May 8, 2012

Fischler Report: Will Coyotes staying lead to expansion?

By Stan Fischler

Assuming the Greg Jamison-led group does buy the Coyotes, a positive – for the NHL – chain reaction will follow. One line of thinking has it that the arrival of the certifiably reliable buyer could have wide-ranging ramifications for the league. One of them could actually be an eventual expansion with a $200 million entry fee.

That would include a second team in Toronto; (actually the 20,000-seat arena to be constructed in suburban Markham). It could be accompanied in the West by Seattle, which has one of the most attractive TV markets for NHL consumption. This would establish rivalries on the Pacific Coast -- Vancouver-Seattle -- and in the East -- Maple Leafs-New Toronto Team-Buffalo. There’s little doubt that the Sabres would demand and receive territorial compensation.  …

How have the Coyotes managed to remain playoff-competitive with all the fuss about possible movement – and now a potential sale of the team? “We have said this many times, any distractions that are off the ice we try to limit them inside the dressing room,” explains coach Dave Tippett. “We can only care about what we can take of and that is to play well. Our players have become very hardened to it; very galvanized. Ultimately we use it as a confidence builder that we can get through anything. Adversity, whether it’s in a game or off the ice doesn’t seem to bother this group.” …

Don’t kid yourselves, players love Phoenix. Just ask Antoine Vermette: “When I was growing up I didn’t know what I would be doing for a job,” he said. “I dreamed of being a hockey player and Phoenix wasn’t in the league at that time. Every time I am talking with my family now about Arizona they are always impressed and amazed at how nice the weather is here compared to back home. It has been great. I’m loving it.”

HOCKEY GAINS ON U.S. TELEVISION FRONT

Columnist Howard Berger, whose fast-growing blog, “Berger Bytes,” is a must read, has taken note of rising American TV ratings.

In the following analysis, Berger explains why.

For a variety of reasons, playoff ratings on television in the United States are very encouraging.

Teams from several of the biggest TV markets are (or have been) involved in the post-season.

New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Detroit; plus the Flyers and Penguins engaged in a bizarre opening-round series that featured an absence of goaltending and tedious defensive posture.

The perverse attraction toward violence in hockey is forever underlining, and teams that aren’t accustomed to either making the playoffs or advancing beyond Round One have contributed to the novelty factor.

More basic, however, could be the essence of any TV production: its quality and content.

Both are superb right now – undoubtedly the best that American TV has offered fans of the NHL in more than a half-century of trial and tribulation.

Though games in the first three rounds are available on the main network of the NBC only on weekends, its subsidiary networks – CNBC, MSNBC, and the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) are providing blanket coverage and far-greater access on cable.

Viewers, clearly, are responding.

GOSSIP

Montreal Gazette columnist Jack Todd offers his take on the Canadiens new GM hire – Marc Bergevin. “(Canadiens President) Geoff Molson may not have hired the smartest g.m. candidate when he reached out for Marc Bergevin – that, surely would be young Julien BriseBois. He might not have grabbed the man with the most encyclopedic knowledge of the available talent – that would be Pierre McGuire. But Molson may have chosen the wisest man for the job. And wisdom, surely, is the single most important quality for the man charged with following in the footsteps of Frank J. Selke, Sam Pollock and Serge Savard and taking a 28th place team and driving it back to the top.” … 

Washington's survival in the second playoff round should influence ownership -- one way or the other -- about returning Dale Hunter behind the Capitals' bench. Undetermined is the precise feeling of Caps owner Ted Leonsis vis-a-vis Hunter's handling of Alex Ovechkin, et al. … 

Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford on the advantages for big budget clubs: “Despite not having as big a gap -- $16 million between the cap and the floor -- teams that consistently spend at the top will still have an advantage in getting top players,” Rutherford told ESPN the Magazine. The Carolina GM also shared his thoughts on Nashville’s predicament with top defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber needing new deals this summer. “The Predators are at a point where they’re either going to spend toward the cap or risk losing top young players. So from a consistency basis, you can see the advantage for teams that are able to routinely spend at the upper end.

MORE GOSSIP

Our pal Bruce Garrioch at the Ottawa Sun never fails to intrigue with his insights. Here’s an example: “The coaching carousel is going to turn soon. Waiting to find out if Guy Boucher (Tampa Bay), Alain Vigneault (Vancouver), Joel Quenneville (Chicago) and Todd McLellan (San Jose) are going to be back. If Boucher or Vigneault get fired, they will vault to the top of the coaching list in Montreal. All five are having their positions reviewed and Quenneville is on the thinnest ice. GM Mike Gillis wants Vigneault back in Vancouver but needs clearance from ownership.” … 

Bruins President Cam Neely believes his club didn’t play up to its potential in the first round against Washington. But Neely said he doesn’t feel the need to change the roster despite the disappointment. “We didn’t play our best games at all in the games that we lost. Even in the games we won, we didn’t play our best hockey. That part is difficult to swallow. We all feel we should still be playing.” Big question: how does that impact on coach Claude Julien