Detroit Red Wings v Phoenix Coyotes

Attendance worries in Columbus and Phoenix come into question again

It wouldn’t be a day in the NHL if there wasn’t more idle chatter about attendance problems in select NHL cities. Today, both Columbus and Glendale, Arizona each get put through the wringer courtesy of a couple different columns today. The Columbus Blue Jackets have been noticed on a couple of occasions this year for having embarrassingly low single-game attendance marks this season. Stu Hackel of the New York Times, courtesy of Habs Inside/Out took a look at what’s going on in Columbus and says that winning might help solve the problems there but there’s always a catch.

Even the current problems in Columbus haven’t caught the team by surprise. In September, team president Mike Priest admitted he expected some low crowds in the early going, even as low as 8.500.

Columbus specifically has some problems the others don’t. Unlike Tampa Bay, Dallas and Phoenix, they are not a big market. As Derek Zona points out on his blog Copper and Blue, Columbus is “the 24th-largest market in the NHL, and its rank of 21st out of 24 U.S. markets.  It’s small, economically-speaking, compared to even places like Pittsburgh (27% larger), St. Louis (43% larger), and Minneapolis (115% larger).  Overall entertainment dollars aren’t as plentiful in Columbus, and those dollars certainly aren’t going to chase terrible teams, and over the last ten years, the Blue Jackets can’t be considered anything else.”

Which brings us to another point [TSN’s Bob] McKenzie made on Team 990, namely, that when a team starts losing (or in the Blue Jackets case, almost never wins), there comes a point when the fans start to abandon a team and they may not come back even if the team reverses its fortunes.

In Columbus’ case, they’ve been a “winner” just once in their ten years in the NHL and that season ended with a four-game sweep in the playoffs at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. That’s the sort of thing that can help grow a rivalry with a divisional opponent, except the Blue Jackets built off of that season by missing the playoffs the following year. Having to compete for the ticket dollar with Ohio State University football and basketball  doesn’t help matters at all either.

In Arizona, things there are well documented and for many very embarrassing to see, but the Coyotes are in a similar situation to that of the Blue Jackets with the glaring exception of not having an ownership to lend stability to their situation. The Coyotes are always mentioned as candidates for relocation because of the ownership being in flux and that sort of thing wears down on the local support. As Nicholas Cotosonika of Yahoo! Sports shares with us, even some of the players are a bit baffled as to why there hasn’t been more immediate support this year for the Coyotes at Arena.

“I’m not sure if you had an owner or not if that was going to change the fact that you had 6,700 people (at that game),” said winger Ray Whitney, a 19-season NHL veteran who signed with the Coyotes in the offseason. “I don’t know what could be the cure or the fix for it. Winning? They won last year, and this year they had 6,700 at a game the other night. It’s just the way it is, I think.”

Whitney then added this exasperated tidbit.

“It’s frustrating,” Whitney said. “Especially with the season they had last year, you’d like to see that increase. But what can you do? There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Whitney is new to the game in Arizona and having this distinct lack of support from more fans in Glendale and Phoenix can create a bit of a culture shock. While some Coyotes veterans, like Shane Doan, are used to it by now, it’s the sort of thing that can get on your nerves a bit. Having 6,700 dedicated fans is great, but if you’ve got a 17,000+ seat arena it can feel like no one is watching.

The NHL and others in Arizona are convinced that getting a new owner in place that’s committed to staying in Arizona will turn things around with the locals. After all, who wants to plunk down NHL-level ticket prices for a team that might end up leaving town? Not too many people in a tight economy are that willing to shell out the bucks and you can’t fault them for that.

That said, a big deal was made during the playoffs to play up the support the Coyotes finally had after winning all season long and that the team had turned the corner as far as winning over the locals. So far this year, that claim can’t be made after having miserable turnouts for three out of four home games in Arizona this year, including 6,706 for a game against the Kings.

Can winning cure all the ills in Glendale and Columbus? It’s tough to say, but if both teams can stay strong all year perhaps we’ll get an accidental case study to see how things can play out and if both Columbus and Glendale are indeed worthy of having NHL teams for the long run.

Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?

Montreal Canadiens v Minnesota Wild
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Does the NHL have a cocaine problem?

TSN caught up with deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who provided some fascinating insight:

“The number of [cocaine] positives are more than they were in previous years and they’re going up,” Daly said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis in any sense. What I’d say is drugs like cocaine are cyclical and you’ve hit a cycle where it’s an ‘in’ drug again.”


Daly said that he’d be surprised  “if we’re talking more than 20 guys” and then touched on something that may be a problem: they don’t test it in a “comprehensive way.”

As Katie Strang’s essential ESPN article about the Los Angeles Kings’ tough season explored in June, there are some challenges for testing for a drug like cocaine. That said, there are also some limitations that may raise some eyebrows.

For one, it metabolizes quickly. Michael McCabe, a Philadelphia-based toxicology expert who works for Robson Forensic, told that, generally speaking, cocaine filters out of the system in two to four days, making it relatively easy to avoid a flag in standard urine tests.

The NHL-NHLPA’s joint drug-testing program is not specifically designed to target recreational drugs such as cocaine or marijuana. The Performance Enhancing Substances Program is put into place to do exactly that — screen for performance-enhancing drugs.

So, are “party drugs” like cocaine and molly an issue for the NHL?

At the moment, the answer almost seems to be: “the league hopes not.”

Daly goes into plenty of detail on the issue, so read the full TSN article for more.

Jason Demers tweets #FreeTorres, gets mocked

Los Angeles Kings v San Jose Sharks - Game One

Following his stunning 41-game suspension, it looks like Raffi Torres has at least one former teammate in his corner.

We haven’t yet seen how the San Jose Sharks or the NHLPA are reacting to the league’s hammer-dropping decision to punish Torres for his Torres-like hit on Jakob Silfverberg, but Jason Demers decided to put in a good word for Torres tonight.

It was a simple message: “#FreeTorres.”

Demers, now of the Dallas Stars, was once with Torres and the Sharks. (In case this post’s main image didn’t make that clear enough already.)

Perhaps this will become “a thing” at some point.

So far, it seems like it’s instead “a thing (that people are making fun of).”

… You get the idea.

The bottom line is that there are some who either a) blindly support Torres because they’re Sharks fans or b) simply think that the punishment was excessive.

The most important statement came from the Department of Player Safety, though.