Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wanted: Home for Playful kittens

The Ottawa Senators took home another two points on Monday night as the Sens, despite missing their two top defencemen, topped the Florida Panthers by a score of 6-3. Top Sen of the night was Brian Bochenski, who picked up his first hat trick in the NHL. The game was a make up game from one earlier in the year moved due to one of the many hurricanes that have passed over and through Florida this year.

The real story of Monday night however has got to be the attendance of the Panthers (and many other Sunbelt) teams. The announced and officially recorded attendance on the box score of the game was 10,883. However, HockeyNation monitored the game on the net last night and the announcers from Ottawa suggested that the crowd was well below that possibly not much more than the 5,000 range. If the Panthers cannot draw a crowd for one of the more exciting of teams coming in, one wonders what the long term future might be for them and other similarly under appreciated franchises.

Numerous correspondents have come back from the tour of the Sunbelt to recount stories of half empty rinks and a lack of interest that must give even Gary Bettman pause for thought on his Southern strategy.

Should the trend continue even the new fiscal realities of the NHL, won’t be enough to keep millionaire owners from losing millions more on a sport that is failing to catch the attention of many in the new promised lands.

Perhaps then we may once again begin to whisper the names of Winnipeg, Hamilton and Quebec City as welcoming homes for wayward franchises. With a rabid base of fans and a new building in Winnipeg and an underused home in Hamilton, one can only assume that the crowds listed on the box scores wouldn’t be the thing of Enron like bookkeeping.

Should the NHL return to Quebec City it wouldn’t be too long before a new ice palace was erected in Vieux Quebec, no doubt even more spectacular than the one in Montreal, such is the rivalry between those two Quebec centers. Imagine the playoff battles and interest across the nation as those two rivals renewed acquaintances once again.

More importantly the game would return to the land where it has its strength and respect. A return to the games roots would certainly do much for the bottom line in this new NHL, with the teams operating under a fiscal cap now and the Canadian dollar one of the stronger currencies out there these days, the financial aspects of a Canadian franchise no longer seem quite as dire as they did when the Jets and Nordiques fled south.

And frankly, with crowds of less than 10,000 in over a quarter of the NHL rinks, it seems to this corner anyways that moving to where the game is a religion is better than staying in a place where it’s a curiosity at best and apparently too much of an inconvenience to many!

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