Where Business Journal’s rankings for NHL feasibility miss the mark

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Yesterday we took a look at Business Journal’s financial rankings to see which cities would be most fiscally capable of bringing the NHL to town. Cities like Houston and Las Vegas made the cut in impressive fashion while Canadian places like Quebec City and Hamilton were viewed as borderline possibilities as homes for the NHL.

While their rankings were financially based as far as how much money those cities have and ticket prices and their own methodology on things, having the money is only part of the equation as we’ve  seen already. After all, Atlanta ranked 11th on their list and is viewed as a sufficient city to play host to an NHL team. We’re not likely to see that happen again any time soon (or ever) but having good ownership and a consistently large fan base is what makes the biggest difference.

But when you see Riverside-San Bernadino, California rank out as the top city capable of hosting an NHL team while places like Quebec City (31st) and Hamilton, Ontario (33rd) are viewed as “borderline” there’s something amiss here. Sure we’ve seen the Kings be a success in southern California and the Ducks, while a bit off in attendance, have won a Stanley Cup, but would you run the risk of putting a team there just because the money exists there? No way.

The part where their ranking system fails is that it doesn’t take into account where the hockey fans are. Are there hockey fans in all these  cities? Sure there are, hockey love exists all over the place. But like Atlanta showed, even the most loyal of the die hard fans can’t keep a team there forever. Hell, the die hard fans in Phoenix might not be able to keep the Coyotes there with or without an owner and Phoenix is one of the biggest television markets in the United States.

It’s hard to take a ranking system seriously that puts cities that have AHL teams that struggle to draw fans ahead of a former NHL city that’s having a new arena built so as to attract an NHL team for relocation. Cities like Albany, NY ranked 23rd on this list and their AHL team was last in attendance in the league. Meanwhile Bridgeport-Stamford, CT was 3rd, Rochester, NY was 16th,  and Worcester, Massachusetts was 26th while all their teams are in the bottom ten in the AHL in attendance. If your city can’t come out and support hockey at the minor league level in a big way, that doesn’t bode well for a potential future as an NHL home.

Nordiques fans from Quebec City were able to bring one to two-thirds the number of fans the Albany Devils would draw on a regular night to games on Long Island and in New Jersey to show that they’ve still got the kinds of fans that want the NHL. With the economy being the way it is in the United States and the issues that can present to fans and owners alike, if teams are going to relocate or if there’s going to be (gulp) expansion, it’d make far more sense to go to where the fans are already there en masse.

The NHL tried to spread their footprint across America with their relocation and expansion efforts in the 90s and early 2000s and while some of those have worked out well, others are hurting or struggling still. While ownership issues helped force teams out of Winnipeg, Hartford, and Quebec City to places like Phoenix, Denver, and North Carolina the NHL would be wise to consider going to places where teams will instantly thrive.

So far the relocation movement back into Winnipeg is proving to be a success and with the rabid fan base there, things should thrive. If the Coyotes or Islanders or Blue Jackets are to run into major issues in the future that will force them to seek a new home, here’s to hoping that the NHL won’t be blinded by the potential dollars might be and go to where the money will continuously flow thanks to having a hardcore fan base already in place.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Golden Knights look to get back on track vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

No team has been as consistently inconsistent as the Ducks. They’ve gone through some positive stretches, but they’ve also had to endure a seven-game losing skid already.

Like Vegas, the Ducks have also been hit hard by the injury bug. Ondrej Kase, who returned to the lineup on Monday, missed the first 18 games of the season, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves have also missed a significant amount of time, and they also started the season without Ryan Kesler. They also lost Cam Fowler in the third period of Monday’s win against Nashville (he’s day-to-day).

The fact that they’re tied for a Wild Card spot (Colorado has two games in hand) is pretty impressive when you consider they had a long losing streak and they’ve been without key figures all season. So, how have they been able to keep their season on the rails? Simple, it’s because of John Gibson.

The 25-year-old has been extraordinary between the pipes for Anaheim. His 6-6-3 record and his 2.47 goals-against-average don’t do him justice, but his .931 save percentage shows just how efficient he’s been.

A win over the Golden Knights would allow the Ducks to string together back-to-back victories for the first time Oct. 14 and Oct. 17.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully something we can build off.” Gibson said after Monday’s shootout win over Nashville. “…It seems like we’ve been able to win one here and there, but not go on a run. Hopefully we can start stringing some together, take this as a stepping stone and build from it.”

What a difference a year makes for Vegas. At this time last year, the Golden Knights were the talk of the NHL because of how dominant they were. But as of right now, they’re closer to the bottom of the Pacific Division than they are the top.

Vegas has accumulated just 15 points in 18 games, which means only the Los Angeles Kings (11) are below them in the conference standings. Some of the magic seems to have worn off from last season, but it’s also important to note that they’ve dealt with some key absences. Paul Stastny (injured), Nate Schmidt (suspended), and now Erik Haula (injured) won’t be available for this game. The good news, is that Schmidt only has two games left to serve.

“You look at how our team is playing and what we did last year, playing fast was our No. 1 thing,” Schmidt said. “I think that’s something that we haven’t done as well lately. I really think that’s what it comes down to. When you’re playing fast, you have effort, you have guys buying in, you have discipline and you have all those other things. It is the underlying factor right now. If we get back to playing fast, the other things will take care of themselves.”

Max Pacioretty, who was the team’s biggest off-season acquisition, has gotten off to a rocky start. The 29-year-old has just two goals and no assists in his first 14 games as a Golden Knight. That’s not what they expected when they gave up Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and a second-round draft pick for him right before training camp. Something has to give with Pacioretty at some point.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Extension keeps Jim Rutherford with Penguins through 2021-22

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins hired Jim Rutherford as their new general manager in 2014, the then 65-year-old said that he’d only be in the job for “two or three years.” A couple of Stanley Cups later and he’s now able to celebrate a second extension with the franchise.

The Penguins announced on Wednesday that Rutherford has inked a three-year extension, keeping him tied to the team through the 2021-22 NHL seaosn.

“We think Jim Rutherford is one of the best general managers in all of sports and, during his tenure in Pittsburgh, arguably the best GM In the NHL,” said Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle in a joint statement. “His goal every year is to win the Stanley Cup and that kind of commitment to excellence is what drives us all. Jim is already a big part of Penguins history with back-to-back championships, but his goal is to achieve even more, and we want to help him do that. We appreciate his continuing dedication to the Penguins.”

Since Rutherford’s first season in Pittsburgh in 2014-15, the Penguins are tied for the fourth-most regular season wins in the NHL (195) and lead all teams with 39 playoff victories, which obviously includes the 2016 and 2017 Cup titles.

As he’s done before with some bold trades that helped to build two championship teams, Rutherford has his work cut out for him this season with a Penguins team off to a slow 7-6-3 start and currently outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Now that Rutherford is anchored in his GM’s chair for three more years, what does this mean for the future of assistant GM Bill Guerin? Tom Fitzgerald, who was thought to be in contention for the Penguins’ GM job after Rutherford, left for the same position with the New Jersey Devils a year later. Jason Botterill was also a possibility, with many believing he was the front-runner once Rutherford moved on after “two or three years.” When that opportunity went away, he took the GM job with the Buffalo Sabres in 2017.

If Guerin views himself as a future NHL GM, Pittsburgh is likely off of his list now, unless he wants to try and wait out Rutherford’s latest extension.

MORE: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Wednesday Night Hockey: ‘Hawks look to end 8-game losing skid vs. Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks felt like they needed a coaching change, so they decided to let head coach Joel Quenneville go. They replaced him with 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton. A new, fresh face. Unfortunately for the ‘Hawks the results haven’t been new and fresh under their new coach.

Under Colliton, the team is 0-2-1, as they’ve lost games to Carolina (twice) and Philadelphia. That means that the Blackhawks have now dropped eight games in a row. They haven’t taken home two points since Oct. 25 when they beat the New York Rangers, 4-1. If they fail to win tonight, they’ll have gone more than three weeks without a victory.

“I believe we’re on the right track,” Colliton said after Monday’s loss to Carolina. “I believe we will turn this around. I think we’ve got really good players. When things are going against you over a long period of time, it’s not easy to get out of it. The circumstances are what they are. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. We can and we will.”

Chicago has a ton of issues to sort out, but lack of quality scoring options up front is definitely a pressing one. Of the 51 goals they’ve scored in 2018-19, 30 have been scored by either Patrick Kane (12), Jonathan Toews (9) and Alex DeBrincat (9). The only other player with more than two goals is Brandon Saad, and he only has four.

Things haven’t really gone much better for the Blues. At 6-6-3, they currently find themselves one point behind the Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings.

On a positive note, their big off-season acquisition, Ryan O'Reilly, has been rolling. He’s accumulated 17 points during a 10-game point streak that dates back to Oct. 17. In all, he has eight goals and 21 points in 15 contests with his new team.

The other intriguing storyline for the Blues in this game, is that they’ve been starting Chad Johnson over Jake Allen. Johnson has started three games in a row, and he’s given up just four goals during that stretch. He also won two of those three outings. Meanwhile, Allen has continued to struggle with consistency, as he has a 4-3-3 record to go along with a 3.99 goals-against-average and a .879 save percentage. Ugly.

“He’s been our best player,” O’Reilly said of Johnson. “You’ve seen countless times the big saves he’s making that are giving us a chance to win. He’s stood on his head and it’s helped a lot. It’s helped us find our groove and do some good things. We have to be better in front of him, though.”

If the Blues are going to prolong the Blackhawks’ misery, they’re going to have to do without Brayden Schenn, who will sit out fourth straight game because of an upper-body injury.

This will be the fourth matchup of the season between these two teams. Chicago won the first two in overtime, while the Blues managed to take home a decision the last time. The loser of this game will be in the basement of the Central Division.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Brodeur’s pranks; Time for Golden Knights to make changes

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Contrary to popular belief, veterans around the NHL aren’t really opposed to the Fortnite video game, but they want to see their young players bond with their teammates on the road. (Washington Post)

Jake McCabe spent some time working for his father’s construction company, and that taught him the value of hard work. (NHLPA)

• Martin Brodeur never shied away from pranking former teammate David Clarkson. (Bergen Record)

• Panthers forward Evgenii Dadonov‘s second tour of duty in the NHL has gone a lot better than his first one. (SI.com)

James van Riemsdyk is close to returning to the Flyers lineup. Whenever he does come back, the Flyers will be better for it. (Philly.com)

• The Dallas Stars have a lot of firepower, but their power play has gone cold over the last little while. (Dallas Morning News)

• After struggling mightily last season, Canucks defender Ben Hutton has been solid for Vancouver in 2018-19. (Canucks Army)

Jeff Skinner has found a way to add some goals to the Sabres lineup. (NHL.com)

• Penguins center Matt Cullen wasn’t happy with the arbitrator’s decision to shorten Tom Wilson‘s suspension. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

• Martin St. Louis wasn’t drafted and he went on waivers, but he managed to carve out a hall-of-fame career. Which current NHLer is the next St. Louis? (The Hockey News)

• Which Colorado Avalanche forwards make the most of their ice time? (Mile High Hockey)

• The Vegas Golden Knights haven’t been able to win as much as they would like, so it’s time for them to make some changes. (SinBin.Vegas)

Austin Watson has missed the start of the season because of a suspension, but he’ll help the Predators on the ice when he comes back. (Predlines)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.