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Sunday, December 3, 2017

DOWBIGGIN: VEGAS'S FAST START IS BAD NEWS FOR THE NHL


The stunning start to the inaugural National Hockey League season of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights is wonderful news – if you live in Las Vegas.

If you’re a fan of the sport in general? Not so much.

The Knights have bolted out to a 10-2 home record after Sunday's 3-2 OT win over Arizona at T-Mobile Arena, putting them in a playoff position. They’ve already won more games in six weeks than the Winnipeg Jets did in their entire second season. And they’ve tied Ottawa for wins in the expansion Senators’ complete first season.

The Knights have worn it well with a cheeky Twitter account that has no trouble rubbing it in over their success:
• “we have five goals we must know how to hockey.”
• “we must be good or something ”
• “everyone seems to think it’s hard to take a trip to las vegas and come out a winner so we don’t like to disappoint them. Us: 5 Them: 2”

And so on.

In addition, the handle at the Vegas sports books is up 40 per cent on nights that the Knights play. People in a town that usually sees hockey as an afterthought are enjoying watching a game and betting between periods on the results.

But for the rest of the league, the Knights’ unlikely success is bad news – and not just because their teams are losing to coach Gerard Gallant’s ragtag assortment. The biggest takeaway from the Vegas phenomenon is that the NHL will think it’s so successful that they’ll do it again with more expansion teams.

The NHL needs more teams the way the Cleveland Browns need another losing season. The talent supply is already precariously stretched across 31 teams. One might say, in fact, that the Knights success is proof of just how thinly talent is spread.

When an expansion team can cobble together an ad hoc lineup and dominate, that speaks to just how thin the margin of winning has become and how widely the elite talent in the league is distributed.
But if you’re commissioner Gary Bettman, who sees his personal success measured in numbers of teams as opposed to quality of play, the Vegas story seems an open invitation to bring Seattle, Quebec City, Houston and god knows what other burgs into the fold. As the expression goes, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you’re Bettman, any success is a reason to dilute the product with more expansion teams.

The commissioner-for-life still can’t reconcile that while there may be a small army of teams, there’s only one Stanley Cup. And while it’s a great accomplishment to win the Cup, there are 30 unhappy fan bases every year that don’t get the big prize. Building a winning tradition means having your franchise win the Cup at least once. But it’s safe to say that in 25 years, there will be teams that still haven’t won the sport’s ultimate reward.

Speaking of the product, there are many more head scratchers besides the unlikely Knights. Many thought Tampa Bay might be leading a division as we headed toward the America Thanksgiving period. But New Jersey, St. Louis and Los Angeles?

Or that the lower reaches of the divisions would see such highly-rated teams as Edmonton, Boston, Chicago or Minnesota bumping along in mediocrity? The potage in Edmonton is especially puzzling.

Since the Oilers waxed Calgary on opening night – and were instantly anointed favourites by experts like me to face Toronto in the Cup Final – Connor McDavid’s team has been a hot mess.

The Oilers’ minus-14 goal differential through Sunday probably tells the story. McDavid is brilliant but the Oilers’ secondary scoring is non-existent. That’s never a good thing in a league where coaches stay awake devising defensive, not offensive, schemes to frustrate opponents.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins are just keeping themselves above water despite an abysmal minus-8 goal differential. Many believe the veteran Pens – and other teams not named Golden Knights – are pacing themselves for the long schedule ahead. That might be true. But no one wants to leapfrog five or six teams in the final month within your division simply to get a wildcard playoff spot.

One other oddity in this Season of the Knights is the streaky play of some teams that seem to go from abysmal to outstanding at the drop of a hat. The best example might be the Montreal Canadiens, who started the season looking like they wanted to battle Arizona for the first overall draft pick. At one point, they’d lost eight of nine games. A lynching was planned for Mount Royal.

But faster than you can say Newsy Lalonde, the Habs have rattled off five straight victories to forestall the pitchforks and flaming torches coming down Rue Ste.-Catherine. For Montreal and so many others bunched in the clogged middle of NHL parity, their fate won’t be revealed for a while yet.

By which point the Vegas Knights might have finally come down to earth. Or traded for John Tavares in preparation for a long playoff run.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin's career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe they will do like the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks and win the Stanley Cup next year!

God Pedersen said...

What planet is this Dowbiggin clown on? The NHL has been watering down hockey since 1967 and nobody seems to mind the least bit. They'll happily turn another 50 or 100 AHLers and KHLers into NHLers if it means more $$$ in their pocket... like they care about St. Louis or Vancouver's cup droughts.

Anonymous said...

TERRIBLE article. There is no "ragtag" group of misfits like he's trying to make it out. These are all NHL hockey caliber players, the Knights are proving just how close the game really is and showing that superstars are not a necessity when you have good structure and decent d and 3rd and 4th lines. Adding another team would show the same thing, this guy writing the article just does not get it......at all. How many more 3rd and 4th liners are there like William Karlsson out there? More than a few I would think. Guys who's games didn't happen to translate properly to a teams system or there is no room yet because a "slightly" better or equal hockey player already has that job?

His "experts like me" comment was also hilarious coming from someone who is obviously anything but. I realize he has won awards..... sometimes the game passes you by I guess.....either that or the people picking the awards were news people and not sports or hockey people.

There is probably 2-3 more teams just like Vegas sitting wasting in the AHL of stocked and well drafted clubs or riding the pine on the 4th line of teams when they should be 2nd liners but are on a great team or the coach hates them or their style just doesn't happen to fit that particular team.

Imagine this as a rule : when you send a guy down age 23 or younger (Team North America age limit)you can work with him and try to bring him along....after he turns 24 (goalies included) if he gets sent down any other team can claim him and the team taking him owes something like a million bucks to the other team for taking their asset, or maybe a lower cost and a 4th or 5th round draft pick or something.

An alternative strategy would be to say that once a player is in your possession you have two years to work with him,,,,after that point if you send him down anyone can have him for 100,000$ and a 7th round draft pick....if that team picks another player off another team now its 100,000$ and 7th and 100,000 to the players association with 100,000 going to this association for every other player they steal in that year.

This would be fun and makes teams play less mind games with guys behind the scenes who don't even get why they are being sent down and called up so much.

This would save careers while making the game much more interesting and stop teams from burying guys like Lupul.

- Pod Redersen

Anonymous said...

Pod Rederson, NHL hockey is crappy with so many teams with low quality players. I for one watch NHL games only if there is nothing interesting on. Even playoffs are bad unless your team is in the playoffs. There are too many reg. season games and too many playoff games that last until June. Have tiered leagues and only the best 8 teams be in the top division and them play for the cup. This joke of a league has few followers during the reg. season and if you have more Ahl players in the league makes it worse.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful rebuttal by Rod Pedersen to this clown's article

Anonymous said...

NHL hockey is the worst of the big 4 pro sports. ...by far.

Anonymous said...

The NHL needs to contract by at least 5 teams. It is the worst sports league going. Can't and won't waste my time on it.

Anonymous said...

The only morons not watching hockey are in this room. LOL Ya, that Vegas team and the NHL are just terrible to watch aren't they? (sarcasm) Ask the guys keeping the TV ratings.