If this works, long term, then absolutely, unequivocally and undeniably Edmonton will be the Heartland of Hockey as advertised. I'd be more inclined to believe that Scott Ferguson will one day win the Calder Trophy than Edmonton Oilers can play NHL hockey in the same building as the Edmonton Roadrunners (Snowmobilers?) play AHL hockey, with both being a success.
But what is Oilers business boss Pat LaForge supposed to say?
"Listen, we don't think there's going to be NHL hockey next year, we own the AHL team anyway, the team has to go somewhere because of the situation in Toronto, why not here? But as soon as we have a new collective bargaining agreement ... outta here. Why in the world would we want to compete with ourselves?''
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION
It's more politically correct, what with the sensitivities of the players association and all, to suggest they're not just doing this to take advantage of the situation.
Maybe Pat LaForge actually believes it.
After the success of the Heritage Classic, the business side of the Oilers organization believes they can do just about anything.
But think about this for a minute.
This is minor-league hockey. It's not even as good as hockey that doesn't draw 10,000 fans when 14,000 or so of the tickets have been paid for by season-ticket holders. They're called pre-season games.
And Edmonton knows what they're watching. The biggest mistake owners make when they take on a team is that they forget the basic concept. You can sell tickets for a while on game presentation and the idea of an outing. But to make it work, the populace has to care. It has to feel good when the hometown team wins and hurt when they lose. When you've won five Stanley Cups, are you going to be able to get all lathered up for a Calder Cup?
AVERAGE 10,000 A GAME
The Oilers organization thinks they can average 10,000 a game to watch Roadrunners hockey? Going against the Oilers.
They won't average 10,000 not going against the Oilers.
There are a lot of people who hate what has happened to the game of hockey in recent years and have to drag themselves to Game 54 of the NHL season in -27 C temperatures. How many are going to volunteer to go see the minor-league affiliate of some NHL trap team teaching their farmhands the art of killing the game.
Don't get me wrong. Bring 'em on in 2004-05. For next year, there's no downside. It makes nothing but sense for the short term.
Edmonton will have pro hockey and fans will be able to watch goalie Jeff Deslauriers to make up their minds if Oiler goaltending coach Pete Peeters is going to be right and this kid is going to be a great one.
Having the team here this coming year will also keep a lot of people working at the Oilers office who would have had to be laid off.
Historically, it has always cost the Oilers at least $1 million a year for their minor-league operation. A lot of costs would drop playing in the same city as the big club.
But all of a sudden LaForge is trying to tell you an NHL team and an AHL team doesn't mean saturation?
This is the same organization which had no interest in allowing the junior Edmonton Ice to play in the big building because they'd watched what had happened with the Calgary Flames owning the Calgary Hitmen junior team.
Instead of a dad taking his son to three or four NHL games a year, he'd take him to one and take the kid to four or five junior games.
Sounds OK. Except it empties out the top of the arena for the NHL games - which takes away the tough ticket scenario - which takes away any need for anybody to buy tickets in advance.
The reason the Oilers have been healthy these past few years is that they went to work to get into a tough ticket situation.
NHL tickets average over $60 in Edmonton. They're talking $20 tickets for the AHL. Twenty bucks still isn't chump change.
LaForge & Co. point to the Philadelphia Flyers, which own their own AHL team, the Phantoms, and play across the street in the old Spectrum. Philly doesn't have a U of A Golden Bears team or three AJHL teams, not to mention enough teams to make Edmonton's Minor Hockey League tournament the largest in the world.
And the idea to play seven double-headers with an AHL game leading into an NHL game. Wasn't the idea to shorten the NHL games, not to more than double the length of the day?
What I want to see is the schedule juggling by both NHL and AHL teams in the event that the collective bargaining agreement is settled about Jan. 10. Remember, the Brier is in Edmonton next March. But I digress.
One year? Hello!
Long term? Goodbye!
Of course, one could always look at the negative side of all this.
If the owners collapse, if the NHL doesn't get cost certainty in the new collective bargaining agreement, and if the Oiler sowners come to the conclusion that there's no sense to go on with NHL hockey ...
Well, Edmonton won't have to go looking for an AHL team to replace the NHL team. It'll already be here.