ESPN NHL STAFF: Locked Out For 2012-2013 Season

10/09/2012 § Leave a comment

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It’s taken me three days to calm myself to write something sensible regarding ESPN’s Franchise Poll that labeled the Toronto Maple Leafs the worst franchise in pro sports.


First of all, I’ll put my bias out there. I bleed blue & white. I grew up on Gilmour, Clarke, and Sundin. I watch 70-75 games a year (even when they are mathematically eliminated – whether that’s in March or January) – or October for the haters out there. While I put on a strong face and claim my beloved team will make the playoffs deep down I know there are a list of problems with the Leafs.

We lack a proven goaltender, a #1 center, our star player is too soft (Kessel), and our captain is overrated and not the most likeable guy on the planet– unless you’re Elisha Cuthbert. Our tickets are overpriced, our organizational structure is a mess and a playoff game has become a distant memory, let alone a shot at Lord Stanley’s mug.

Yet, with all that being said there is no plausible explanation for ESPN’s ridiculous results.

WHERE TO START:

-The Leafs and the Raptors have the same owners yet they rank 104 and 112th respectively.

-PHX Ownership ranks above both the Leafs and Raps? What owners? The NHL? The turn style of owners that have attempted to get their hands on the Coyotes unsuccessfully…this somehow results in a better rating than the Leafs… how?

-Did they actually talk to anyone who knew anything about hockey for this pool? PHX ranks as the best franchise from the NHL coming in at #6 overall. I’ll say it again THE BEST NHL FRANCHISE ARE THE PHEONIX COYOTES.

-Before I take criticism for just looking at the Leafs – the Habs rank 74th in Stadium Experience. As a hockey fan I can tell you the best games I’ve ever seen have been in Montreal. They have the BEST atmosphere in the NHL. Period. Again I bleed blue & white.

Alright so let’s look at what they used to actually come up with this absolute absurdity of an article.

  • “Bang for your Buck” (21.6%)
  • “Fan Relations” (20.9%)
  • “Players” (19%)
  • “Affordability” (16.7%)
  • “Stadium Experience” (8.5%)
  •  “Ownership” (8.1%)
  •  “Title Track” (3.2%)
  • “Coaching” (2.0%)

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This appears logical on the surface. However, 3 of the top 5 categories are heavily based on money.

Fact: Prices for Leaf tickets are ridiculous, and the on-ice product hasn’t been worth it. But it’s high because it’s the biggest hockey market in the NHL. Similarly don’t go to the ACC expecting a bargain.

Oh ya and you’ll likely see a plethora of Leaf fans in Florida, Minnesota, and Buffalo or anywhere in Canada during away games… We fill up your rinks for you – just ask Sens fans.

Let’s face it. We’re entrenched in CBA issues as we speak right now and if it wasn’t for the Leafs, or Leaf fans the NHL would be struggling even more. The Leafs subsidize NHL teams due to how profitable they are each and every season… but I guess how profitable you are doesn’t matter to your overall scope as a franchise.

The Leafs came 119th/122 in Fan Relations. A team that traditionally strips off their jerseys at the end of the season and gives them to the fans in attendance. A team that is locally involved with charity tournaments, events at Sick Kids Hospital and a team that actively keeps its fans occupied with features such as Leafs TV, an active Twitter account and multiple days where fans can interact with players.

The Leafs came 104th/122 in Stadium Experience. Understandably the writers probably can’t remember the last playoff game at the ACC… or maybe they haven’t attended games in Florida or Anaheim. Sure the Blackberries and IPhones consume the lower bowl – but come sit up top with the dad who paid $100/seat to bring his son to his first NHL hockey game and tell me there’s no atmosphere.

At the end of the day you will get a better Stadium Experience at any football game or basketball game as the sport allows for more fan interaction. In baseball fans get up and sing during the 7th inning stretch. Hockey can’t change its culture, but ESPN wants to compare apples to oranges.

As for all the financial categories. Maybe the writers didn’t realize that the US is in one of their worst financial recessions in history and perhaps, just maybe, that’s why games in PHX, ANA, FLA, NASH are a bargain to go to – that and of course their not traditional hockey markets. I believe Laurence Gilman said it best, the small market teams have to sell hockey as “entertainment” – families have to choose a sporting event over a movie or bowling for the night. Toronto apologizes for not cheapening the hockey experience with cheerleaders in the stands. PHX had a promotion in March “buy a $40 seat and get a FREE PLAYOFF GAME” – when you have to give away playoff seats to ensure that your building looks sold out there’s an issue! Unless you’re an ESPN writer.

The fact is the Leafs could play at 4am on a Tuesday night and the ACC would sell out – even if the quality of the players was the equivalent to a Midget AAA team. But passionate fans don’t factor into this survey.

Mike Babcock is worth 2% where as the price of a hot dog is valued nearly ten times that.

There’s so many aspects of this article that are outlandish it begs the question why anyone would get so worked up or write a response.

THE WHY: 

Unfortunately the hockey faithful I surround myself with have started to site this article as an accurate portrayal of sports franchises in North America. Sadly they see the headline and don’t bother to do an ounce of investigation as to how the poll reached their results. My guess would be some kind of weegie board.

The Leafs are a struggling franchise as far as on ice success goes – that’s no secret. But let’s not forget that between ’92-’03 they were a very relevant playoff team that’s had trouble rebuilding since the departure of Mats.

At the end of the day if you were given a choice to own an NHL franchise, Toronto would surely make the short-list.

While ESPN boasts great NFL, MLB and NBA news – I’m starting to wonder if similar to the NHL, their hockey staff is locked out for the 2012-2013 season.

Utterly disappointed.

-Virani

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