SUN Hockey Pool

Ontario gates an issue

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

You don't have to be a struggling NHL team in a sunbelt city to have attendance issues.

Those of us north of the border who crow fan support isn't an issue in Canada had better take heed of what's happening in Ottawa and Toronto.

The Maple Leafs aren't going to end their Stanley Cup drought, which dates back to 1967, this season. In fact, it appears a miracle is needed just to be a playoff team, but years of ranging from awful to mediocre to not-quite-good-enough is catching up.

Some of the luxury suites at the Air Canada Centre have been empty during games. About a half-dozen when the Flames were there on the weekend were dark.

"That is a change for us," president and CEO Richard Peddie told the Globe and Mail. "But we've renovated all of the suites and we've got our best sales people onto it and we'll get through this."

When you think of the cost of a suite -- $4,500 to $9,000 in Toronto -- plus the food and beverages purchased, empty suites add up to important lost revenue, even for a Maple Leafs team recently valued at US$332 million by Forbes Magazine.

In Ottawa, this week's game between the Senators and Maple Leafs had an announced crowd of 17,406. Capacity at Scotiabank Place is listed at 19,153, but the building can hold up to 20,500.

According to the Ottawa Sun, the Senators were averaging more than 900 fewer fans per game heading into last night's clash with Pittsburgh. Should that trend continue, they're staring at US$2.3 million less revenue this season compared to a year ago just from tickets, never mind food and drink.

The Sens have just two sellouts this season, one against Pittsburgh and another when Boston came to town.

So while people are spotting the brutal numbers from Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Florida, plus cities like Colorado and Detroit, they should look at what's happening in Ontario.

Those are signs not to be ignored.

Flaming C-notes

As the Flames headed into last night's game against Chicago, they were able to brag about not having a single player out due to injury. Not that they would do that, since players don't talk about injuries because it's seen as bad luck. The Flames were the only team who could say that yesterday. A few teams had a couple of players out of action on a day-to-day basis, but some are reeling. Pittsburgh had defenceman Sergei Gonchar return last night but was still without four of its top blueliners: Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski and Jay McKee. The other top-six defenceman, Mark Eaton, is battling through back spasms ... Ridiculous rumour of the week: Calgary is interested in the Kostitsyn brothers from the Montreal Canadiens. Let's see, one keeps threatening to go to Russia instead of truly battling to get out of the minors and the other is floating around the ice in Montreal like a listless boat. Can't see it happening.

Hockey talky

For anybody wondering whether Colorado's Matt Duchene should be in the NHL this year, think about how things have played out for Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Duchene will be heads and shoulders better next season because of this year, and it'll be worth it. Speaking of Colorado rookies, don't overlook the fact Ryan O'Reilly was on the ice in the final minute against the Flames ... We rarely get to see Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, and that's too bad. The Sabres netminder is so efficient between the pipes, it's scary. With every save he makes, it appears Miller is in position before the shot is taken. By the way, towering rookie defenceman Tyler Myers -- who is from just outside Calgary -- will deserve Calder Trophy consideration if he keeps playing at the level he's been at ... Interesting quarter-pole statement from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun this week: Hart Trophy winner at this point should be Columbus Blue Jackets leader Rick Nash. "Wouldn't it be cool if a Nash won the MVP award in both the NBA and NHL? And they were both Canadian?" LeBrun pointed out ... We didn't have trouble seeing Anaheim struggling. But who would have guessed Carolina would fall so far so fast after going to the Eastern Conference final last season? ... Back to the Ducks: There were 15 NHL scouts with credentials for last night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Trade winds will be blowing through Disneyland soon. Anaheim GM Bob Murray told the Los Angeles Times recently: "There's going to be a lot of players going through the turnstiles, going out the door before coaches go out the door here. And our players better get that through their thick skulls."

You don't say

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA

------------

FARM REPORT

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN ABBOTSFORD

First-year pro John Negrin appears to be finding his game for the Abbotsford Heat.

Negrin, a third-round pick in 2007, had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over Hamilton this week, which gives him 11 points (3-8-11) on the season. To put that in perspective, Mikael Backlund has 10 points (7-3-10) and played three more games. Plus, Negrin is a plus-4.

Also this week, the team recalled goalie Matt Keetley from the ECHL and sent down David Shantz. Keetley suffered a groin injury earlier this season, but is back to 100%.

In fact, Keetley posted a 1.01 goals-against average, .965 save percentage and two shutouts in three games for Victoria. He was named the ECHL's goalie of the week.


Videos

Photos