Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
Okay! Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday has passed and it's okay to turn the outdoor lights display on now. Officially, there are 27 days 'til Christmas, plenty of time to max out the credit cards and get frenetic with holiday anxiety and angst. For the Blues' management and players, there are 25 days left 'til Christmas break with 13 hockey games to play, including four on the road with two separate trips to the east coast, as well as three back-to-back contests. That's slightly over a game every two days. When to practice? When to be with family?? When to shop???
It is indeed a blessing for the Blues to have nine games at home during the next three and a half weeks. For the players, that means sleeping at home in their own beds, eating healthier and more nutritious food in familiar surroundings and spending time with loved ones. And they show their love for home with a very good 6-2-2 record, eighth best in the league, at the TradeStocks Center. With seven of the upcoming nine contests at home against teams significantly lower than the Blues in the standings, St. Louis is in a good position to pick up some points and challenge Dallas for the division lead. It also helps to stay ahead of oncoming Nashville and Minnesota. The only teams with around the same point total as the Blues in the next 13 games 'til Christmas are the Stars and Predators at home and the Islanders and Jets on the road.
Speaking of home, the Blues are currently ranked 11th in NHL home attendance averaging 18, 380 in ten games. 96% capacity on home ice is nothing to sneeze at, albeit 13 NHL teams are operating at 100% or better. Surprisingly, the Blues are ranked 8th in road attendance (96% capacity), only trailing Montreal, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Washington and Tampa Bay.
At the other end of the attendance spectrum, the Carolina Hurricanes have the worst average attendance at home in the league, 11, 047 in 11 games. That's a pitiful 59% of capacity. Other troubled teams include Florida at 71% of capacity, New Jersey at 77%, Arizona at 78%, tonight's visitors, the Columbus Blue Jackets at 78% and the Islanders at 78.5% in their new digs in Brooklyn.
The NHL might be looking to expand from 30 to 32 teams soon. In order, the most desirable locations are Las Vegas, Quebec City and Seattle. A new $375 million privately funded 20,000-seat arena is being constructed on the Strip in Las Vegas at the corner of Frank Sinatra Drive and Tropicana Avenue. In Quebec, they are putting the final touches on a publicly funded $370 million NHL-sized arena, the Videotron Center, which officially opened on September 8 of this year. In Seattle, a new NHL-sized arena is being proposed for the SoDo neighborhood. The city has officially approved the public benefit package, which includes a training facility, public plaza and major street improvements.
Other areas for consideration would include the greater Toronto metropolitan area (plans for a new NHL-sized arena in suburban Markham have been scuttled), Kansas City, home of the Sprint Center, which could only seat 17, 500 for hockey, and possibly Houston, the largest market in the U.S. or Canada without NHL hockey. The area ranks second in the country with 22 based Fortune 500 companies, only behind New York City. The Toyota Center, which opened in 2003, could seat 17, 800 for hockey, the NHL minimum. Houston would provide a natural rivalry with the Dallas Stars, yet there is currently no local interest in bringing the NHL to Houston.
Instead of expansion, though, the NHL would be better suited to relocate the weaker clubs with the worst, declining attendance. The Carolina Hurricanes would do much better in Quebec City as the Bulldogs (or Aces), while the Florida Panthers could easily fill the new Las Vegas Arena as the Black Knights (or Aces). Expansion would be much better in three or four years when the new rink is ready in Seattle and a new arena is finally built in the Toronto metro area or Houston is ready to embrace NHL hockey. It can only be hoped attendance in New Jersey, Arizona, Columbus and Brooklyn increases as the play of their hockey teams improves and they climb in the standings and/or qualify for the playoffs.
Poor attendance at the beautiful, fan-friendly Nationwide Arena in Columbus can be attributed to the current record of the injury-ravaged Blue Jackets. Languishing at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference since the beginning of the season may hurt attendance, yet it also means the team from Ohio is in the running to select front-runner Auston Matthews in June at the NHL Amateur Draft. Arizona would also like to draft this Scottsdale-born center who is playing this season in Switzerland for the ZSC Lions. The Blues would like to select St. Louis-born Matthew Tkachuk, son of Keith, who is currently with the London Knights of the OHL. However the big winger is projected to go in the top five of the draft and the Blues hope to draft in the #30 slot. It is doubtful that either the Coyotes or Blues will trade up.
A big two points is on the post-Thanksgiving table tonight. Both the Blues and Jackets need to feast, yet only one will fill their plate with both points.