Lighting The Lamp With Rick Ackerman
Ordinarily a victory over an Eastern Conference team in mid-January would not be a highly significant win for the St. Louis Blues. However, the victory over New Jersey two nights ago may have been the most important game of the season. Faced with the adversity of having seven players unavailable due to injury and playing their fifth game in nine days, the Blues played their first complete game in three weeks by dominating the Devils for a full 60 minutes and skating away with a solid 5-2 decision.
A rejuvenated Patrik Berglund scored two power play goals, and rookie Ty Rattie, summoned from the AHL Chicago Wolves on emergency recall, scored his first-ever goal in the NHL. Goaltender Brian Elliott was strong with 22 saves as the Blues scored more than four goals in a game for only the second time in 46 games this season. Both the power play and penalty killing units excelled, improving the Blues' special teams statistics, increasing power play proficiency to fifth best in the NHL and penalty killing expertise to third best in the league. And kudos to Kyle Brodziak, Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo for coming to the aid of Dmitrij Jaskin, who was blindsided by a vicious check from the Devils' Bobby Farnham and especially Ryan Reaves, who threw down Jon Merrill and then pummeled Jordan Tootoo into another dimension in a completely one-sided altercation.
St. Louis welcomes yet another Eastern Conference foe tonight and seeks to even up the season series against the other conference at 8-8-5 by blowing past the resurgent Carolina Hurricanes. Even though the 'Canes are in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division (and 12th of 16 teams in the conference), they are only two points out of playoff contention. And they're hot, having won three in a row with a 6-2-2 record in their last ten games. They are not a team to be taken too lightly.
It's hard to believe that it has now been 18 years since the Hartford Whalers relocated from Connecticut to the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, eventually calling the PNC Arena in Raleigh home. The Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, yet lost to the Red Wings in five games. After failing to qualify for two seasons, Carolina came back after the lockout of 2004-05 and swept past Montreal, New Jersey, Buffalo and Edmonton to win the Stanley Cup in 2006, led by rookie goaltender Cam Ward, winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Hard times then befell the Hurricanes as they failed to qualify for the playoffs for eight of the next nine seasons, including six in a row since 2009. And the continuing failure of the franchise has negatively affected attendance. Carolina ranks dead last in NHL attendance this season, currently averaging 11, 378 in the 18, 680 seat PNC Arena, only 61% of capacity. Last season, the 'Canes had the second lowest average attendance, 12, 594. A decrease of over 1,200 per game this season is certainly not helping matters.
As the team hemorrhages money, owner Peter Karmanos has sought to raise capital by selling a portion of the team. For more than a year now, there has been absolutely no interest from any potential investors. And a recent financial report compiled by the public authority that runs PNC Arena shows that the Hurricanes lost $1.3 million for the fiscal year ending in June, 2015. Only 55% of the team's $96 million revenue came from local sources. The remaining 45% came from the NHL's credit facility, money Karmanos has been forced to borrow. Worse yet, the value of the team is ranked 28th out of 30 in the league, worth $225 million with a high debt to value ratio of 53%. The higher the ratio, the riskier the loan is for a lender. No wonder Karmanos cannot find anyone to invest in this high-risk venture with any potential profits going to interest on accumulating debts.
If attendance in Raleigh does not improve soon, it is entirely possible the Hurricanes might find themselves relocated once again, this time to the 18, 259-seat Videotron Center, ready and waiting in Quebec City. And the 20, 000-seat T-Mobile Arena will be completed on the Strip in Las Vegas this coming April. Although the NHL would undoubtedly rather see an expansion team in Nevada and/or Quebec along with hundreds of millions of dollars in expansion fees to the league, relocation of the Carolina franchise is not out of the question. The only franchises worth less than the Hurricanes are Florida ($220 million) and Arizona ($186 million), respectively ranked 26th (82% of capacity) and 28th (77.5% of capacity) in attendance. Unless attendance improves, it is also entirely possible relocation is in the future for the Panthers and Coyotes, which would be a shame since both teams are playing quite well and would qualify for the playoffs if the regular season ended tomorrow. Florida has a substantial lead in the Atlantic Division and Arizona is second in the Pacific Division.
After tonight, the Blues only have five games until the much needed All-Star break, which starts January 25. These are five games in which the Note must maintain consistency of performance as they did recently against the Devils and Kings. Although Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz and Jake Allen are expected to be in uniform when the Blues travel to Nashville in February for a Groundhog's Day tilt with the Predators, it would also help to have Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson available to patrol the blue line.