Blackhawks raise ticket prices for 2012-13 season

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Blackhawks fans have been given a whole lot to cheer about the last few years, and in pro sports that sort of joy doesn’t come cheap. The Chicago Tribune reports the club has raised ticket prices 8% for next season.

Team president John McDonough told the paper that price increases are determined by “an interesting formula,” though he wasn’t willing to elaborate. (Possibly it involves setting prices at the level that will allow the Blackhawks to make the most money.)

“(The increase is) also commensurate with the caliber of product that we put on the ice so we want to make sure that there’s consistent excellence going forward,” McDonough added.

The cheapest seats at the United Center will reportedly go from $24 per game to $28 and the most expensive from $320 to $335.

According to a Team Marketing Report, the average ticket price in Chicago for 2011-12 was $55.72, slightly below the NHL average of $57.39.

The ‘Hawks lead the league in attendance, averaging 21,532 fans per game.

Breaking down this offseason’s crowded goalie market

NHL Free Agency
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Need a goalie? You’re in luck, because this offseason’s NHL free agent and trade market is overflowing with options as several prominent goaltenders are set to become available over the coming days and weeks.

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable options, ranging from the safest and best bets, to the riskiest and most volatile.

Also just for laughs, one completely bonkers option that does not even seem realistic.

FREE AGENTS

Sign this goalie

Robin Lehner (Vegas Golden Knights — pending UFA). Word is the Golden Knights want to re-sign him, and there was even a report during the playoffs that an agreement had been reached (Lehner denied it). But until pen is put to paper and deal is official we are working under the assumption that he could still be available, and if he is, he would be the best available player at the position. Of the 70 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games over the past four years, Lehner ranks seventh in all situations save percentage (.919) and 15th in even-strength save percentage (.924) while also posting outstanding postseason numbers. He has played on one-year deals the past two years in shared net situations. He has more than earned a long-term deal and starting job, whether it comes in Vegas or somewhere else.

Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks — pending UFA). Markstrom was a huge part of the Canucks taking a big step forward this season. He is not one of the league’s elite goalies, but he has been a durable starter for the past three years and consistently provided above average play behind what was — at times — a very porous defensive team. It took him a while to establish himself as a starter, but now that he has, he is an excellent one.

Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars — pending UFA). How much money did he make for himself this postseason? The risk here is that he is 34 years old and never been a full-time starter in the NHL. The argument for him is that he has been outstanding for three years now, and even though he certainly played his way into a bigger contract he still shouldn’t break the bank. The ideal outcome for him is to re-sign in Dallas where he and Ben Bishop form an outstanding duo.

Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders — pending UFA). Like Khudobin, Greiss is probably most valuable in a platoon role with another goalie. Not one of the biggest names available, but In four of the past five years he has played in at least 30 games and finished with a save percentage of .912 or better. Some team is going to spend a lot more money on a lesser goalie this offseason.

Proceed with caution

NHL Free Agency
Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks — pending UFA). Crawford was the most underrated part of the Blackhawks’ mini-dynasty and one of their most important players. I still think he can be (and is) an excellent player when healthy. And that is the big “if” here. He turns 36 in December and has had some significant injury issues the past few years.

Henrik Lundqvist (Bought out — currently UFA). The two obvious questions here are: 1) which goalie-needy contender does he signs with to chase that elusive Stanley Cup (Colorado? Carolina?) and, 2) how much does he have left in the tank as a starter to help that contender win the Stanley Cup? He is 38 years old and has a .906 save percentage over the past two years. He’s a far cry from the goalie he used to be, but in the right situation I think there is still something here.

Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals — pending UFA). Just have a bad feeling about this for some team. At one time one of the best goalies in hockey, but he has been ordinary (to even bad) for three years now. Getting some strong Sergei Bobrovsky-in-Florida vibes with this next contract.

The Trade Market

Likely trade candidates

Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas Golden Knights). Fleury has said he will not ask for a trade, but if Vegas is successful in re-signing Lehner a deal here seems to be inevitable. There is not enough room under the cap for those two contracts, and there probably isn’t enough room in the crease for two No. 1 goalies. Seems like an ideal fit for Colorado given their trade assets and salary cap space, but why would Vegas want to improve what might be its top Western Conference contender?

Matt Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins). Here’s the problem with Murray: We just don’t know how good he is at this point. Sometimes he looks like the goalie that was a two-time Stanley Cup champion in his first two years and sometimes he looks … decidedly average. It seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the Penguins move him, but given the saturated goalie market and Murray’s inconsistency the past three years the return he could be way smaller than expected.

Long-shot trade candidates

Darcy Kuemper (Arizona Coyotes). Kuemper’s name surfaced in trade rumors shortly after the Coyotes were eliminated, but it really doesn’t seem like a good idea. They have a good thing going with him and Antti Raanta for this season, and given Raanta’s ongoing injury concerns keeping Kuemper seems like it should be a priority. Not likely to get an upgrade at a cheaper price.

Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota Wild). Bill Guerin seems determined to shake things up, Dubnyk only has one year left on his deal, he is coming off his worst season in Minnesota, and with the available options there could be an upgrade to be made here.

The nuclear option

Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins). Am only including Rask because TSN’s Frank Seravalli mentioned on Thursday that Bruins GM Don Sweeney has “initiated conversations with teams about Rask’s market value over the last number of weeks.” That doesn’t necessarily mean he is looking to trade him, but that is still interesting. Also a little insane. The Bruins have everything it takes to win a Stanley Cup and even though Rask only has one year left on his contract he is still better than any goalie they could realistically acquire to replace him. Let’s not overthink this, folks.

 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

 

 

Countdown on for debut of Seattle Kraken

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SEATTLE (AP) — Standing on the recently poured concrete that will be the club level floor inside Climate Pledge Arena, Tod Leiweke nodded and pointed toward a corner of the upper deck.

That’s where Leiweke envisions sitting sometime in the fall of 2021 when the Seattle Kraken skate out from the dressing room three floors below, hoping to be in front of a packed building waiting to welcome the NHL’s newest member.

”We’ve gotten a lot done, but now we look up and we say, hey, 12 months out, maybe less, and counting,” Leiweke said. ”This is going to get real.”

Time seems to defy definition right now thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and all the ways it has changed schedules and plans. But after Tampa Bay raised the Stanley Cup on Monday night, the countdown is truly on.

In about a year, the Kraken will gather for their first training camp in a $90 million practice facility that is the anchor of a massive retail redevelopment. Sometime in late summer or early fall 2021, the arena being built under the iconic roof that’s been part of the Seattle skyline for more than 50 years will be finished.

Eventually, the Kraken will play their first game and officially become the league’s 32nd team.

When the puck will actually drop remains unknown. The NHL may be headed toward a January 2021 start for the upcoming season and the league would still like to play a full 82-game schedule that would likely drag into the summer. But the NHL is still hoping to start Seattle’s first season on time next fall, especially since it’s planning to send players to the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Seattle will be ready regardless, largely because of what it was able to accomplish during the pandemic, highlighted by the launch of the team’s nickname and subsequent merchandise buying frenzy. While the name remains polarizing – most fans love it or hate it – the positive reaction to the slithering ”S” as the main logo, the secondary mark that incorporates the Space Needle and the success in sales can’t be denied. In the days following the name announcement, the Kraken were the top-selling team across all sports on Fanatics.com.

”It’s a mark that is the symbol of our brand. But really a brand is made up of 1,000 different pieces that all come together to create a team brand and a feeling of purpose and a soul, and the mark was really important,” Leiweke said. ”I walked into that morning believing that people were going to like it. But I think that the reaction of the public exceeded my expectations.”

Seattle also landed Amazon as its naming rights partner for its arena. The Kraken hired Everett Fitzhugh as the first Black team broadcaster in NHL history and continued to build out their hockey operations and scouting staff.

It’s allowed Leiweke to start thinking about the actual hockey product and the day next year when the foundation of the first team will be established through the expansion draft.

”There’s a terrific amount of work in front of us, but in fact we’re on track, and we’re on plan,” Leiweke said. ”To feel that, given everything else that’s going on, is pretty amazing.”

Everyone involved expects the arena to be ready in time, especially if the start of the 2021 season is delayed. The roof that had to remain because of its historical landmark status no longer rests on temporary supports. Permanent support structures are in place, while a completely new arena is constructed underneath.

The framework of the seating sections is completed in most areas of the arena, with the exception of one corner still being used to haul materials in and out.

”By far the biggest tests are behind us,” said Ken Johnsen, construction executive overseeing the arena.

The timeline for construction was impacted by the early stages of the virus outbreak, but Johnsen said any lag and supply chain issues have been resolved.

Leiweke said dealing with construction issues is just another example of a challenge his organization needed to work through during the pandemic, and thus far been successful at navigating.

”Not to say this project wasn’t already filled with lots of ambition before all of this, but this has made it certainly more challenging and I think people have risen to the challenge,” Leiweke said. ”That’s going to be a great story of this whole thing is how people rose up to meet this challenge.”

Puck already dropped on NHL offseason that could be a frenzy

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Even before the Tampa Bay Lightning returned home to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship, Julien BriseBois was on the phone with other NHL general managers about what to do next.

He is certainly not alone in making calls.

”Although we ended the hockey season officially for the ’19-20 season (Monday) night, I can tell you we’re pretty busy here in Smashville getting ready for the draft, free agency and hopefully for a full season next year,” Nashville GM David Poile said.

There is no rest for weary runner-up Dallas, the Lightning or the 29 other teams because the NHL offseason is already under way and will proceed with at a furious pace. There have already been a handful of trades, two prominent buyouts, the two-day draft starts next Tuesday and free agency opens Oct. 9, little more than a week away.

”There’s going to be some quick moves here and some teams trying to take care of business right away,” Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher said. ”There might be other teams and players that might have to a little more patient for the right fit. Oct. 9, 10, 11, there might be quite a lot of free agent activity and then you might have a lull there for two months.”

Pittsburgh has already traded two-time Cup-winning winger Patric Hornqvist to Florida for defenseman Mike Matheson. Minnesota swapped forwards with Buffalo, sending Eric Staal there for Marcus Johansson. The New York Rangers traded Eric’s brother, Marc, and a draft pick to Detroit to shed salary.

The Rangers, who are expected to use the top pick in the draft on Alexis Lafreniere, continued their youth movement Wednesday by buying out franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after the Ottawa Senators did the same last week with Masterton Trophy winner Bobby Ryan.

Add the 38-year-old Lundqvist and Ryan to an already deep free agent pool, which is complicated this year by a flat salary cap. It remains at $81.5 million because of money lost in the pandemic. Top free agents like St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo, fellow defenseman Torey Krug and 2018 MVP Taylor Hall might get a big payday, but there is no certainty what the market will look like given the cap and a lack of clarity about revenues next season.

”I wish I had the answer to that,” New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said. ”Not only is this year the cap frozen, but I would anticipate that it will be likewise the next year.”

Lamoriello said he thinks there will be more free agents available in 2021, and he and Poile agree there might be more players left on the market in coming months after the initial frenzy ends.

Before that, though, things will be busy. Even Tampa Bay and Dallas have work to do after just wrapping up a season that began a long year ago this week.

To re-sign key restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak, the Lightning need to clear some $10 million in cap space -, and that’s not accounting for unrestricted guys like back-to-back champion Pat Maroon and three defensemen who were key additions: Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn.

The 2020-21 Lightning will look different than the group that celebrates this Cup victory.

”Teams change every year,” said veteran forward Alex Killorn, a potential trade candidate along with winger Tyler Johnson. ”That’s part of being in pro sports.”

Dallas has $15 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly, but the Stars need to squeeze in new contracts for restricted free agent forwards Mattias Janmark, Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa and Denis Gurianov, all of whom were influential in their deep playoff run.

They may have to say goodbye to 34-year-old goaltender Anton Khudobin, who is a free agent after taking the Stars to the final – unless they decide to make a surprising move like trading starter Ben Bishop, who missed most of the postseason with injury. GM Jim Nill faces a real challenge to make sure Dallas remains a Cup contender.

”With the new system, I really think the No. 1 goal – and this going to sound kind of maybe funny – but is to make the playoffs,” Nill said. ”And if you make the playoffs, you’ve got a chance to win the Stanley Cup. That’s how close the parity is.”

Lightning celebrate Stanley Cup title with boat parade

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated their Stanley Cup title with a boat parade and ceremonies Wednesday at Raymond James Stadium.

The boat parade featured forward Alex Killorn on a jet-ski with Steven Stamkos riding on the back as they held up the Stanley Cup and did laps around the boats in the Hillsborough River. The parade was followed by a public trophy celebration at the stadium with a capped attendance of 16,000 people.

“We’re excited to share this with Tampa,” Killorn said. “I know they weren’t here throughout the series and in the bubble, but this is our time to enjoy it with them because (the fans) are a big part of this team.”

Among the highlights of the celebration was a video package of the Lightning’s playoff run and a congratulatory video message from ESPN broadcaster and Lightning season-ticket holder Dick Vitale.

The players returned to Tampa on Tuesday after being in the NHL’s “bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton for the past 65 days. They were greeted at the airport by their families and held a private on-ice ceremony for friends and family.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said that the circumstances in which the Lightning won the Stanley Cup make it an even more impressive feat than winning in a normal year.

“This was not only a hockey Stanley Cup,” Vinik said. “This was a mental Stanley Cup to get through that period of time. Kudos to them and kudos to their families for being so supportive. That’s a long time away from home and I don’t think any of us can appreciate how tough that was.”