Tuesday, May 17, 2016

NHL Arenas: New and noteworthy

The NHL arena scene is changing once again. Arenas built in the 1970's and early 1980's (before the beginning of the suite era) are quickly becoming dinosaurs, as billions of dollars (both public and private funding) are being poured into new concrete and new concepts, as NHL teams still primarily rely on the box office for team revenues.

The newest ones, those opening soon (or, recently opened) and the ones currently on various drawing boards represent the best in modern construction. The most energy efficient, most bang-for-the-buck buildings ever devised by human hands.

Let's talk about the newest of the new, shall we?

1. Rogers Place, Edmonton. The new home of the Oilers will open in late July, 2016, ending a controversy which has raged in Alberta's provincial capitol for nearly a decade. This new arena, built on former railway land on the north side of Downtown Edmonton, will feature a tri-level party area in the area where the visitors will attack in the first and third periods. Placed at a stop along the Metro LRT line of Edmonton Transit, most Oilers (and, WHL Oil Kings) fans are already used to 'the train to the game'. Replaces Rexall Place (originally the Northlands Coliseum), which opened in 1974 (yes, that's pre-Gretzky).

2. Little Caesars Arena, Detroit. The new home of the Red Wings, replacing the venerable (opened in 1979) Joe Louis Arena, features three levels of suites, and will be located near the current Ford Field (NFL Lions) and Comerica Park (MLB Tigers) along Woodward Avenue, where hometown-headquartered Quicken Loans has already sponsored the QLine streetcar, which will conveniently have a stop near the arena's front door. This new facility will be ready for the 2017-2018 NHL season. Will the new arena have the same magic as the Joe? Only time will tell. Interesting fact: 40 per cent of the construction workers on the project are residents of the City of Detroit.

3. Ottawa Senators. The Sens' ownership wishes to build a new arena in Downtown Ottawa, on a 22.5 acre (9.3 hectares) site in Lebreton Flats, southwest of Parliament Hill on the west side of Downtown Ottawa, south of the Canadian War Museum. Sens' majority owner Eugene Melnyk told CBC television in December, 2015, that the current Canadian Tire Centre in far-suburban Kanata 'wasn't designed to last 30, 40 years', and he was right. The 20-year-old arena (built 1996), has looked better; Sens' fans have complained of things, such as having Wi-Fi pulled out of the arena in the last few seasons. The arena was the first large-scale development in Kanata, a far-western suburb of Canada's Capital Region. Fact: the Senators had to pay the Province of Ontario, to construct an expressway interchange for fans to access the arena's parking lots prior to opening. While 2018-19 might be doable, looks more like 2019-2020 before Sens' fans won't have the long drive towards Petawawa, in order to see NHL hockey in the Ottawa Valley.

And now, two that are just waiting for teams to occupy them:

4. T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas. The new home of the NHL Las Vegas expansion team (which may be awarded this summer), this 17,500-seat anchor next to the New York, New York casino has already opened, and the arena will have already hosted everything from multiple Garth Brooks concerts to the WWE by the time the NHL arrives for the 2017-2018 season. Five levels; two of suites, one full club level, party towers (like Columbus and Arizona), if you can think of it, they will have it; this IS Las Vegas, after all. Just announce the franchise already, Gary Bettman. Due to the nature of the work week of most Vegas locals (not available on weekends), expect games to be mostly on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and very rarely in the afternoon.

5. Videotron Center, Quebec, PQ, Canada. Possibly the future home of the Carolina Hurricanes? Perhaps. But, for now, it's the home of the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), and it's just waiting to be occupied by an NHL franchise. Owned by a division of Quebecor, the world's largest magazine and catalog publisher, this 18,259-seat wonder is loaded with more bells and whistles than most NHL arenas currently have. The Quebecor board includes former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney, who has quietly championed this project from the start. The Nordiques may have failed in Quebec City, but this arena is just waiting for an NHL team to make it a success.

Now, there are others, rumored or just hung up in bureauratic red tape: Calgary, where the Flames are wanting to get away from the flood-prone Stampede grounds, where the Saddledome has sat since opening in 1983; New York, where the Rangers' Madison Square Garden air rights above Penn Station may possibly be rescinded, as part of the Tri-State (NY/NJ/CT) Access to the Region's Core project (this, after spending $900 Million to rebuild the NHL's oldest arena); and then, there's the Islanders, where the Russian-controlled developers who own the Barclays' Center (and hold the operating rights to the Isles' old home, the Nassau County Coliseum, in Hempstead) have proposed to rebuild the 1972-era Coliseum as a 13,000-seat 'boutique' arena and put the Islanders back in their old home, albeit now with all the premium seating and suites that forced Isles' owner Michael Wang to abandon Long Island, forcing the Isles to go to Brooklyn in the first place.

Arizona, where the Coyotes are desperate to get closer to Scottsdale and Mesa, where the money lives in the Valley of the Sun, is so desperate to get out of their lease in Glendale (Gila River Arena) that they are even considering moving into the 13,730-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which opened for the minor-league Phoenix Roadrunners in 1965, rather than stay in Glendale; any brand new arena for the Coyotes would have to be built in the East Valley, in either Scottsdale or Mesa; there has been talk that the Coyotes and Arizona State University would go in on an arena together, but, as we know, talk is cheap.

Watch as more of the late 80's-early 90's arenas are slowly replaced in the next few years; the preponderance of club/suite revenue-producing seating is simply too alluring for most franchises to stand pat. New revenue streams, such as the ultra-premium club seating in Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Edmonton, where subscribers are guaranteed access to all events in the arena, with complimentary iPad at-seat computers and at-seat service, are now becoming more common every year.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

2015-16 Minnesota Wild: One blogger's opinion

Yes, these are my opinions, and mine only (thought you'd like to know).

The Minnesota Wild season is behind us. Never to return. And, for some of the Wild staff, players and most of the loyal fans, four words can aptly sum up the season:

Thank God it's over.

Putting the fan base out of its' misery, was the best thing the NHL could have done for this dysfunctional franchise. Although taunting the heck out of the fans in the third period of Game 6 versus the Dallas Stars was nearly the ultimate cruelty, the fact of the matter was that the Wild could not have survived a second-round series. Not that they weren't physically able to do so, mind you; but as the fan base was to deduce (because no one would actually come out and SAY it), there was a rift in the Wild locker room, between the veterans and the young guns on the team, that developed during the season's 1-11-2 stretch from Jan. 10 thru Valentine's Day. Continuing to lose to NHL lottery teams (e.g., New Jersey, Buffalo, Edmonton, Boston, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Arizona) is simply unacceptable for a franchise, who thinks they are just oh-so-close to a Stanley Cup run.

The Wild need to reboot; not a total rebuild, but a remodeling is definitely in order, especially after the classic 'back-in' to the playoffs, and the seven-losses-in-a-row ending with Game 2 in Dallas, including the come-from-ahead losses vs. Ottawa, at Detroit, the season-ending injury to Zach Parise vs. the San Jose Sharks, and the blowouts at Winnipeg and Game 1 in Dallas.

Let's play GM for a few minutes. (At least until someone says we don't know better.)

What should the Wild do?

1.) Dump Thomas Vanek. His usefulness to the Wild has diminished, and the foot speed to go with those hands has evaporated. He continues to refuse to help on defense. Yes, he scored 18 goals this season, but he faded in the finish. (Of course, on the Wild, who didn't?) But his continual 'figure eights at the center red line' routine has become maddening stale. And everyone knows it.

2.) Darcy Kuemper needs a new address. The NHL draft should at least allow the Wild to trade the recalcitrant goaltender to an organization that needs a No. 1 wanna-be goalie. Too bad it didn't work out, but at the time, Kuemper was the best alternative the Wild had. Yet another fallout from the 3-headed goaltending monster (Harding, Backstrom, Kuemper) of the Summer of 2014. Harding was forced to retire; Backstrom traded to Calgary on Trade Deadline day 2016; and now Kuemper can pack his bags and go, also. There are cheaper alternative backup goalies out there. Sorry, Kuemper fans, but so much of the NHL these days is a numbers game.

3.) Are we stuck with Jason Pominville? Looks like we are, at least for a season or two. 'Pommer' rewarded his team for his new contract with an 11-goal regular season while watching him literally grind his stick into the size of a spaghetti noodle. Shots high, shots wide, shots high and wide...never on net. Most squirt players have a better shot percentage than 'Pommer'. If the Wild could unload his contract (he would have to waive his no movement clause) to some other team, he could be a useful cog in helping that team...to the cap floor.

4.) If you feel you need to trade a defenseman, do NOT trade any of your top 5 (Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon, Scandella, Dumba). These are the core of your true calling as a defensive hockey team. Reilly, you could package him and some of the roster's forward dead weight (Granlund, for example) to get something nicer...I'm sure a certain Alberta team (in Copper and Blue) would love to upgrade their defense.

5. Most of the UFA's and RFA's on the roster are not worth keeping. Porter, Larson, yeah, they deserve to stay around. The rest? Buh-bye now.

6. Mikael Granlund must be dealt with. Or, just flat out dealt. Granlund is deathly afraid to shoot, like someone is holding him hostage in Finland in the off-season or something. Whatever, he is the primary reason the 'pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-tip in' kind of Euro-goal will not work here. You have to shoot the puck to score. Apparently, the memo hasn't been translated yet for Granlund, Koivu, and the rest of the Euros on the current roster.

I just hope, for the sake of those of us who just got asked to pony up extra $$ for season tickets, that the Wild gets its' collective act together. Or, as the North Stars found out in the late 1980's, the fickle nature of the Minnesota sports fan will turn against them. The Minnesota sports fan is a front-runner; ask the Twins and the Timberwolves how it feels to be a footnote in the sports sections of the StarTribune and the Pioneer Press; they've experienced it for years. At least the Wolves are trying to actually DO something about it. The Twins? Well, we all know what those problems are.

Which way do the Wild go? Up? Or, down? Only owner Craig Leipold knows for sure.