NHL expansion in Quebec in doubt; Islanders goal horn become PR disaster, more training camp notes.

By Allan Muir
October 02, 2015

One of the most powerful voices in the NHL doesn’t sound so keen on the league expanding to 32 teams.

“Right now, the 30 teams are pretty good for all of us,” Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs told ESPN. “Talking where we stand today, I feel good about where we are.”

Jacobs, who serves as the chairman of the league’s decision-making Board of Governors, commented after hearing expansion presentations earlier this week from would-be ownership groups representing Quebec City and Las Vegas.

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While the league has made no commitment to expand at any point in the future, it has been widely regarded as a fait accompli that at least one new team will be in place for the 2017-18 season, with a strong chance that both will be accepted.

Now? There’s a sense that it’s all up in the air. While it’s hard to believe that the league would leave $1 billion or more on the table to maintain the status quo, Jacobs statements shouldn’t be taken lightly. If he does, or doesn’t, want something to happen, he has well-established support in place to get his way.

Interestingly, he seemed to suggest that a franchise might be more viable in the desert than in the more traditional Canadian market.

“Take a look at what’s gone up in Nevada—it’s scary. I mean, it really is. It’s a heck of an arena built there, and there’s a strong interest there,” Jacobs said. “Balance the fact, Quebec has a great hockey interest, [but] it’s an extraordinarily small market.”

Jacobs also hinted at a desire to consider other western markets in the United States.

“I'd love to see us in the West to be up in Seattle. Seattle’s a natural, and I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building. There are conditions and circumstances in each one of these that we have to take into consideration.”

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Clearly, it would have been the league’s preference to have two bidders emerge from the west in order to balance out the conferences. That didn’t happen. Seattle was mired by internal political bickering. Houston was a non-starter due to the building issues Jacobs mentioned—Les Alexander, who owns the Toyota Center, has no interest in having an NHL team compete with his NBA Rockets for market share.

So the situation isn’t ideal, but that doesn’t mean the league will throw the baby out with the bath water. Vegas might not be a sure thing, but with strong ownership and a new building in place it’s a terrific opportunity for the league, and one that moves it closer to the goal of evening out the conferences.

No, 31 teams isn’t ideal. But given that there has been some progress in Seattle since the league’s application deadline passed, it’s possible the NHL will prefer to wait and see if an opportunity arises in that market before committing to a 32nd franchise.

What does that mean for Quebec City? The building’s there. So is ownership. But timing is everything in business and for QC it just might not be right. While Jacobs’ misgivings about market size bear weight, the overriding concern of current owners has to be the declining state of the Canadian dollar and the fears that the new team might become a drain on the revenue sharing pool as a result. That’s a reasonable deal breaker.

Many fans would love to see the return of the Nordiques and for a while there that seemed like a sure thing.

Now? It’s far from a safe bet.

• The Islanders move from Long Island to Brooklyn was bound to hit a few potholes along the way. The last thing they needed was to dig any on their own.

Some saw the decision to change the team’s goal horn into a screeching blast inspired by the local railroad as one of those self-inflicted wounds. But the real damage was done by Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark when he announced the decision to revert to the old horn after the team’s fans revolted.

“I’m not acquiescing to the Islanders fans,” he said defiantly to local radio host Michael Kay. “What I am doing is doing the right thing.

“Personally I don’t respect the way they approached it,” he said. Asked who “they” were, Yormark said, “The Islanders fans. How they attacked our Twitter handle, the vocabulary which they used to reference me and our organization. I don’t appreciate it.”

Extra Mustard
After backlash, Islanders return to old goal horn

It’s surprising that a person in Yormark’s position wouldn’t have developed a thicker skin to social media criticism, but the tone of his response was downright appalling. No doubt his desire to create a more “citified” atmosphere in Brooklyn was well-intentioned, but it clearly wasn’t appreciated by the people who most passionately support the club. His response should have been simple and gracious: We’ve heard your concerns and we’ve responded. No need to get butthurt about it.

Instead, he doubled down on the petulance.

Yormark said that of the 650 names on a petition to keep the old goal horn, just 30 were season ticket holders. And that, apparently, was the real problem.

“My point here is, it’s great to comment about what we’re doing and be critical of it,” he said, “but I would ask all those people that signed the petition, now that you’ve got your goal horn, to sign up and buy season seats—my sales team is standing by right now—and support the Islanders in Brooklyn.

“Don't support them via just Twitter. Don’t just send out your criticism for what we’re doing, but vote with your wallet, support them with your wallet and come see Islanders hockey in Brooklyn.”

We get it. His job is to fill the building. But what a bizarre and wholly tone-deaf response. Not every fan, no matter how passionate, can afford season tickets. For most fans, one or two trips to support their favorite team is all that fits into the annual family budget. Their names might not show up on a list that he can cross-reference against Twitter handles, but that doesn’t make them any less devoted to the Isles. This just wasn’t a battle that Yormark needed to wage.

Quick Hits

• The BBC might not be the first place you turn for hockey news, but the British network put together a strong report on the passion for the Nordiques that still exists in Quebec City. Well worth five minutes of your time.

• Asked about the good ol’ days when he skated with Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin, the ever quotable Brad Marchand has expressed his gratitude. “I was very fortunate to be on a line with two great players: myself and Bergy.” Never change, Marchy.  

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• Florida beat writer George Richards is reporting that Panthers first rounder Lawson Crouse will break camp with the team. While Crouse’s play with the club has been fine to this point, that’s not the main reason why he’s sticking around. If he was returned to junior hockey he would have to serve the eight-game suspension he earned for an egregious head shot he landed on North Bay captain Marcus McIvor in their season finale. Rather than having him gather dust in Kingston, Crouse can at least practice with the Cats, and likely will see some regular season action. Yes, it’s odd that the NHL does not honor the OHL’s suspension, but odder still that the OHL counts games served even when the player isn’t with his team. Considering the scrutiny both leagues are facing given the proliferation of head injuries and their response to them, they might want to re-think these policies. 

• It’s looking more likely that the KHL rights to former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov will be dealt by Chelyabinsk to SKA St. Petersburg. The reason? According to the Russian-language website SovSport, Voynov’s daughter wants to attend an English-language school. St. Petersburg has one, Chelyabinsk does not. 

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• Looks like Dylan McIlrath has finally made the cut with the Rangers. The bruising defender— best known for taking part in 19 fights during his draft year and earning the nickname “The Undertaker”—was a polarizing choice when he was selected 10th in 2010 ahead of more highly rated players including Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley, Jack Campbell and Vladimir Tarasenko. His slow development has done little to change that perception, until this fall when he finally seems to have put it all together. He’ll never be a star, but he brings an intimidating presence that the Blueshirts have lacked in their own zone. It’ll be interesting to see how the dominoes fall now. The Rangers could look to trade Kevin Klein and clear his $2.9 million hit off the books to create some much needed space. Or they could simply use McIlrath to provide a breather for older defensemen like Dan Boyle or Dan Girardi. Either way, it looks like the kid will get the chance to prove he wasn’t a blown pick after all.

Hot links

• Bruins president Cam Neely blames the media for the perception that coach Claude Julien is on the hot seat. Um-kay.

• A change of position could be a harbinger of a breakthrough season for a young Blackhawks forward.

• TSN issued its list of the top-50 players in the NHL this season. You won’t believe who’s No. 1. Or maybe you will.

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• Here's one for the #fancystats fan: a look at expected goal modeling and how it is the best predictor of future scoring.

• There’s no timetable for the return of Nicklas Backstrom after undergoing offseason hip surgery, but Washington coach Barry Trotz says his No. 1 center will miss at least this many games. Adjust your hockey pools accordingly.

• This veteran Hurricane says he’s accountable for more goals if his team is to have any success this season.

• It’s official: the Anaheim Ducks are going to win the 2016 Stanley Cup.

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