Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:31 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 11:43 am

Most miserable city? Post-Thrashers Atlanta

The fans pleaded to no avail in Atlanta. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

To the city of Atlanta and the sports fans there, I'm sorry, this feels a bit like piling on. But your city has been named the Most Miserable Sports City in America by Forbes, usurping Seattle for that dubious title.

Of course the biggest contribution to Atlanta's rise (fall?) to the top (bottom?) of the rankings was the loss of a franchise, the Thrashers leaving the city for the greener (or whiter with all that snow) pastures that were Winnipeg.

And no, the list doesn't refer to Atlanta being a bad sports city, even it that does apply. Atlanta would probably be in the running for that award neck-and-neck with Miami/South Florida.

It must really burn the hockey fans in Atlanta to see the franchise clear the executive offices out, get itself a new general manager and finding some success this season with nearly the same team that disappointed in Atlanta a year ago. Having to be reminded constantly about the Jets going from one of the worst home-ice advantages in the NHL to the best can't help either.

Here is the summary on Atlanta's deservingness of the title.

Over the past year, Atlanta fans have watched their hockey team leave for Winnipeg, their baseball team blow the playoffs on the final day, and their football and basketball teams bow out early in the playoffs.

Yea, that doesn't sound too pleasant. Then again one city that didn't even crack the top five doesn't have a hockey team, has a football team that hasn't made the playoffs in 10 years, a baseball team that has made it just once in the last 10 years and a basketball team that was left crushed when it was spurned by its biggest star. Yes, I'm looking at you, Cleveland. It’s not found until No. 8 on the list.

The top 5 cities are:

1. Atlanta
2. Seattle
3. Phoenix
4. Buffalo
5. San Diego.

Phoenix could be making a move to pass both Seattle and Atlanta in the next year if the Coyotes fall to the same fate that took the Thrashers from Atlanta. It remains a very real possibility with no deal yet to keep the team in Phoenix/Glendale.

Who says hockey doesn't matter? Sure seems to carry a lot of weight here, even if it's for the wrong reasons.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:45 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 4:08 pm

City of Saskatoon joins relocation hopefuls


By Brian Stubits

Since the Phoenix Coyotes situation still hasn't found a resolution, there has been plenty of discussion where the team could potentially relocate to if it doesn't remain in the desert. The most of the focus in that conversation has centered around Seattle and Quebec City with Kansas City and even Las Vegas being mentioned on the periphery.

Well just as long as we're discussing the options, might as well add Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to the list. Really.

The prairie city in the middle of one of Canada's two provinces that shares a border with the United States but don't have a team (New Brunswick the other) would like to change that. Here's the initial report from TSN's Bob McKenzie.

But interested parties in Saskatoon have contacted the league and suggested there are individuals or parties in Saskatoon who would be willing to ante up the required purchase fee while various levels of government in Saskatchewan would make necessary arrangements to expand and make NHL-suitable the 15,800-seat Credit Union Centre.

Now the city of Saskatoon only has a population around 250,000 and doesn't have many cities nearby that could help. Saskatchewan's capital of Regina and its population of nearly 200,000 is three hours away.

Yet I have no doubt that even with a population of just 250,000 the city would likely have no problems filling the arena on a nightly basis. We're talking about a Canadian city in a province that produces a lot of NHL talent. In fact, Saskatchewan is responsible for 9.1 percent of the Canadian talent in the NHL today, a slight ways behind British Columbia with 10.6 percent and ahead of Manitoba.

It's all the other factors that you wonder if they could compete, such as corporate sponsorships, television deals, etc.

But they do have an arena that would work, at least temporarily until renovations could be finished. If Winnipeg's MTS Centre with 15,000 seats was approved, that size shouldn't be a problem.

The mayor of Saskatoon, Don Atchison, told the StarPhoenix on Friday that this is a little more than just idle chat.

“They’re exceedingly serious, make no bones about that,” Atchison said. “But it doesn’t matter how serious the ownership group is. We have seen that once before when Mr. [Bill] Hunter bought the team and was ready to move it here.

“It will be up to the NHL what occurs in the end.”

What he is referring to is Bill Hunter's attempt to buy and move the St. Louis Blues to Saskatoon in 1987, obviously an attempt that was felled by the NHL.

Obviously we're looking at a super long shot here. If the city failed the first time who’s to say the NHL would approve it on the second try? The population has to be a concern from an available money standpoint even though I think it would work, it's taking a leap of faith.

Just a little food for thought. In closing I'll leave you with this.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: February 21, 2012 10:07 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 11:47 am

Report: Sale to keep Coyotes in Ariz. almost done

By Brian Stubits

Last week there were reports of optimism being up in Phoenix regarding the sale of the Coyotes that has been in the works for about three years. I wondered if perhaps it wasn't a move in response to Seattle's arena announcement.

As the Magic 8-Ball says, sources say no. There was some real substance. And by sources I mean Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal.

The National Hockey League is close to putting the finishing touches on a sale of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey franchise to a group led by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison. That sale would keep the team playing in the Phoenix market.

The deal still has go through final approvals and due diligence as well as through the city of Glendale which owns Jobing.com Arena. But Jamison, the NHL and Glendale are close to a final deal, according to sources familiar with the hockey team.

The NHL is trying to keep the sale price at $170 million in part to help the value of other franchises. The league bought the Coyotes out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 for $140 million.

Now we've been to this point in the past regarding the sale of the Coyotes. Remember how close things were with Matthew Hulsizer at one point? However this is the first time for the group led by Jamison who, with due respect to Hulsizer, appears to have his p's and q's covered a little better.

The other interesting aspect of Sunnucks' report is this little tidbit.

The deal being hatched with Jamison could include some rebates and a fund to help cover the team’s financial losses. The Coyotes lose $20 million to $25 million annually.

That would help explain why somebody would be willing to invest in an organization that bleeds money. However it also brings up the concern that derailed the Hulsizer bid, the watchdog group Goldwater Institute. How many concessions can the city of Glendale give while avoiding their threat of a lawsuit?

At this point, fans in the desert will run with any good news they hear. It's getting down to the wire and this appears to be the most promising point in the negotiations in a long, long time. But hold the celebration (or anger if you're one of those who really wants to see the Coyotes moved) and wait for an official announcement. Too often these deals can fall through and we've already seen it in Phoenix.

But this from Scott Burnside of ESPN.com later on Tuesday is a perfect reminder not to count the chickens before they hatch, particularly with the Phoenix situation.

Everybody has to be glad this is winding down, one way or the other. It's been far too long that the Coyotes have been in this state of limbo but the league has proven at every turn to be hellbent on keeping the team in the desert.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 17, 2012 4:28 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 4:32 pm

Optimism rises in Phoenix in owner search

By Brian Stubits

Perhaps it's just a matter of timing after Seattle announced plans for a new arena contingent on securing NBA and NHL franchises, but there is sight of optimism again in Phoenix.

While the play of the Coyotes of late has increased the optimism they could be headed to the postseason for a third consecutive season, the off-ice story is the one that continues to hang over their heads. And for the first time in a really long time there is something that sounds positive for keeping the team in the desert.

From the Arizona Republic:

For now, there are only whispers. But Jerry Colangelo hears potential buyers are "milling around." Former NHL star Jeremy Roenick said he's been approached by Greg Jamison, the former San Jose Sharks CEO who is trying to raise sufficient funds. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently said there's a third party involved, joining the Jamison Group.

One source said this third party is not only very real, but extremely wealthy and spending serious money on due diligence. That's a great sign. And you can't help but notice the renewed faith in the voice of Coyotes coach Dave Tippett.

"We are still hoping for a good ending," Tippett said. "You look at what's happened over the last three years, and we've found a way to stay competitive. I think there's a ton of upside with this team [for any investor]. We just have to find a way to get the deal done."

Now I've learned over the last couple of years (feels like even longer) not to get too excited with any signs of optimism concerning a new owner for the Coyotes. We've been down this road many times and here we are, still looking at the team being owned by the NHL.

As I noted, the timing is a bit interesting. The story comes out within 24 hours of Seattle revealing its plan. To secure an NHL franchise, everybody immediately looks at the Coyotes as the team that would be needed in Seattle for the arena. Whether that's intentional or not, I don't know.

But lending creedance to it being more than just a well-timed response is the story that drifted out last week about Jeremy Roenick saying he was contacted about investing in a potential ownership group. So the iron was a little hot before the Seattle news surfaced.

It's finally coming to the pot of doing it or getting off the pot, if you know what I mean.

This much is certain: The NHL will not allow the city of Glendale to rent the team for another year and another $25 million. That means the endgame is coming. The time for band-aids is over, and the Coyotes actually share that philosophy.

Well this is a good sign at least, but I'll wait for something more tangible.

More from Eye on Hockey

How would Seattle fare with NHL?
Seattle unveils plan for arena
Roenick trying to get involved

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 16, 2012 11:32 am
Edited on: February 16, 2012 3:29 pm

How would Seattle fare as a hockey market?

An old Seattle Thunderbirds sweater. (Seattlehockey.net)

By Brian Stubits

With the news coming out of a plan in the works to build a new, state-of-the-art arena in Seattle, the conversation that was just talking for talking's sake about the NHL in Seattle has become a lot more real. All of a sudden it looks like an NHL-viable city.

I get the sense from reading my Twitter timeline, talking to other media members and seeing fan comments that the majority of people are excited about hockey moving to Seattle, that it'd be a fantastic place for the NHL.

However there are skeptics. The hockey community seems excited at the idea of Seattle having a team, but is Seattle excited? The apple of its eye with the new arena is getting the NBA's SuperSonics back. That's priority Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

While the man talking about building the new arena, Seattle native Chris Hansen, is focused on the NBA and has reportedly not talked to the NHL at all, that doesn't mean there isn't other interested parties who would like to work together. There's interest elsewhere according to Chris Daniels of King TV in Seattle.

So the question remains: Would Seattle be a good hockey market? 

Before I go any further I must disclose that I call the Puget Sound area home. I grew up 30 miles south of Seattle in Tacoma and know the region's sports passions and teams. I grew up a fan of the Mariners, Seahawks and Sonics.

With that out of the way, back to our regularly scheduled reading program.

The Puget Sound area, despite its proximity to Canada, is not a hockey hotbed. Although Seattle does have the distinction of being the first American city to hoist the Stanley Cup when the Seattle Metropolitans did it in 1917, it has never been home to an NHL franchise. It came close during the expansion era of the early 1990s, but obviously that didn't happen.

What it does have, though, is an appetite for hockey. Seattle has long had the Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. Tacoma has seen a couple of teams come through over the years in the WHL's Rockets and the Sabercats of the WCHL, which folded operations. Everett, to the north of Seattle, has a nice new arena that's home to the WHL's Silvertips.

Let's start with them, shall we? In the 2010-11 season, the Thunderbirds -- who now play in the suburb of Kent instead of Key Arena in Seattle -- averaged 4,096 fans per night. The Silvertips a short ways north of the city averaged 5,807 fans per game. That's a combined nearly 10,000 patrons per game for the local junior teams, assuming there's little to no overlap. That's not a bad start, especially for junior hockey, which isn't going to draw as much interest as the NHL.

Furthering the already established hockey presence in the Puget Sound area, Chris Peters of United States of Hockey mentions that the state of Washington already has a pretty strong rec hockey presence, and that's without any NHL roots. Plus, it's the 12th biggest media market in the USA.

Also, the state of Washington has more of an established hockey culture than most of the Sunbelt states the NHL expanded to in the 1990s. A lot of that is thanks to hockey’s nationwide growth in popularity over the last decade. So timing may also be in Seattle and the NHL’s favor in terms of projecting success.

There are nearly 8,000 USA Hockey registered hockey players (PDF) in Washington. It’s not a huge hockey-playing population, but it has consistently grown over the last 20 years. Since 1991, Washington’s USA Hockey player membership has grown by 234.1 percent. There has been a particular spike in growth at the 8 & Under age levels in the last five years, which mirrors what’s been happening across the country.

While the Silvertips are still new to the scene having really only Peter Mueller to speak of from the alumni list, the Thunderbirds do have some notable alumni who have gone on to the NHL. Chief among that group is San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau, drafted out of Seattle with the No. 2 overall pick in 1997. He still has some impressions of playing in Seattle.

"Oh I loved it there," Marleau told CBSSports.com with a smile overtaking his face. "I think they'd probably grasp it, take it and run with it. I think they have some great fans there."

But what kind of market would it be for the NHL?

"You never really know until it happens but I think there's definitely a market there," Marleau said. "There's definitely a lot of hockey that goes on there, minor-league hockey. A lot of teams close to the Canadian border too. Everything looks like it would work."

We've seen it in action and on a one-time basis recently and that worked out well. Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning played an exhibition game in Everett. The arena was packed with 7,281 fans excited to see NHL hockey.

Fans take in the Coyotes and Lightning in 2009 in Everett.

Everett GM Doug Soetaert -- a former member of the New York Rangers -- has little doubt hockey's top level would go over as smooth as freshly zambonied ice in the arena.

"In the right location, in a brand-new building, it would go very well," Soetaert told the Seattle Times in 2009.

There are some hockey fans on the Sound's south side. I attended a lot of games at the Tacoma Dome watching the Sabercats, that's where I fell in love with hockey. My dad and I would always just walk up and buy tickets to the game and walk in, no problem.

I remember one day in 1998 that was a lot more difficult than normal when the lines outside the arena were into the parking lot. That night more than 14,000 fans were in attendance for live hockey in the Puget Sound area. Minor professional hockey. I didn't enjoy my normal seats a couple rows up from the ice being relocated to the upper deck, but it was an experience. And a sign, I thought, that hockey fans do exist.

At their peak the Sabercats averaged 4,878 fans per game but the numbers did dwindle down to below 3,000 and the team folded before some of their WCHL brethren joined the ECHL (for those who are curious, the Idaho Steelheads, Alaska Aces and Bakersfield Condors were the survivors).

In general, Seattle is a good sports town. Not a great one, but a good one. It has taken soccer and run with it, just check out a Seattle Sounders game on TV. You'll think it's an English Premier League game until you watch a couple seconds of the on-pitch action.

I know a lot of people who swore off the NBA when the Sonics left town. They began hoping for a hockey team to take hold of. Some say they'll never go back to the NBA if Stern is still around, that's how deep the hatred was over the loss of the Sonics. No matter the reason, hockey has a chance to be a rebound. Some fans are just sitting in the unmanned crease waiting for the push.

Even still, hockey would be down the list of Seattle sports. It's possible it could be the sixth or seventh most popular ticket in town with the Mariners, Seahawks, Sonics 2.0, Sounders and University of Washington's football and basketball teams.

In reality, though, I don't think that means it couldn't work. There are few if any cities in the USA where the hockey team is the most popular. It doesn't mean it's not a good market for hockey. For example: the Red Sox, Patriots and arguably Celtics are all bigger than the Bruins in Boston. But would anybody even think of saying Boston isn't a good hockey market?

As Marleau said, we'll never know how well it would take to NHL hockey unless it happens and we can see it in action.

There are probably more hoping Seattle gets a team outside of the region than in it, particularly on the left coast.

"It'd be nice to have another West Coast team," Marleau pointed out. I bet the people of Seattle would agree.

As for what to call a team in Seattle? Join the converstaion on Facebook to check out some ideas.

More from Eye on Hockey

Seattle to unveil new arena plans
Daly: Group interested in NHL in Seattle

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 15, 2012 9:18 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 9:15 am

Report: Seattle to announce arena plan Thursday

Seattle could get some new sports teams. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

A new arena in Seattle -- and the possibility of a hockey team moving there -- is so close they can smell it.

According to Chris Daniels of King TV in Seattle, the city has called a news conference at City Hall for Thursday at which point they will announce the plans for a new arena to be built on the south side of the city.

Arena News Conference scheduled for tomorrow. I'm told Hedge Fund/Land Owner Chris Hansen is in town. He met with council members.

This would be unprecedented for Seattle. We're potentially talking a BILLION dollar deal, with an arena, and two teams.

The Seattle Times had a little more, getting a quote from Hansen earlier this week.

"We're very close to announcing our offer to the city. That's why I'm here," the 44-year-old hedge-fund manager said on Tuesday.

Well this got interesting fast. Before it was just chatter, the possibility of Seattle getting an NHL team -- and NBA franchise -- was just fun speculation, but it meant nothing without a new arena and considering the troubles Seattle had in the past of getting a new arena built, it seemed like some long odds.

But this, this is a game changer.

There was a sense of urgency to get a deal announced soon, too. The main prize for the city and Hansen, a Seattle native who now lives in San Francisco, is to get the NBA back. The city lost its SuperSonics to Oklahoma City a few years ago. Their eyes are on the Sacramento Kings who have a deadline in March to get a new arena deal worked out.

But on the hockey front, there is also the Phoenix Coyotes situation still unresolved. There is a growing belief that something will have to happen soon and if they don't have a new local buyer, this might be their last season in the desert. The question is where could they move.

Seattle has been a talking point in that regard as a home, but there was no arena. Obviously a new arena wouldn't be ready to host a hockey team for a couple of years if it doesn't yet exist, but the promise of a new arena could be enough for a team to play somewhere temporarily.

There is a hockey history to speak of in Seattle. The Metropolitans were the first American team to ever win the Stanley Cup. But the NHL has been conspicuously absent from the Emerald City. However there are two WHL teams that play in the area, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips.

Now the talk of hockey in Seattle can get serious after this news tonight.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 10, 2012 11:01 am
Edited on: February 10, 2012 2:44 pm

Roenick trying to get involved in Coyotes bid

Roenick played six seasons in Arizona, some in this awesome old Picasso jersey. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Phoenix, you might have your knight in shining armor to save the damsel in distress that is your Coyotes franchise.

As long of a shot as it might sound initially, Jeremy Roenick is considering getting involved in the action to buy the NHL-owned team, one he played on for six seasons spread over two stints. That's what he told Roc and Manuch on Phoenix's 1060 AM The Fan.

"I have been involved with a group that is trying to get into the game," Roenick said when asked why he wasn't involved. "I do have people in New York that are friends of mine that are ready and willing to wait and see. But everything moves at a snail's pace. I have been involved in the background.

"I do have people that are willing to look at it and have to go behind it. But getting involved with the National Hockey League ... you know it's kind of a boy's club. We'll see what happens.

"The team is very, very interesting. If you can somehow find to get ahold of the building with the team then it becomes a different scenario."

The NHL has said that there are two interested buyers with a third suitor lurking too. The first two suitors are believed to be former Sharks CEO Greg Jamison and Chicago businessman Jerry Reinsdorf but neither have been able to gain much traction.

Is J.R.'s involvement tied in with one of those bidders? There is this nugget from the Arizona Republic's Lisa Halverstadt.

Retired center Jeremy "J.R." Roenick said he was approached weeks ago by ex-San Jose Sharks Chief Executive Officer Greg Jamison, who has expressed interest in the team. Roenick has since asked business associates if they would also be interested.

Now that doesn't mean that Roenick has hitched his wagon onto Jamison's train. It could also mean that he was piqued and then sought his own investors, making Roenick the rumored third suitor. That would seem to be the case after Roc from Roc & Manuch reported that he received confirmation that Roenick isn't in Jamison's group.

One thing is for sure, they better get moving a little faster than a snail's pace. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of time left to get a resolution worked out in Phoenix.

How great would it be for the fans in the desert? Most importantly they would get to keep their team where they are but it would also be kind of cool to be rescued by a former player. He could pull a Mario Lemieux and save the franchise.

UPDATE: Before you get too excited, Roenick tried to dampen the enthusiasm on Friday. "Everyone is blowing this way out of proportion. I have a group that wants to look at it."

H/t to Mike Grose

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 5, 2012 1:01 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 1:28 pm

Report: Seattle already in talks for new arena

Key Arena (front right) isn't suitable for an NHL franchise.

By Brian Stubits

It seems like we've been talking about this for a decade, but it really feels like the Coyotes situation in is coming to a head, that this will be their last season in the desert if they can't get anything figured out to keep the team where it is in the next two or so months.

Of course you have to answer the question of where would they move before you can think about moving the Coyotes. There has to be a place to play. One of the most-discussed markets is Seattle (along with Quebec City and Kansas City a little bit). But Seattle doesn't have a suitable arena, that's why they lost the SuperSonics in the NBA to Oklahoma City. Key Arena is just too out of date.

There has been a lot of talk about new cites that could host an arena in the area and some potential people to help finance it.

Turns out there's more than talk at this point, there's action from Seattle's end.

According to the Seattle Times a San Francisco hedge-fund manager who grew up in Seattle has been in talks with the city of Seattle about building a new, state-of-the-art arena south of Downtown by CenturyLink Field (NFL's Seahawks and MLS' Sounders) and Safeco Field (MLB's Mariners).

A Dec. 13 agenda for a meeting between the parties shows they were talking about details such as a "Review of Basic Deal Structure," "Financing Issues," including "City Debt Capacity," and "Security for Public Financing."

The documents, released Friday to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request, also provide the first glimpse of how the largely unknown hedge-fund manager, 44-year-old Seattle native Christopher Hansen, approached the city about his desire to buy an NBA team and build an arena south of Safeco Field.

In an initial email laying out his vision, Hansen told city officials an arena could be built with minimal impact on taxpayers.

The driving force behind the push for a new arena is so that the city can get the Sonics back, with the Sacramento Kings being the likely target. As part of the agreement of the Sonics vacating the city was that it would retain the rights to the Sonics name and logo should the NBA return to Seattle.

But our concern here isn't with the NBA, it's obviously hockey. The Times article notes that it is believed a hockey team would vastly improve the viability of a new arena and would be pretty crucial to its financial success.

If Seattle can solidify plans for a new arena or even break ground it immediately becomes a viable suitor for an NHL franchise. Key Arena isn't ideal, but it could potentially serve as a temporary home while a new arena is finished. The cavernous Tacoma Dome some 30 miles south of Seattle could also be a possibility, but highly unlikely. As somebody who grew up watching games at the Tacoma Dome, it isn't great for hockey at all, and that was very minor-league hockey.

The NHL has supposedly been fond of Seattle as a host city. It would have a natural rivalry with the Canucks some two-plus hours up I-5, it's a somewhat cold-weather city that does have a hockey history to speak of as well. For years it has been home to the Thunderbirds in the WHL and nearby Everett also hosts a WHL team. Aforementioned Tacoma has also had a couple of teams. Plus, Seattle was the first city in the United States to win the Stanley Cup.

"There are a lot of people who think Seattle would be a great place to have a team. The Pacific Northwest, the natural rivalry with Vancouver, another team in the Pacific time zone ... but there's no building," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told ESPN.com.

As we saw when the Sonics left, getting an arena with public finances in Seattle is a very tough proposition. There is a law in the city that requires any deal the city has regarding an arena has to be profitable for the city. So that's to say things are still a ways off for Seattle and a new arena, but this revelation makes it sound a lot further along than people thought.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com