Nichols on NHL: Hockey Hearsay

Chris Nichols

Nichols on NHL: Hockey Hearsay

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask watches the game-winning goal bounce out of the net after Derek Roy of the Buffalo Sabres scored in a shootout.

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask watches the game-winning goal bounce out of the net after Derek Roy of the Buffalo Sabres scored in a shootout.
(Photo: AP/David Duprey)

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Chris Nichols

Chris Nichols |
December 28, 2012, 4:45 am

Twitter @Nichols_NHLPool

Hockey Hearsay compiles stories from around the hockey world and runs weekdays, 12 months a year.

FULL-SEASON LOCKOUT DEATH FOR SOME NHL CITIES

The Boston Herald asserts there’s not a lot to feel good about these days if you’re a NHL hockey fan.

“It just seems so stupid to cancel the whole season,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

“In a lot of cities, it could be the end of the sport pretty much with fans not coming back. I know people love hockey here in Boston and we’ll have a full house no matter what, but it’s not good for anyone, especially the fans, to stop it all over again after seven years (since the last lost season).”

While Rask still thinks there will be a season, like other optimists he’s already been proven wrong at one point during this lockout. He decided to come back to Boston from a successful stint with Plzen of the Czech Extraliga at the end of November because he was confident that the NHL would be back up and running by mid-December. That didn’t happen, and now it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will.

This was supposed to be the biggest year of Rask’s career to date, as he was expected to take over the No. 1 netminder role for the B’s.

But if he doesn’t get to play here, he’ll head back to Europe.

“I’m going to play somewhere, for sure,” Rask said. “I don’t know if I’m going back to Czech Republic or Finland. It’s all open now. I’m just hoping I don’t have to go anywhere and I can stay here for the season we’ve all waited for so much, and for me personally, too. Still, there’s hope, right?”

Rask said he tries to convey that hope to frustrated fans he meets.

“They understand. Obviously, it’s not my fault that we’re not playing, so they’re not giving me crap about it,” Rask said. “But they want to see us back as much as we want to be back. And I totally understand. But what can we do? I just tell people to hang in there, that we’re going to play. And I still think it’s going to happen. I’m still optimistic. It can be tough on these days when there are only five skaters, but I’m still hopeful.”

REVENUE BASE STILL THERE FOR LEAGUE

The Globe and Mail writes that the NHL may potentially be able to play 48 games of an 82-game schedule this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its revenues will be chopped by that amount.

The reason: The playoffs would remain the same length, and those 100-plus postseason gates are the league’s biggest of the year.

While it’s safe to assume regular-season revenues will be down to 55 per cent of normal levels – should the league and its players agree to get back on the ice – by the postseason, fans and new sponsors are much more likely to be back on board with the league.

With no games to play, NHLer organizes his own – with the fans

“Will sponsors jump in immediately? I do not think so,” S&E Sponsorship Group president Brian Cooper said. “Most of my clients, I would predict, would say, ‘The majority of the season is gone, I’m not doing any market activation other than maybe the playoffs and the Stanley Cup.’”

The last time the NHL missed a full season (2004-05), it returned the following year with revenues that were essentially flat. Should that hold true this time, the league will likely generate somewhere in the realm of 70 per cent to 75 per cent of last year’s $3.3-billion (U.S.) during a shortened season.

“Unless you’ve had a fan revolt, unless you’ve had a large percentage of season-ticket holders cancel their tickets, you’ve got a base to get revenue from,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “Sponsors are typically on long-term deals and still with you. Television and media-rights holders are all waiting for that content to come back.

“It’s a formula that gives them some level of certainty … and a huge drop would be shocking.”

That level of success would mean the 2012-13 lockout would potentially cost a total of between $800-million and $1-billion, with the owners and players splitting the pain due to taking a 50-per-cent share of revenues.

‘LIVING AND DYING’ OVER LOCKOUT FINANCES

Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” resonated through the downstairs bar at Iron Horse Taproom on a recent weeknight, but The Washington Post details how with the exception of a few patrons playing shuffleboard and another handful surrounding a table, the Man in Black serenaded mostly unoccupied orange and black barstools.

On such a night last year, Iron Horse would have been brimming with an early crowd until about 6:30 p.m., when the majority would take the half-block walk to Verizon Center for a Washington Capitals game only to return after. With the NHL embroiled in a 102-day lockout, though, the legions of hockey fans who have filled the arena for sellouts dating from 2009 aren’t absent only from the building itself, but from the surrounding bars and restaurants.

“This neighborhood has got to figure out a way to be independent of the Verizon Center,” said Daniel Williams, the general manager at Iron Horse. Williams said Capitals game nights bring in roughly $5,000 extra in sales, sometimes more depending on the team’s opponent. “I hate the idea of living and dying because the guys in the NHL can’t make up their mind about how much they want to pay each other,” he said.

Twenty-four of the 43 Capitals games canceled because of the lockout would have been home contests. That means two dozen fewer nights that guaranteed patrons piling into Chinatown establishments for pregame meals or postgame beers, an absence that has resulted in a 10 to 15 percent drop in revenue at nearby businesses, including Iron Horse, RFD, Rocket Bar and Penn Quarter Sports Tavern.

Verizon Center isn’t always dark without the NHL, of course, but Wizards and Georgetown games and concerts rarely result in the same buzz on Seventh Street.

“You can’t beat the business that comes with the Caps games. We compare everything to them,” said Arvind Nair, the general manager at Clyde’s of Gallery Place. Sales are down 7 percent from last year, leading to fewer shifts and hours for employees, according to Jeff Owens, chief financial officer of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group.

“When the Wizards played the Lakers [on Dec. 14] at the end of the night, that’s the closest thing we’ve had,” Nair said. “A really good NBA game, with a big-name opponent, is like an everyday Caps game in terms of business. They set the standard for us.”

SEDINS’ EXIT COULD COME QUICKLY

The Vancouver Sun indicates Mason Raymond is just the fourth Canuck regular to sign in Europe after inking his recent deal with Orebro HK of the Swedish first division. Goalie Cory Schneider is playing for Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss League, Jannik Hansen is skating with Tappara Tampere in the Finnish Elite League and Dale Weise is playing for Tilburg in the Netherlands. Top Canuck prospect Nicklas Jensen is playing for AIK in the Swedish Elite League.

Agent J.P. Barry said he expects the Sedins, who are also his clients, to head to Sweden quickly if the NHL cancels its season in mid-January.

“Yeah, I think if the season was cancelled they’d definitely want to play for a while so I think they’d probably leave as soon as that happened,” Barry said.

If they do go, the Sedins will play for their hometown team, MoDo, where former Canuck captain Markus Naslund is the general manager.

Raymond also spoke to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who joked about being able to converse with him in Swedish when he gets back.

“I just said I am going over to your homeland and they said. ‘enjoy it, it’s going to be fun.’ They were also joking about me learning a bit of Swedish.”

KONOPKA: LOCKOUT ‘TERRIBLE FOR BUSINESS’

The Ottawa Sun posits that as both a player and an entrepreneur, Minnesota Wild forward Zenon Konopka knows the lockout is “terrible for business.”

“I don’t agree with the owners, but I understand some of their views,” he said. “The reality of the matter is these 30 NHL owners are successful in business before getting involved with us, or they wouldn’t have the bankroll to buy a team. These guys are obviously very highly intelligent businesspeople that know what they’re doing. So it’s something that eventually, hopefully, common sense will come to the forefront.”

Unlike other locked-out NHLers, boredom is never an issue for Zenon Konopka.

Since becoming a teenaged bar owner while captain of the 67’s, he has maintained his many business interests. Konopka’s current ventures include his own wine label (ZK28), a wine aerator (Vin-Aire) and different supplement lines.

Pure press Grapeseed Oil, as of the last month or so, is available in your local grocery store. Yes, the farm boy from Niagara-on-the-Lake has gone Farm Boy.

“It’s big for me because I have tremendous respect for that company,” Konopka, who is also doing some consulting work, said while shooting a commercial for a vitamin product Thursday in Toronto. “When I was in Ottawa, I shopped there; I realized that they care about quality and they care about the consumer. So it was kind of first on our list of (stores) we wanted to go after because they have such a reputable name.”

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old centre is also not ready to throw himself head-on into an after-hockey career either. So like other NHLers, he is casting an eye towards opportunities overseas.

“We’ve been talking with a KHL team the last week or so,” he said. “As of right now I’m getting closer and closer to signing that deal.”

BRIERE SIGNS EXTENSION WITH BERLIN TEAM

With NHL games canceled through Jan. 14 and no end to the 103-day-old lockout in sight, CSNPhilly.com notes hockey fans aren’t the only ones growing less optimistic about the chances of a 2012-13 season.

As such, Flyers center Danny Briere — who’s been playing with Eisbaren Berlin of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga of Germany since October — signed a contract extension on Thursday through the end of the DEL season, his agent, Pat Brisson, confirms.

Briere’s contract would allow the 35-year-old to depart Germany for Philadelphia if the NHL were to return this season. But if the entire season is canceled, Briere will remain in Berlin.

“They have been treating him first class,” Brisson said.

Briere is Berlin’s top scorer, and is fifth-overall in the DEL, with 33 points (nine goals).

He first signed a contract with Eisbaren Berlin on Oct. 4 along with Claude Giroux, who returned to the U.S. on Nov. 20 after sustaining a neck injury. Giroux has returned to the ice, but not with the Eisbaren, who will participate in the first-ever Winter Game, Germany’s version of the NHL’s Winter Classic.

Briere’s contract with the Flyers continues through 2014-15.

THREE RIVERS CLASSIC SHOWCASES LOCAL TALENT

For an inaugural event, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes this weekend’s Three Rivers Classic will have a familiar feel to it.

Robert Morris, Penn State, Ohio State and Miami (Ohio) will take the ice at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh’s first major midseason college tournament, hoping to provide respite for a lockout-starved hockey city.

“I think this is an excellent field and should be an exciting two days of hockey,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “Hopefully people that are missing hockey will get behind college hockey because it is an excellent product. Players play extremely hard and play with a lot of passion.”

Today’s semifinals will feature Robert Morris facing off against Penn State and Miami taking on Ohio State. The two winners will play in the championship Saturday, and the losers will play in a consolation game.

Three of the four teams have Pittsburgh-area natives on their rosters. Miami’s leading scorer, freshman Riley Barber, hails from Washington, Pa. Barber will not play this weekend, though, as he is in Russia playing for Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championship.

“Pittsburgh is becoming a very well-known hockey area,” Schooley said. “The growth of hockey has been tremendous with the growth of the Penguins.”

Even though pro hockey players haven’t occupied Consol Energy Center since the Penguins were knocked out of the first round of the NHL playoffs last year, they still have an impact on the college players taking the ice this weekend.

“You start talking about Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin, all those things, these guys, it’s all they think about. Our guys are on cloud nine right now,” said Ohio State associate head coach Steve Rohlik, who will coach the Buckeyes this weekend while head coach Mark Osiecki serves as an assistant for the U.S. team at the Junior Championship.

­Chris Nichols is Sportsnet.ca’s fantasy hockey writer.

 

 

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