a shot that beat Luongo glove side to give the Predators a 4-2 lead.

This is the Canucks, and they weren't going to go away quietly. Ryan Kessler got his second of the game at at 16:14 of the third. Kessler decided to skate by the Predators bench and mock the team after his goal.

That will be remembered.

The Predators held the Canucks off the board for the remainder of the third period and skated out of Vancouver with an improbable win.

Who ya mocking now, Kessler?

The Predators have now forced a game 6 back on their home ice. It's time for the Predators to defend their home ice and force a game 7.

Do that, and the pucker factor for the Cancuks will be so high you couldn't pull a greased nail out of their ass with a tractor.

The Predators showed a lot of character and grit in tonight's win. It would have been easy to fold up on the Canucks home ice, easy to fold under the weight of never having won an elimination game, easy to succumb to the energy of the fans in Vancouver.

They didn't.

Now it is time to play one game. Just one.

Come back to your barn and play like there is no tomorrow.

Because there isn't.

Every shift, every puck battle, is all out. Nothing is left behind in this one, boys. It is all out for 60 minutes.

Do that, and you will have an opportunity to play one more game.

Friday, May 6, 2011

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

The stunning and good news that a Navy Seal team had killed Osama Bin Laden brought a measure of justice to those that were affected by the terrorism that this evil man fomented and marked a major step in the attempt to eradicate Al-Qaida. Seal Team 6 executed the dangerous mission and accomplished their objective flawlessly, and this is a testimony to their training and the might of the US military. Now that we are recently removed from this event, I think there are a few key points that we should ponder. The intel trail that culminated in the killing of OBL began in Guantanamo, where through "enhanced interrogation techniques" the names of OBL's trusted couriers were learned. Tracking OBL was an arduous and frustrating process conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command. They had agents on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past TEN years. Doing the dangerous and dirty, boots on the ground intel work was critical to finally locating OBL. For those that say we do not need the intelligence assets that we have, or who fought vigorously to close Gitmo, look at what those assets made possible. Those on the left who loath the military and the intelligence community and what they do need to recognize this: it is a mean, no, vicious world and there are those that want nothing more to kill you and me and destroy our way of life. Killing an evil leader like OBL does not just happen. It is tough, dirty, difficult work. Work that most of us could not do. So be thankful that we not only have the best military in the world, but that there are leaders who recognize that keeping our nation free and safe goes beyond the court system and treating enemy combatants like criminals.

Often, when I am reading a book, I pause and thank my English teacher. At least, I did until she got an unlisted number.

I mentioned this about a year ago when this idea was first discussed in the halls of Congress. It quickly disappeared, but now has reappeared like a zombie. What is it? A proposal by the Obama administration to begin taxing all automobile drivers based on how many miles they drive. This confiscation, uh, funding mechanism is tucked into the draft of the Transportation Opportunities Act that is under study by the Senate Budget Committee and the Federal Highway Administration. Section 2218 if you want to be specific. According to this idea, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) would be monitored by an electronic device placed on each automobile and payment would be collected at the pump when the vehicle is filled up. Now here is a question for you to consider: do you think the implementation of a VMT would lessen other gas taxes that are currently collected when we fill up our vehicles?.......I'm waiting..... No? Neither do I. Government at all levels is like a crack whore: they cannot get enough of your money and they will do anything to get it. This will be another burdensome layer of taxation on the public that will only serve to confiscate more of your income and direct it to Washington. And if you have a long commute to work, you are just plain out of luck. Pay attention to this one folks, and let your elected representative know your feelings.

I bet that living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween.

Here is something we all should consider when we fill up our vehicles: when President Obama took office, gas was averaging $1.83 per gallon. Today, it averages $3.87. Now one can blame the blowout of the BP Deep Horizon well and subsequent drilling moratorium for part of this as well as a weaker dollar, and you would be correct. A fundamental understanding of where we are today with gas prices would not be complete without understanding the Administration's view of energy in general and gasoline in particular. President Obama's Secretary of Energy is a former Berkeley physics professor Steven Chu. When he assumed office in 2008, one of his first pronouncements was, "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." Do you know the current per gallon price of gasoline in continental Europe right now? Over $8 on average. Ken Salazar is Obama's Secretary of the Interior. As a US Senator, he proclaimed on the floor of the Senate that he would oppose any offshore drilling to tap into our oil resources, even if gas went to over $10 per gallon. These, along with others in the Obama administration, are the people that are shaping our nation's energy policy. Our energy policy and the future direction of energy development in this country are open for debate, but the fact is that today, this administration intends to punish those of us that rely on our personal vehicles for our livelihoods and for our discretionary use. Think about that the next time you fill up your vehicle.

The only stupid question is the one that is not asked. Except maybe, "Don't you think it's time you audited my tax return?"

And that, my friends, is my view.