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.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.


Tobias RiederAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTrevor Lewis
Kyle CliffordAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Andy AndreoffNate ThompsonTorrey Mitchell

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Alec MartinezDion Phaneuf
Jake MuzzinChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

[NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points]


Jason ZuckerEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Tyler EnnisMatt CullenCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Ryan Murphy
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

NHL GMs are at least trying to fix goalie interference reviews

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Much like the NFL’s headaches when it comes to what is or isn’t a catch, a simple stroll around Hockey Twitter will often unearth loud groans about goalie interference reviews. At least when people aren’t grumbling about offside goal reviews, that is.

From the viewpoints of reporters on hand for the latest round of GM meetings, it sounds like the league is at least attempting to sort out the latest mess.

Granted, you could sense some of the fatigue on this issue from what Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had to say about it, via’s Dan Rosen:

“You can clarify the standards, but each referee and everyone, you and I, has a different opinion,” Yzerman said. “Within that room everyone has a little different opinion on did it impact the goaltender. It’s subjective. No one is ever going to agree 100 percent.”

Fair enough, but much of the frustration stems from the sheer confusion at hand, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear standard. It’s one thing to disagree with how an infraction is called, but at the moment, many feel like there’s far too much variation in calls.

With that in mind, some GMs apparently hope to tweak the process by, ideally, limiting the number of people who are making the snap decisions on goalie interference:

By “centralizing,” it could mean leaving that decision to “The Situation Room,” as Rosen explains:

The meetings reportedly included test cases for goalie interference, with Rosen noting that GMs and media alike had trouble reaching a consensus on certain examples. That helps to illuminate the challenge at hand, but again, many people would probably be at least a bit happier if it was easier to anticipate what would and would not be called as interference.

Quite a few numbers were thrown around about coaches challenges. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan shared a slide from the NHL that would argue that offside challenges have dropped off, likely because a failed challenge results in a delay of game penalty, but goalie interference remains a drag on the game.

It’s a vaguely depressing yet informative chart:

Ultimately, it seems like the league still has quite a bit to sort through, with totally fun subplots including the notion that goalies are being coached to embellish interference. Again, lots of fun.

For fans of the sport, it’s about walking the line between getting it right and not grinding too many games to a screeching halt. One might ponder carrying over the delay of game penalty to challenging goalie interference alongside offside reviews, but that might not fly:

Maybe Habs GM Marc Bergevin is correct in saying that just a small number of calls go wrong. Still, these challenges are slowing down games about two minutes at a time. That might not sound like much, though when it happens in the flow of an exciting back-and-forth contest, it can be a real killer.

Let’s hope they improve the process, even if it ends up being a work in progress.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Injury updates: Penguins’ Murray, others deal with concussions

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NHL teams provided injury news updates on Monday, with the most noteworthy bits revolving around players dealing with concussions. Let’s sort through that mixed bag:

  • First, we’ll begin with promising news. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan considers Matt Murray to be “an option” to play on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. That said, it’s a preliminary viewpoint, as Sullivan wants to see how Murray handles practice.

You’d get the impression that the optimism is high despite that caveat, as the Penguins sent Tristan Jarry back to the AHL today. That could still change, but the team must feel a lot more confident about Murray being ready for the postseason.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Actually, it’s worth questioning whether it’s really worth risking Price’s health in meaningless games for Montreal, especially when you note that he’s frequently suffered from bad injury luck lately. Sure, he wants to play; that ambition is part of what makes him great. Concussions can be tricky, though, and you wonder if the reward would justify the risks involved.

  • Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is in “concussion protocol,” according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky. Trouba will reportedly see specialists, which isn’t that shocking considering how shaken up he looked after getting the worst of a hard collision with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars:


  • Also brutal: Noah Hanifin is out indefinitely in dealing with a concussion, via the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 21-year-old set a new career-high with eight goals this season, and despite being limited to 71 games, he matched last season’s peak of 29 points. Hanifin is starting to show why he was the fifth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft as part of a stacked Hurricanes defense, yet much like his team, it looks like his season’s going to end on a low note.

Hopefully he’ll be able to rebound fully in 2018-19.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins give Donato big opportunity in NHL debut

via Boston Bruins Twitter

The silver lining for injuries in sports is that one player’s absence opens the door for someone else to prove their worth.

(Kurt Warner and Tom Brady gave that sentence a big thumbs up.)

With the regular season winding down, the Boston Bruins are hoping to push the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division title and the conference’s top seed, but they’re probably just as hopeful that some key players will be healthy by the playoffs. That ship has sailed for Anders Bjork, yet they’re crossing their fingers regarding players dealing with a variety of maladies: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Such injuries might at least partially explain the timing of the Ryan Donato signing, and they’ll absolutely open up a chance for him to echo McAvoy in showing that he’s a quick study at the NHL level. Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick discussed as much on Sunday:

[NHL Playoff Push: Bruins look to test Blue Jackets]

Donato already likely made an impact on viewers who saw him shine for the U.S. during the 2018 Winter Olympics, and logically enough, he’s slated to join fellow Olympian Brian Gionta (and Noel Acciari) on the team’s third line. Gionta came away impressed with Donato from their brief run together, as the Bruins website notes:

“He was unreal,” Gionta said of Donato’s five-goal, six-point Olympic performance. “He was probably our best player over there. Extremely composed, great shot, great release, great hockey sense. It will all equate well to this level as well.”

While that’s not too shabby an opportunity for his NHL debut, it’s special teams where Donato gets a fascinating, golden opportunity. Via Left Wing Lock, it appears as though Donato will be on the top unit along with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Rick Nash, and Torey Krug.


Update: Before Monday’s game began, it was revealed that Rick Nash is also dealing with an injury, so Donato’s opportunity may be even more promising.


Wow. One couldn’t set the table much better in Boston, particularly for a player who’s touted for a high hockey IQ.

There’s also the matter of having hockey in his blood.

This situation serves as a full-circle moment for Donato and Patrice Bergeron. You see, Bergeron says he learned a lot from Ryan’s father Ted Donato as an 18-year-old rookie with the Bruins:

Even if Donato struggles at first – certainly a possibility, considering that he’s jumping right into the mix, including tonight’s game against a peaking Blue Jackets team – it’s a great story.

Donato has a real chance to make an impact, though. If he can help an already-impressive Bruins team roll out a deeper scoring attack, then watch out. Tonight’s game against Columbus stands as his first opportunity to show that he can hang at the NHL level, and maybe plant the seed that he deserves a significant role even once other forwards get healthy.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.