West Coast Bias: Is the NHL worried about tanking?

Elliotte Friedman sits down with prospective Las Vegas NHL owner William Foley to get his thoughts on why the NHL will work in Vegas and his connection with Wayne Gretzky.

So, it looks like the prospective owners in Las Vegas have eked 10,000 ticket deposits out of hockey fans in Nevada. And that’s without any major corporate/casino sponsorship weighing in yet.
Should we be excited about that? Well, it is hard to get too worked up, when the National Hockey League doesn’t appear to be jumping for joy.
“We’ve allowed them to do this ticket drive, it looks like they’re going to be successful in their ticket drive,” said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who spoke at an Edmonton charity event on Thursday. “(Now) we have to decide what — if anything — to do next with that piece of information.”
There are so many unknowns about Las Vegas:

• How many of the season ticket deposits are from folks caught up in the moment, who will last a couple of seasons and then fade away?

• How does a league whose formula for franchise success dictates “no freebies,” reconcile with a town where business and relationships are built on free rooms, free casino credit, and free tickets to sports events?

• Even if casino buys account for 4,000-5,000 tickets, those equate to transient fans who see one home game per year. Then again, as long as they’re in the rink, should we really care?

• History tells us that most Sunbelt teams only have success at the gate when they win. As an expansion team, that will take time. Would the market have legs if the process takes a tad longer than expected?
In short, would Las Vegas be a San Jose, or an Arizona? Well, the rink is downtown like the Sharks arena, and unlike the Coyotes’. It would also be the only major pro team in town, like in San Jose. That means access to corporate dollars teams in markets like Dallas, Phoenix and (possibly) Seattle have to fight hard for.
Our prediction: The National Hockey League will make Las Vegas its 31st team, and on a measure of success, it will be a lot closer to Columbus or San Jose, than Arizona or Florida. With a downtown rink and market exclusivity, hockey might have a better chance to survive in Las Vegas than it would in Seattle.

A few other Daly tidbits out of Edmonton:
On the falling Canadian dollar: “The Canadian clubs have all prepared themselves for this … eventuality,” he said. “I’m not saying it isn’t a hardship. It is a hardship. But, it’s not as if the sky is falling.”
Our take: Canadian teams will survive, but they make up nearly half of the Top 15 revenue teams in the league. Fifteen to 20 per cent off of their bottom lines will have a tangible effect on the cap, and league revenues overall.
On Tanking: “I certainly agree that there has been a higher focus than I have ever seen it. Having said that, I don’t think it’s an overriding concern for the league. I don’t think any of the teams are actively tanking, and we have new rules. The odds of the lowest finishers have been reduced dramatically to win a top pick, and beginning next year you could finish last and still pick fourth. We’ve taken steps to address the perception.”
Our take: Depleted rosters in Arizona, where its top centre is Mark Arcobello, and Toronto suggest tanking on an organizational level. But Buffalo’s win over Boston, Edmonton’s 47-shot night versus Columbus, and the Jackets’ win at Vancouver Thursday reaffirm that the players and coaches are never part of any tanking process.
On Edmonton possibly getting its fourth No. 1 overall pick since 2010: “It’s part of the process. The whole purpose of the draft is to allow teams at the bottom of the standings access to better talent so they can get better. There has been talk at our manager level over time as to whether we come with parameters where clubs can’t pick at the top of the draft so often. But I don’t think it’s ever gotten any traction.”
Our take: I’m not sure if anyone outside the 780 area code cares who gets Connor McDavid — as long as it’s not Edmonton. If the Oilers somehow win the lottery, expect loud calls for change.

We’ve all missed Capgeek.com since the moment it shut down in January. It’s comprehensive calculations of each team’s cap picture, and each player’s contract information, was easy to take for granted. Now it’s gone, and so is its founder and former Halifax sports writer, Matthew Wuest.
Wuest died early Thursday morning in Halifax, his wife Melanie Patten by his side, after a 2 1/2 year battle with colon cancer. Seldom has someone existed in the hockey world whose work was more utilized by people in every corner if the business, and in every market. Wuest used to email the odd time if he lacked a contact on a contract detail, which was seldom, and always shared whatever he had when asked. He had no ego, it seemed, which is rare in this business.
I’d say he will be missed. But he has been already, for some time.
This is another sure sign that a rebuild is on track in Calgary: This season marks the first time since 1988-89 and 1989-90 that two Flames rookies had posted 20-goal seasons. Back then it was Jiri Hrdina (22) in ’88-’89, and both Sergei Makarov (24) and Paul Ranheim (26) the next season. Today it was Sean Monahan with 22 goals last season, and Johnny Gaudreau with 20 this year.

Gaudreau zipped past Nashville’s Filip Forsberg this week and into the lead in NHL rookie scoring with 56 points. The line of Gaudreau, Monahan and Jiri Hudler is as productive a line as there is in the game right now, and who could have predicted that back in October?

Gaudreau will be on the Calder Trophy ballot, but in the end, likely behind defenceman Aaron Ekblad in Florida. At least in this opinion, playing defence at age 18 and 19 this season ranks ahead of playing forward at age 21, where Gaudreau has shone.

Eddie Lack showed the first signs of cracks Thursday night against Columbus, after having appeared in 13 straight games in the Canucks net. We’re not sure who gets the start in Saturday’s crucial matchup at Staples Arena in Los Angeles, but if it’s Lack, Canucks fans will be watching with great interest.

Was it one bad game? Is it the first sign that Lack’s game is bending after too much work, considering he’s never been a long-term No. 1 in the NHL? And what does it mean when reports have Ryan Miller perhaps not being able to even practice until the end of the regular season? Who plays in Round 1, should the Canucks hang on to a playoff spot?

At least Miller didn’t have to miss any games for the birth of his son in the wee hours of Friday morning though. Miller’s wife, actress Noureen DeWulf of Hockey Wives and Anger Management brought Bodhi Ryan Miller into the world Friday. Congratulations.

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