Archive for category Small Market Matters

Jets — A Success Story (for now)

Winnipeg has an NHL team.  Old news.  They’ve played on par with how Atlanta played for most of its existence, along the line of mediocrity.  Nobody expected them to be any better than they have been this year and the fans are so excited to have a team they’ll accept this mediocrity for now.  But can the Jets do what few small markets have been able to do: Become successful while operating on a limited budget. 

The Nashville Predators have found this balance through solid drafting and sound coaching.  They’ve also been fortunate to have very good goaltending, from Vokoun through to Renne.  The Jets have average goaltending, they have good young prospects, but like most small market teams, by the time these prospects become true dominating forces in the league, they will be free agents and the small market Jets will have to overpay to keep them.  I know, ironic.  Winnipeg is not a desired location, so they have to make it a desired location.  They have to look at Detriot as a model to follow, as Detroit is not a desirable city, but is now a desireable hockey location due to a well run corporation where success if expected. 

Winnipeg has drafted well, in spite of the fact they picked Mark Schiefle instead of Sean Coutourier, but is this record of  strong drafting due to good scouting or due to drafting in a strong position?  You can look at some of their later draft picks, from the second round and on, and see a lack of success.  From that I draw the conclusion that they’ve drafted well due to their draft position and not due to their scouting staff.  This will have to change.  It’s great to see Winnipeg with a team again, but they’re going to have to establish a true number 1 goaltender and draft better in the later rounds if they’re to see real succes on the ice.

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The Columbus Conundrum

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been terrible this year. Hell, they’re terrible every year. Due to this poor product, the fan support has wavered, attendance is low, dollars are being lost to the black hole of bad business. The unfortunate part of this is that Columbus should be a good U.S. hockey market. But can the potential of a good hockey market out wait the absence of profit long enough for the team to turn things around and become a regular contender? This is what is needed for hockey to succeed in almost any market that isn’t Canadian.   

Back in the 80s, the Vancouver Canucks had this same issue. The Canucks had the worst record of any professional sports team in North America and it showed in the stands. The Pacific Coliseum was half empty on a regular basis. Then the Canucks drafted Trevor Linden, the team stole Pavel Bure in the draft, and what once was a losing tradition turned into a team that could compete. Fans started to show up. It became a profitable business. The Canucks are now one of the most successful teams on the NHL on and off the ice. Can Columbus find this identity? The NHL has developed a revenue sharing system where it helps mitigate the financial losses of teams suffering economically but as we saw in Atlanta and continue to see in Phoenix, these losses have to stop somewhere. The Blue Jackets’ management thought this would be the year that things began to change, that this was the year the team would start to win. Unfortunately key injures, Jeff Cater  and Kristian Huselius among others, terrible goaltending, and an 8 game suspension to key free agent acquisition James Wishnewski compromised that change, that shift towards success. The Blue Jackets have a decent core. I would have liked to see them keep their #8 draft pick and select Sean Coutourier, he would have made a great 1-2 punch with Ryan Johanssen in a few years, but in reality, the Blue Jackets don’t have the luxury to wait a few years. They needed a healthy and productive Jeff Carter now. They need to start winning now.

With the team now relatively healthy, with Curtis Sanford providing solid goaltending, the team is starting to compete. Hopefully they can keep it up. Hopefully they scrap those awful swirling star jerseys and stick to the “Canon” jerseys, one of the better jerseys in the NHL. Hopefully someone in the organization will figure out that the term is Blue Coats and not Blue Jackets and change the team’s name to reflect this. Hopefully they’ll find success and the fans in Columbus will be rewarded for their patients the same way Canucks’ fans were.

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