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 Jobing.com 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.

Canucks without Sutter (broken jaw), Edler (foot) for foreseeable future

Brandon Sutter
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After a good Tuesday night, the Vancouver Canucks are having a lousy Wednesday morning.

The club has just announced that center Brandon Sutter and defenseman Alex Edler have been sent home from the club’s current two-game road swing, after suffering injuries in a win over Colorado last night.

Craig Oster, Sutter’s agent, told News 1130 his client has a broken jaw after taking a puck to the face. Per TSN, Edler is undergoing “imaging” on his foot following a blocked shot, but it’s believed he’ll be out the next 2-3 weeks.

The impact of these injuries could be profound.

Vancouver hasn’t been good this year but remains in the thick of the playoff chase, sitting just four points back of the Avs for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with three games in hand.

At the same time, the Canucks also have two potentially big trade chips at the deadline in pending UFAs Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata.

Will the Sutter and Edler injuries factor into Vancouver’s future plans?

You’d have to think so.

Edler is a staple on the back end, leading all Canuck blueliners in points (20) and TOI per game (24:27). Sutter, meanwhile, was supposed to be a key piece of the club this year but has had most of his season ravaged by injury — prior to the broken jaw, he missed 33 games following sports hernia surgery.

All told, Sutter has appeared in just 20 games this year.

His is also the second major facial injury suffered by a Canuck this season — Hamhuis only recently returned from a 21-game absence after taking a puck to the face in mid-December.

Kings place Ehrhoff on waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Christian Ehrhoff #10 of the Los Angeles Kings head for the piuck during the first period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings have placed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on waivers, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

A veteran of almost 800 NHL games, Ehrhoff has not fit well with Los Angeles after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal in August. The 33-year-old has just 11 points in 40 games and is a team-worst minus-10. Though he had two assists in last night’s 9-2 win over the Bruins, he also took a careless tripping penalty in the first period that led to a Boston goal.

In a related story, the Kings are rumored to be looking for help on the back end. In fact, they were reportedly quite interested in Dustin Byfuglien, before he re-signed with the Jets.

According to Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, 23-year-old defenseman Kevin Gravel is “on the verge of a recall” from AHL Ontario.

The Kings play Thursday in Brooklyn.

Report: Kadri’s throat-slashing gesture being reviewed by NHL

Nazem Kadri
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Nazem Kadri‘s throat-slashing gesture is under review by the NHL, according to TSN.ca.

The Maple Leafs forward made the gesture while sitting on Toronto’s bench last night in Calgary, moments after he was laid out by Flames captain Mark Giordano.

The NHL first started cracking down on the throat-slashing gesture in 2000. Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.

Fix coming? Blues activate Schwartz after 49-game absence

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After Tuesday’s loss to the Jets — the Blues’ fourth in their last six games — head coach Ken Hitchcock said his club has “got to play harder than this” and “got to compete at a lot higher level than this.”

He then added “it’s up to us to fix it.”

Well, help is on the way.

On Wednesday, the Blues activated forward Jaden Schwartz off injured reserve, after he missed the last 49 contests with a fractured left ankle. Schwartz is expected to be in the lineup on Friday when the Blues take on the Panthers in Florida.

The 23-year-old should provide an immediate boost to the lineup. Schwartz had four points in seven games before getting hurt, and that came on the heels of a successful ’14-15 campaign in which he posted career highs in goals (28) and points (63).

The Blues’ first-round pick in 2010 (14th overall), Schwartz is a 17-18 TOI per night guy, so he’ll be a big presence almost immediately. His return also inches the team back to full health, though there’s still a ways to go — Alex Pietrangelo and Jake Allen are still week-to-week with knee and lower-body injuries, while Steve Ott is out until late February following hamstrings surgery.

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made