With some NHL squads struggling to win fans, Santa Claus can score great deals on hockey tickets this holiday season

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

At first glance, the deals to be had around the league look like a good-news story.

In time for the Christmas season, you can score serious bargains as an NHL fan. That warms the heart like Tiny Tim's words.

Last night's Calgary Flames opposition, the Florida Panthers, have an amazing offer right now to lure fans. For only $17, you get a ticket, a $5 gas card, free parking and a combo meal. The meal, parking and gas card all must be worth more than $17.

The Panthers also are offering what's called the Papa John's Pizza Pack. For $50, you receive two upper-level tickets, two pizzas, two Cokes and parking.

Like I said, at first glance, it sounds like a good story. A team, struggling to fill the building, is coming up with fantastic deals to draw fans.

Then comes the slap to reality.

That's how bad it's become around the league -- teams must give out what's essentially a loss-leader to draw fans.

In Nashville, you can buy a three-game pack for the holidays -- Boxing Day against Detroit, New Year's Day against Vancouver and Jan. 19 against New Jersey -- for as low as $89 and also receive a holiday stocking, media guide on CD and more.

The Los Angeles Kings are offering a Holiday Pack special that starts at $99, and you receive two tickets to four games -- yes, four games, featuring Phoenix, Anaheim, Chicago and Minnesota -- along with a $50 ESPN Zone game card and Kings glass and coaster set.

Even traditional hockey cities like Philadelphia and Detroit have deals you wouldn't have imagined seeing a couple of years ago.

What makes this so scary? Even in the most bleak of days in Calgary and Edmonton, the offers would never have been to that extent.

As close as we came to losing the Alberta squads -- and it's a good guess it came closer than we all wanted to acknowledge -- these are possible signs it's even worse for some of those teams around the league.

The economy has forced a correction and will mean a big cut in NHL revenue, which players around the league should be well aware about.

FLAMING C-NOTES

True, Curtis McElhinney didn't win the game when given the start in net against Detroit a few days ago, but would it have killed head coach Mike Keenan to give him credit for getting a tired team to overtime? Sure, the Red Wings scored twice late in the third period to force the extra period and then won it, but McElhinney didn't have a chance on either the tying or game-winning goals. McElhinney will get that first NHL win, but it would be nice if he'd be given the chance more often. Going a month between starts is not a productive way to develop a goaltender at the NHL level ... The longer the season goes, the more credit Flames GM Darryl Sutter deserves for signing Curtis Glencross as a free agent and acquiring Rene Bourque via trade in the summer. In the bang-for-your-buck department, Glencross and Bourque have been among the best deals in the league ... Funny promotion of the week goes to the Las Vegas Wranglers, Calgary's ECHL affiliate. For their Jan. 30 game against Bakersfield, the Wranglers will wear prison-style uniforms as a tribute to disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich was arrested last week for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and soliciting bribes. The striped jerseys will be autographed and auctioned for charity. A couple of years ago, the Wranglers hosted Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night to mock the U.S. vice-president's shooting skills.

HOCKEY TALKY

And we thought it was strange how many games Shane Doan has played without a hat-trick. Petr Sykora finally netted a three-goal game on Thursday when the Pittsburgh Penguins dropped the New York Islanders 9-2. Sykora had 38 games with two goals to his name before getting a third. "It is a relief. As much as I talked that it didn't bother me, it did bother me, and now I feel pretty good," he said ... Tonight, will be the first time in more than a dozen years that Hockey Night in Canada won't feature the Toronto Maple Leafs on a non-holiday, regular-season Saturday. The last time it happened was March 16, 1996. Amazingly, the Leafs aren't going to play Saturday, Dec. 27 or Jan. 17, either. It's a good move to ensure Toronto fans are prepared to see other teams on the tube when the playoffs roll around ... Shame on Colin Campbell for not suspending Vancouver's Alex Burrows for his dirty hit on Nashville's J.P. Dumont. Burrows jumped into the air and used his forearms to hit Dumont in what became a chippy game. Nearly as disgusting is the fact Burrows didn't have the courage to fight Jason Arnott after his act. In fact, the Canucks had a seven-minute man-advantage from his turtle job. So much for the league cracking down on head shots.

YOU DON'T SAY?

"My dad's got this big wall full of Wayne Gretzky stuff. So if I ever wanted to say something bad about Wayne Gretzky, he'd be the first guy here to give me a slap upside the head. I've only got, like, 10 games in this league, what am I going to say? I've just got to suck it up and move on."

-- Chicago's Kris Versteeg after being called out by Gretzky, the Coyotes coach, after a late-game fight with Kyle Turris.


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