TORONTO - Yes, the great NHL shell game continues.
The Atlanta Thrashers have now gone the way of the California Golden Seals, Kansas City Scouts, Cleveland Barons, Hartford Whalers, Atlanta Flames, and, yikes, the Winnipeg Jets ... and those are just some of the relocations that have occurred in my lifetime.
And Iím not that old (compared, to say, a mature Norwegian Spruce).
ďStep right up and pick a city. Sorry sir, you lose. Try again.Ē
Is this a league founded on smoke and mirrors, or what?
Sure, every professional sports loop in North America has had its share of relocations. But the NHL seems to have made it an art form.
Hereís my take on the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg ó a ďCanadian outpostĒ as one Atlanta columnist called it on Tuesday.
The NHL failed Atlanta more than Atlanta failed the NHL.
Itís the product.
The product is simply not good enough.
There, I said it. Let the bitterness flow.
Look, if youíre a business person and you introduce a product to a new market and the product is truly exceptional, then you will be able to sell that product.
Doesnít matter if itís doughnuts, brasseries or pucks. If the product is great ó as the NHL promised when it ventured into places like Atlanta and Florida and Phoenix ó then people would buy it, even people who didnít grow up with the product.
But NHL hockey is no longer a great product.
Some playoff games have been great, yes. But thatís more to do with the intensity than anything else.
For those of us who grew up playing and loving the sport, itís hard to turn our back on the NHL. Itís like an old pair of skates. They hurt your feet and sometimes the puck gets stuck between the blade and the boot, but you canít throw them away.
But for people in non-traditional markets, people who consider hockey the domain of toothless hose heads, dour Scandinavians and gloomy Russians, the sport is lacking big-time.
Otherwise, they would have jumped whole-heartedly on the bandwagon.
There arenít enough goals. There arenít enough open-ice plays. There are too many defensive schemes and systems. Honestly, if NHL hockey was truly great, do you the league would have tinkered with the game as it has in recent years? Theyíve brought in rule changes to open the game up ó two-line passing, the tag-up off-side rule, cracking down on hooking and holding, etc. Itís all good. But itís not enough ó especially if you have to sell the game in markets where other recreational activities rule, like NFL football, or big-time college sports.
Iíve said this before and Iíll say it again ... the biggest problem is that the NHL is too diluted. Thereís not enough talent for the number of teams. The talent pool is not deep enough. Hockey draws from a very limited number of places, particularly compared with basketball, soccer, baseball. There simply isnít enough talent to support 30 teams.
Sports fans arenít idiots. They can see that.
And I donít buy that argument that winning solves anything.
Yes, winning helps, but you should be able to survive in a viable market even if your team goes into prolonged slumps. There should never be the threat of relocation just because a team continually fails to make the playoffs. If thatís the case, then the market isnít right. When you have winning teams, you have losing teams. A healthy league can survive that.
The NHL will never be truly healthy if, year in and year out, there is talk of relocation and teams bleeding money.
Relocation fees are nice, sure, but theyíre a sign of a sick market.
Every week, in years past, when I received my Sports Illustrated in the mail (thank you Wee Willie), I got riled up at the lack of NHL coverage.
I even contemplated sending a letter to the editor a few times, like an old crank Bubba professes me to be.
But the more you look at what the NHL has become, it becomes clearer that the league truly gets what it deserves.