League-wide attendance down 2.5 percent compared to 08-09 season

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emptyseats.jpgA couple days ago, I discussed the many great signs the NHL can take from the 2010 playoffs. It’s not all puppy dogs and fairy tales for the league, though, as James Mirtle points out that league-wide attendance went down 2.5 percent last season compared to the 2008-09 campaign. To put it in another way, each team averaged 400 less fans.

He are some other interesting details from The Globe and Mail article.

The majority of the NHL’s biggest attendance drops this season came in warm weather cities, with seven of the 10 “sunbelt” franchises among the 12 teams with a 1.6 per cent or more dip. The average sunbelt team had 15,371 fans per game this season, down an average of 5.2 per cent from 16,185 and well off the league average of 17,072.

The average Canadian franchise had 18,957 fans per game, with only the Senators down significantly (3.6 per cent). The average U.S. franchise outside of the sunbelt (basically Denver, Midwest and Northeast) had 17,480 fans per game.

The success stories this past season in the sunbelt were the Kings, Sharks and Predators, who all did relatively all right at the gate compared to a year earlier. The two non-sunbelt franchises struggling the most were the Islanders and Avalanche.

There’s some reason for concern in Denver, too, given how well the team did.

As Mirtle pointed out, the Phoenix Coyotes ownership crisis had the biggest negative influence on league-wide attendance numbers.

Mirtle listed seven NHL teams with an increase in attendance (listed in order from highest jump to lowest jump): Los Angeles, Boston, St. Louis, Vancouver, Washington, Pittsburgh and San Jose. There were four teams without a change: Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Buffalo. The rest had at least a marginal loss. Chicago’s losses might not seem to make sense, but that was more about arena changes (like capacity) than anything else.

Here is a screen shot of the teams on the “minus” end: (click to enlarge)


What does this say about the league? Well, for one, it reinforces some obvious truths. “Non-traditional” markets need a “winner” to sell tickets more than a traditional market (though naturally that helps no matter what). The Colorado Avalanche have a way to go before they re-gain their status as one of the most popular professional sports teams in their area. Finally, the Phoenix Coyotes really need to resolve that whole “franchise in limbo” thing.

This doesn’t mean the sky is falling, just that reality must counteract some of the abundant positivity. The NHL still has a way to go, but perhaps the league can continue to take advantage of its considerable momentum.

Kesler believes Ducks are ‘too good to not be in the playoffs’

Shane Doan, Ryan Kesler
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It’s been 24 games for the Anaheim Ducks, more than a quarter of the season, and still they’re having trouble winning.

Friday against Chicago, they surrendered two goals in the last two minutes of regulation and lost in overtime.

Currently, the Ducks sit five points out of a playoff spot with a record of 8-11-5.

Still, forward Ryan Kesler is confident they’ll find a way into the postseason.

“If we keep playing like we are, we’re going to get into the playoffs — this team is too good to not be in the playoffs,” Kesler told The Province ahead of tonight’s home game versus Vancouver.

“We had a bad start and, to be honest, some guys weren’t ready to start the season. There’s a lot of hockey to be played and we’re ready for the challenge.”

To match the 45-30-7 record the Flames squeaked into the playoffs with last year, the Ducks would need to go 37-19-2 over their next 58 games.




Depends who you ask.

Anaheim’s playoff chances will depend a lot on how Pacific Division teams like San Jose, Arizona, and Vancouver finish. The Ducks may need to leapfrog two of those three to get in.

Yes, there’s always the chance four teams from the Pacific qualify, because it’s not like Colorado, Winnipeg, and Minnesota don’t have their problems. Even Nashville you have to wonder about lately. Heck, even Chicago isn’t assured of anything yet.

Bottom line, though, the Ducks have dug themselves a hole, and it’s starting to look a lot like the one the Kings dug last year.

In the NHL, even good teams don’t always climb out.

Related: Boudreau does the playoff math, and it’s no ‘easy task’ for Ducks

Video: Ryan Suter doesn’t seem very happy with his coach


As you can see in the video, apparently Ryan Suter doesn’t like being paired with fellow lefty Jonas Brodin.

The Wild defenseman rather openly questioned the coaching staff’s decision-making today after practice.

“Yeah, I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said Suter. “I need to play with a right-handed defenseman. To give me more options. Neutral zone. Offensively. And even coming out of the D zone, it’s not fair to put a guy on his off side.”

Suter didn’t know if the pairings were just for practice or not. The Wild play tomorrow in Chicago. Minnesota has just one win in its last seven games.

Suter also had something to say about that.

“It does no good to pout and get pissed off at each other,” said Suter. “You’ve got to come together and dig out of this. Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to be a coach and a leader when things are going good.”

Yeo, by the way, has not been very happy with the Wild lately.  In fact, one could go so far as to say he’s been acting pretty “pissed off.”

For example, at today’s practice:

The Star Tribune has more on what went down today.

Yeo, you may recall, went a little “nuts” during a Wild practice last season.

Goalie nods: Sparks to make NHL debut for Leafs

Garett Sparks

We already knew this yesterday, but in case you missed it, Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight against Edmonton.

Sparks, 22, has been excellent in the AHL this season, going 8-2-1 with a .938 save percentage. He spent most of last season in the ECHL, where he also posted good numbers.

Sparks is getting the nod tonight because James Reimer is hurt and Jonathan Bernier has been struggling badly.

“He’s got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him and it’s up to him to grab it,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, per NHL.com. “He’s got the [second-best] save percentage in the AHL and he’s winning all the time down there. Obviously we’re in need of some saves and we’ll have to play well in front of him for sure. But it’s an opportunity for him.”

Bernier, meanwhile, will have to sit and watch. The 27-year-old has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. His save percentage has fallen all the way to .888.

Anders Nilsson will be in net for the Oilers.


Cam Ward for the Hurricanes. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers, who will try not to rely on him so much.

Semyon Varlamov for the Avs. Thomas Greiss for the Isles.

— The Canucks aren’t saying if it’ll be Ryan Miller of Jacob Markstrom. For the Ducks, it’ll be John Gibson.

Vigneault: ‘After three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention’

Alain Vigneault

Alain Vigneault has maintained for much of the season that the New York Rangers needed to play better.

The head coach said it a week ago, after the Blueshirts had beaten the Predators, 3-0, despite getting outshot, 31-19.

He’d said it a couple of weeks before that, after they’d beaten the Hurricanes in very similar fashion. (Final score: 3-0. Shots: 33-23 for Carolina.)

But as long as the Rangers kept winning, it was tough, according to Vigneault, to get the message across.

“Sometimes, the results might be going your way, so when you’re pointing out certain things, it might be a little bit more challenging for them to understand because the results are so positive,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.

“But after three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention.”

Derek Stepan‘s injury — he’ll miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs — has no doubt captured their attention as well. (Oscar Lindberg will center Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast tonight at home to Carolina.)

The Rangers also play Wednesday, in Brooklyn against the Islanders (on NBCSN).