NHL showing fans it still doesn't care

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman shut down his sport for a year, he has told us so many times, for the fans.

It was for them that he took their game away from them, and it was their continued support that encouraged him.

His league, he has repeatedly assured us, reveres its fans. For much of the year, the message was on all the ice surfaces. "Thank you fans."

Here's how some franchises have shown their gratitude.

- In Ottawa, management booked a children's show that evicted the Senators from the Scotiabank Place last weekend.

Senators-haters, who are numerous, laughed at this, suggesting that the team didn't even have enough confidence in its ability to expect to advance to the second round.

Of course it did. But Dora the Explorer is a high-revenue production, and kids can hardly be expected to come out on a school day.

So the Senators were shunted aside. After last Friday's debacle they wanted nothing more than to get back on the ice as soon as possible. But because of Dora, they had to wait until Monday. When they lost again.

- In Carolina, the Hurricanes have instituted a process that in a less fan-friendly league, might be characterized as gouging. According to the News Observer, fans are infuriated. Seats that cost $85 this round will cost $125 next round and $180 should the team get to the Stanley Cup final. That's a 47% increase in one round and a further 44% in the next.

The newspaper quotes one season-ticket holder since 1999 as saying, "It's clearly a case of let's grab the money while it's there and next year be damned."

- According to Sports Business Journal, the Montreal Canadiens are about to close a blockbuster $240 million financing. As part of the deal, Canadiens owner George Gillett will pay himself a $72 million dividend.

- In San Jose the Sharks started their playoff series after the Colorado Avalanche had already played two games. The arena had booked wrestling and indoor-football events.

- The Nashville Predators threatened to black out Game 5 of their playoff series against the San Jose Sharks if fans didn't buy more seats. A deadline of two days prior to the game was imposed.

The backlash was considerable (or as considerable as a hockey backlash could be expected to be in Nashville), and the team relented after fans coughed up for most of the seats, leaving about 1,100 empty.

- The Minnesota Wild has never had an unsold seat in its existence and consistently has one of the league's lowest payrolls. It has made the playoffs once. Yet the Wild announced that it will be raising prices on every ticket next season.

- In Florida, where the Panthers didn't make the playoffs, the team had to be a bit more creative. It normally charges $15 for parking ($10 for season-ticket holders). As a result, fans took to parking across the street at a large shopping mall which encouraged the practice, and walking to the games.

The Panthers announced that they intend to build a fence around their facility so that fans who walk onto the premises can be charged $5 (for starters).

There are many other examples of the manner in which the NHL is proving that the lockout was "for the fans."

After all, the owners said they couldn't continue the way they were going, and surely they wouldn't lie.

Which brings up a side note. A couple of weeks ago, Sanjay Kumar, the former owner of the New York Islanders who received a $330-million bonus in 1998, pleaded guilty to wide-ranging conspiracy charges and is going to jail.

According to the indictment, Kumar repeatedly lied to investigators and even his own lawyer.

No word yet on whether he'll go to the same prison as John Rigas, former owner of the Buffalo Sabres who's in on similar charges.

No doubt they did it for the fans.


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