SUN Hockey Pool

NHL figures a fan-tasy

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

Attendance figures: Marketing tool, sword of Damocles or vague statistic? The answer is all three.

The release of the NHL attendance numbers thus far was an important moment. And at the beginning of November, the league announced with much fanfare that a new record had been set for the month of October -- an average of 16,820 per city.

Obviously the NHL wants to use this positive news to its advantage -- in its eyes it indicates that fans have not only forgiven the league for their lockout transgressions, but also that the improvement in overall play has encouraged people to return. The new rules affected all teams and some are faring better than others. Normally, poor attendance is intrinsically linked to a mediocre team.

So how does one explain the numbers in a city like Carolina, which with the exception of its home opener, has yet to fill the RBC Center with more than 15,000 people? The Hurricanes have one of the league's most exciting players in Eric Staal, and seemingly possess the ability to shut down an elite team like the Senators.

(Aside -- There's a sentence I thought I'd never write. Is Martin Gerber destined to become this city's Curtis Joseph of yore? It's still too bizarre to fully acknowledge.)

According to general opinion around the NHL, Raleigh has maintained a constant indifference toward the sport, in spite of a loyal (but small) fan base that was buoyed by a run to the Cup final in 2002.

Perhaps the Hurricanes need to switch up their ownership. Do you think Rod Bryden is interested in returning to the NHL market?

During the Bryden era, the Senators faithful were threatened via press conference on a weekly basis. The message was clear: Increase the season-ticket base or your team is toast. Senators fans loved their team, but their list of preferred opponents to see in person was rather short. Detroit or Toronto? A sellout was certain. Washington or Pittsburgh? Let's just say we shouldn't have been mocking other franchises about empty club seats.

And if you want to enter legitimate Twilight Zone territory, just look at the attendance figures for Toronto in the 1980s. During a decade that saw the irascible Harold Ballard at the helm, they were filling the building beyond capacity. The Leafs' self-destruction during this period is still legendary, but they repeatedly managed to pack the house -- even during a three-year stint without a captain. Maple Leaf Gardens held 15,746, but the team averaged 16,177 fans in 1986-87 and 16,358 in 1987-88.

Attendance statistics are an integral part of determining success within the NHL, but they don't tell the full story. Padded or legitimate, they need to be taken with a grain of salt from a fan's perspective, because this is one area of math that isn't black and white.

CATCHING UP ON RELIGION: While the rest of you were enjoying the unintentional comedic gold that was (and still is) Jacques Martin at the Corel Centre on Thursday, I was at the Capital Music Hall watching punk rock legends Bad Religion perform its very first show in Ottawa. There are many ties within the NHL to the musical genre, with names like Scott Niedermayer and Jose Theodore counting themselves as fans. Bad Religion guitarist Greg Hetson is a diehard Kings fan and acquaintance of the league's current pariah, Sean Avery. "I believe that he's the type of guy you'd want on your team, but hate to play against," Hetson said. When pressed about the negative perception of the Kings instigator, Hetson claimed that "(Avery's) always been a good guy around me." Perhaps this is a side of L.A.'s No. 19 that we should be seeing more of.

WATCHING YOU: Senators fans ... I'm watching you, and not from the press box. Most of the time I'm carefully ensconced within the crowd, in order to properly gauge your enthusiasm (and so I can curse at the refs without fear of being reprimanded). Take note: If you're leaving during a third-period power play when Ottawa is down by one goal, it's safe to say you bite harder than Pat Quinn on a stick of Doublemint.

TIRED ACT: Newspaper stories last week were accompanied by pictures which featured Martin behind the bench, mouth agape. Neophytes would assume he was admonishing the officials for an objectionable call. Senators fans know that he was simply caught mid-yawn.

erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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