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.

Devils putting no pressure on Nico Hischier

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) As Nico Hischier is discovering, being taken No. 1 in the NHL Draft has its perks.

Since being selected by the New Jersey Devils with the top pick Friday night, Hischier has flown from Chicago to New Jersey, watched the New York Red Bulls play a MLS game and gone to a New York Yankees game.

And that was just Saturday and Sunday.

The Swiss center did a radio show Monday morning, met Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, visited a famous city deli to eat a new sandwich named after him and held his first major press conference at the Prudential Center, the home of the Devils.

And if you are wondering about the 2017-18 season, general manager Ray Shero says the Devils are keeping a roster spot open for Hischier. No pressure.

At least that’s what Shero and coach John Hynes are telling the kid. There’s no pressure at all.

“It’s great,” Hischier said. “Obviously as the first pick you have some pressure, but to hear that guys that are close to you and from the organization say there is actually no pressure from them, it’s all that counts.”

Hischier plans to return to Switzerland soon and start training for next season. He has a Devils development camp on July 11.

When asked about his goals for next season, Hischier says make the team and go from there.

Hynes, who saw the Devils finish last in the 16-team Eastern Conference this past season, sees Hischier as a second-or-third line center at the start of training camp. He expects to put at least one veteran on his line, adding that chemistry may determine Hischier’s linemates.

It’s a starting point.

Hynes said Hischier is competitive, skates well and knows the game. He can also play on the power play and kill penalties.

“We’re counting on him and planning on him to be a real important part of our team,” Hynes said.

Shero was quick to point out that the Devils are not expecting Hischier to put up monster numbers like Connor McDavid of Edmonton or Austin Matthews of Toronto, the last two top picks. They were franchise makers.

“The expectation we have for Nico is to be himself and I will say it will make a difference,” Shero said.

Hischier had 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this past season. He played the previous two seasons in the Swiss professional league.

Shero views him an unselfish player who has the ability to make the other players on the ice better.

“He is not coming here to be the savior,” said Shero, whose team won 28 of 82 games in 2016-17, and missed the playoffs the past five seasons.

Shero added it is unfair to put pressure on an 18-year-old to make a major difference in the Devils next season, joking he can’t even get his 19-year-old son to respond to the pressure of taking out the garbage at home.

“I know what I can do, but I still know I have to work hard for that,” said Hischier, who does not think he will have a hard time adjusting from living in Switzerland and Halifax to live in the New York City metropolitan area.

And if he did, Hynes offered him a solution.

“You can stay at my house and take out the trash,” he quipped.

NOTES: Hischier visited Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant a couple of blocks from the Prudential Center and ate the new item on the menu: “The New Nico (hash)1. It’s grilled chicken, authentic Swiss cheese, red Jersey tomatoes with lettuce, onions, honey mustard and mayo on roll.

Kariya and Selanne, one of NHL’s most dominant duos, enter Hall of Fame together

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Paul Kariya probably had to wait a couple of years longer than he should have to get his induction into the Hall of Fame, but it was at least fitting that the wait allowed him to enter alongside his long-time running mate, Teemu Selanne.

Both players were among the class of seven inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday. They spent several years alongside one another in Anaheim (plus one year in Colorado) and were one of the most lethal offensive duos the NHL has ever seen.

The magic they were able to work on the ice together was simply incredible, and at times jaw-dropping.

For example…

Selanne said on Monday that he played some of his best years in the NHL alongside Kariya, while added that he would not be getting the call without his years alongside Selanne.

Their production together can not be understated.

Between the 1995-96 and 2000-01 seasons, the years they spent together in Anaheim, 35 percent of the Ducks goals were scored by one of those two players.

What is most incredible about that production is that Kariya only played in 395 out of 492 games due to injury, while Selanne only played in 382 after being acquired in a mid-season trade in 1995 and then traded during the 2001 season.

While Selanne had the ultimate combination of sustained dominance and longevity in his career to make him one of the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorers and point producers, Kariya’s career came to an unfortunate and premature end due to concussion issues. While his final stat line may not stack up among the NHL’s all-time greats, he was one of the league’s most dominant offensive players for more than a decade.

Kariya said on Monday that it took him a year after his retirement to feel normal again, but that he is now no longer having headaches.

He also mentioned that while the NHL seems to be heading in the right direction when it comes to player safety, but that targeted head shots have no place in the game and he would like to see them eliminated.

Yakupov becomes UFA after Blues don’t extend qualifying offer

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Nail Yakupov, the first overall draft pick only five years ago, has become an unrestricted free agent.

The 23-year-old winger was not extended a qualifying offer by the St. Louis Blues, thus providing him UFA status. He played 40 games for the Blues in 2016-17, battling a knee injury and scoring just three goals.

Yakupov wants to remain in the NHL, saying in May he has zero plans to return to Russia. It’s possible he could re-sign with the Blues at a lower salary than his qualifying offer would’ve been.

If not, there are 30 other teams he can speak with now.

Yakupov is currently in the conversation with Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan in terms of biggest first overall busts in NHL history.

The Blues did extend qualifying offers to five players: defensemen Colton Parayko and Petteri Lindbohm, forwards Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist, and goalie Jordan Binnington.

‘Hawks sign Forsberg, who should be Crawford’s new backup

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Anton Forsberg, the former Columbus goalie Chicago acquired in the Brandon Saad-for-Artemi Panarin blockbuster, has signed a two-year extension with the ‘Hawks.

Forsberg, 24, came to North America in the ’13-14 campaign and has spent most of his time with Columbus’ AHL affiliate. He helped the club capture the Calder Cup in 2016, and that performance was part of the reason Chicago GM Stan Bowman went out and acquired him.

In the aftermath, Bowman said Forsberg would get the “first crack” at the No. 2 gig behind Corey Crawford. The ‘Hawks have been without a backup since sending Scott Darling to Carolina.

While Forsberg is the favorite for the gig, he’s not a lock. He only has 10 games of NHL experience — a pretty small sample size — and lost out on a similar opportunity with Columbus. Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo were battling to be Sergei Bobrovsky‘s understudy, with Korpisalo eventually winning out.

In other Chicago news, the club gave depth forward Tomas Jurco a one-year extension today. Jurco was acquired from Detroit at last year’s trade deadline and appeared in 13 games for the ‘Hawks, scoring one goal. He didn’t dress for the club’s first-round playoff sweep at the hands of Nashville.

No word yet on financials for either guy.