fans

So…will the fans come back?

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The damage the lockout has caused to the NHL is obvious, with lost revenue and games at the top of the list.

But what about collateral damage?

The NHL will likely face some blow back from its fans — you know, folks that have endured two work stoppages in the last seven years, one that wiped out an entire season and another that dragged on for 113 days.

Surely, some fans will flock back to their favorite teams as though nothing ever happened.

Almost as surely, some will stay away.

Others will have a tough time deciding how to support a league with a penchant for damaging itself.

With that in mind, here are some key points to consider…

Once bitten, twice shy

Fans returned in droves following the 2004-05 lockout and, by last season, the NHL was posting great attendance figures. An April report from the Sports Business Journal claimed teams averaged 17,445 fans per game last season, up 1.8 percent from last season and 2.8 from two seasons ago.

Those are solid numbers, which lead to a big question:

Will fans come back again?

It remains to be seen how negatively this latest work stoppage affects people’s psyches.

The first lockout was met with anger. This one was also met with anger, but also a considerable amount of apathy — and apathy usually doesn’t translate to people spending their money on your particular brand of entertainment. There’s no shortage of ways to spend disposable income, in case you haven’t noticed.

Social Media

One big difference from the ’04-05 lockout and the ’12-13 one was the impact of Facebook and Twitter — especially the latter. Twitter allowed fans to become much more dialed in to the minutiae of labor negotiations, meaning they probably got too close a look at very wealthy men fighting tooth and nail over how to divvy up $3.3 billion.

There’s also the issue of how players came off via social media. Many took to Twitter to show how life was going during the lockout — lives that included Ferraris, money phones, seamstresses at Barneys and sunny vacation spots. (Translation: life was going just fine, thanks.)

To be fair, many players are now using social media platform to express regret to their fans (see: Andrew Ference’s deeply apologetic tweet, and Ryan Miller apologizing for the role players had in the lockout.)

Halted Momentum

The Kings should’ve been building off their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history. While they did sell an “unprecedented” number of season tickets following the Cup victory, it’ll be tough to re-establish a presence in a crowded Los Angeles sports market after being out of the public eye for so long.

In the last few months alone, the Galaxy won the MLS Cup and the Lakers made a series of bold, headline-making personnel decisions. Oh yeah, the Clippers currently have the second-best record in the NBA.

What about Florida? The Panthers enjoyed tremendous success last season, capturing the first Southeast Division banner in franchise history while snapping a 10 year playoff drought.

The team showed noted improvement at the turnstiles — Florida averaged 16,628 in attendance last season, its highest total in seven years — and took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils to seven games (and two overtimes) in the opening round.

Think the Panthers would’ve liked to have been playing already?

Giving Back

The NHL does have a history with fan incentives out of a work stoppage. One of the key features from the last lockout was a series of rule changes designed to make the game more exciting and attractive, a plan that won over a lot of casual observers.

This time around, the incentives might be a tad different — more of the grassroots, “we’re sorry” kind of stuff.

Example: Panthers president Michael Yormark said he would announce a ticket promotion Monday that would allow fans to sit with him at all home games this season.

Giveaways and promotions like that will help but, ultimately, it’s the sport itself that will win fans back. That’s something Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey recognized shortly after the new CBA was reached.

“Our focus now,” he said, “is to give fans, whether it’s 48 games or 50, the most exciting season we can.”

No hearings scheduled for Boyle on Hickey hit, or Hickey on Drouin hit

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Doesn’t look like there’ll be supplemental discipline coming from Tampa Bay’s crazy 5-4 OT win over the Isles at Barclays last night.

Per the Times, both Brian Boyle and Thomas Hickey have avoided hearings for their big hits — Boyle’s on Hickey, Hickey’s on Jonathan Drouin.

An NHL spokesman has confirmed to PHT that no hearings have been scheduled.

Both hits went unpenalized, but were focal points of Tuesday’s game.

The impact of the Hickey hit forced Drouin from the contest for a lengthy period of time, though Drouin did return to set up Nikita Kucherov‘s game-tying goal with under a minute remaining in regulation.

Boyle’s hit on Hickey was followed by Boyle scoring the game-winning OT goal roughly 10 seconds later.

It also led to Isles head coach Jack Capuano venting his frustrations in his postgame presser.

“It’s a direct shot to the head,” Capuano said, per ESPN. “I mean, probably going to get suspended a game. That’s what I mean. The whole game, it shouldn’t come down to that. [Referee] is standing right there. I’ve watched it numerous times now. Those are the types of hits that we’re trying to eliminate from our game.

“It’s just too bad that it had to end that way. It’s frustrating because it’s right there. The play is right there. He’s looking right at it. The league can look at it if they want, but I’ve watched it four or five times, maybe more, and it’s just frustrating it had to end in that particular way with a head shot.”

Capuano didn’t have an update on Hickey following the contest.

Game 4 of this series goes on Friday at Barclays, so there could still be developments forthcoming. The league holds the right to schedule a hearing later (should it be deemed appropriate), and there will likely be an update on Hickey in the coming days.

Related: Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

Report: Ducks sign ’15 first-rounder Larsson

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Jacob Larsson poses after being selected 27th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Though it’s yet to be announced by the club, Swedish d-man Jacob Larsson has reportedly signed on with the Anaheim Ducks — the club that selected him in the first round (27th overall) of the 2015 draft.

Larsson, 19, is set to join Anaheim’s AHL club in San Diego, per Hockeysverige. The Gulls are currently in the midst of the Calder Cup playoffs, embroiled in a series against Ontario.

Larsson came into the ’15 draft fairly highly touted. He was pegged by Central Scouting as one of the top-10 international skaters available, and ended up the seventh defenseman off the board (after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Jakub Zboril, Thomas Chabot and Noah Juulsen.)

Per Hockeysverige, Larsson is still under contract to SHL club Frolunda for another year, and will be loaned back to the club for the ’16-17 campaign.

Ergo, this trip overseas appears to be so Larsson can get a taste of pro hockey in North America.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s just one game scheduled for tonight, but it should be an exciting one and as you’ve likely guessed, you will be able to watch it via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Washington at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

Pittsburgh holds a 2-1 series lead, but this game in particular will be a big test for the Penguins as they’ll be without defensemen Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (upper body). The contest will air on NBCSN and if you want to stream it, you can do so by clicking here.

In the meantime, here are some relevant links:

If there’s an expansion draft, which goalie should Pittsburgh protect?

Penguins bring up Sestito and Oleksy

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4

If there’s an expansion draft, which goalie should Pittsburgh protect?

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) misses on a shot on Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) during the third period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinal series Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Marc-Andre Fleury could have started in Game 3 on Monday, but didn’t. Instead the Penguins went with Matt Murray, who rewarded their trust by stopping 47 shots in a 3-2 victory over Washington.

What’s remarkable is that no part of that story is surprising at this point. Under different circumstances, the Penguins might have started Fleury as soon as he had the green light to return from his concussion, but why switch course when Murray’s been excelling between the pipes?

But that’s just the reality of these set of circumstances, right? Shouldn’t the starting gig eventually revert back to Fleury given that he is the established upper-echelon goaltender while Murray is still fairly inexperienced?

Under normal circumstances that would seem like a reasonable conclusion and in the short-term that might be the road the Penguins go down, but as Sportsnet recently brought up a potential expansion draft has the power to change things.

As Sportsnet reported:

An interesting aspect of the recent deal worked out by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association regarding expansion draft rules is that only players with a full no-movement clause will have to be protected by their team, according to a source.

Fleury’s contract includes a no-movement clause for the purposes of waivers or being assigned to the American Hockey League, but it is limited when it comes to trades. Each year he submits a 12-team list of teams where he can’t be dealt.

As a result, he’s not exempt from the expansion process and the Penguins would have to decide between protecting either him or Murray if both remained on the roster through the end of next season. It might ultimately force general manager Jim Rutherford into making up his mind sooner in order to trade one away and get a return on the asset.

Sportsnet goes into detail about Murray’s performance in the playoffs as well as the situation this has left Marc-Andre Fleury in and it’s a good read. For our purposes right now, let’s focus on the what if scenario of that possible expansion draft.

It might all sound premature given that Murray only has 19 total playoff and regular season NHL games under his belt and certainly there’s a lot that could happen between now and any potential expansion draft that would make the Penguins’ decision easier. At the same time, it’s worth keeping in mind that the 21-year-old goaltender didn’t come out of nowhere this season. The majority of people might not have paid attention to Murray prior to this season, but his 2014-15 AHL rookie campaign was nothing short of incredible and he remained dominant in the AHL in 2015-16 before getting summoned.

In that context, Murray is more than just a hot goaltender and even if he gets lit up in Game 4 tonight resulting in Fleury being thrust back into service, that wouldn’t dismiss this conversation as no longer relevant. Either way the Penguins decision in an expansion draft would come down to picking between the relative safety of 31-year-old Fleury or the high potential of Murray.

It’s a tough call to make, but the consolation for the Penguins is that they won’t be the only team forced to make difficult decisions as the result of an expansion draft, should one happen.