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Tuesday, November 06, 2021

In the National Hockey League equivalent of hell freezing over, the Chicago Blackhawks will be — finally — regularly airing home games on local television.

And new team owner Rocky Wirtz encapsulates just why with this quote:

“As far as advertising, it’s pretty hard to sell dasher-board advertising when the only time you see it is the 10 o’clock news.”

That’s part of the sell when it comes to the already-lucrative business of arena advertising: Guaranteeing plenty of rapt viewers. The wonder is how this concept eluded Rocky’s dad, the late Dollar Bill Wirtz, for so many years.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/06/2021 10:15:32 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., TV, Hockey
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Wednesday, October 31, 2021

Hockey and Halloween — they just go together, don’t they?

Don’t they? I guess not, although I’m sure there’s a connection there, by virtue of that gentle “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” alias for the underworld.

I’m sure double hockey sticks is the least of what you’ll get at the haunted hockey house that is the Wild Rose Arena in western Canada:

Hell, that goddamn thing even is allegedly haunted. The rink guys say that the players doors and penalty doors swing on their own. There’s an old couple that sit in the stands at night watching games played half a century ago. A small kid runs around yelling for hours on end. And there is one man who stands in the northeast corner, a solitary figure watching games from a bygone era, where helmets weren’t mandatory, they were frowned upon.

I can think of worst fates for a ghost than being consigned to watch phantom hockey matches for eternity (or until whenever they rip down the dilapidated rink).

Incidentally, I came up with an idea for a Halloween costume for myself: The Haunted Hockey Player. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to me until Monday, which didn’t leave me much time to put it together; I managed to find a plain white mesh practice jersey, a new hockey stick, and some tooth-blackout makeup. That would have resulted in a decidedly half-assed attempt at a costume. I really wanted to find some appropriated spooky under-eye stickies, ghostly-white facial makeup, and some skull-and-crossbones (or cross-sticks?) graphics to apply to the jersey, leggings and helmet. I’ll have to work on all that for next year.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/31/2007 10:34:22 PM
Category: Hockey, Comedy
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Sunday, October 28, 2021

special start
Picking up from last year, here’s the first edition of the Special Teams Index for this 2007-2008 National Hockey League regular season.

The low-down: Add together a team’s power-play percentage and penalty-kill percentage, and you get their Special Teams Index number. The bigger the number, the better the ranking. It’s a quick-and-dirty snapshot of how effective a club is on both sides of odd-man situations. PP and PK don’t completely determine success in the NHL, but their big factors, so this Index presents a composite statistical measure.

Unlike last year, I will not be cobbling this together every week. I’m kicking around doing it at the end of every month; or else, whenever I feel like it. We’ll see.

Of note in the early going: The Devils are uncharacteristically dead last in PK — is that 9-game season-opening road-trip the only reason?… The Canadiens have picked up right where they left off last season with the league’s top-ranked PP — along with a lower-ranking PK. That’s the same combo that kept them out of the playoff dance last year… The Blue Jackets are off to their best-ever start, and that No. 1 PK has everything to do with it.

STI Rank Team PP % (Rank) PK % (Rank) STI Number
1 New York Islanders 28.6 (2) 90.0 (2) 118.6
2 Columbus Blue Jackets 18.2 (16) 94.1 (1) 112.3
3 Montreal Canadiens 30.4 (1) 78.7 (25) 109.1
4 Dallas Stars 20.5 (9) 87.5 (8) 108.0
5 Ottawa Senators 17.4 (18) 89.4 (3) 106.8
6 Pittsburgh Penguins 23.2 (3) 83.3 (14) 106.5
7 Tampa Bay Lightning 22.5 (4) 83.8 (13) 106.3
8 San Jose Sharks 18.3 (15) 87.7 (7) 106.0
9 Florida Panthers 20.3 (10) 84.2 (12) 104.5
10 Detroit Red Wings 20.0 (12) 84.5 (10) 104.5
11 St. Louis Blues 14.0 (21) 88.9 (4) 102.9
12 Buffalo Sabres 19.6 (13) 83.0 (15) 102.6
13 Philadelphia Flyers 22.0 (6) 80.0 (17) 102.0
14 Los Angeles Kings 21.9 (7) 80.0 (18) 101.9
15 Colorado Avalanche 14.6 (20) 87.0 (9) 101.6
16 Vancouver Canucks 22.4 (5) 79.0 (22) 101.4
17 Minnesota Wild 12.8 (26) 88.5 (5) 101.3
18 New York Rangers 13.0 (24) 88.0 (6) 101.0
19 Boston Bruins 19.5 (14) 80.5 (16) 100.0
20 Chicago Blackhawks 20.0 (11) 77.6 (26) 97.6
21 Carolina Hurricanes 21.7 (8) 74.6 (28) 96.3
22 Toronto Maple Leafs 13.2 (23) 80.0 (19) 93.2
23 Washington Capitals 13.7 (22) 78.8 (24) 92.5
24 Calgary Flames 17.3 (19) 75.0 (27) 92.3
25 Nashville Predators 11.9 (27) 79.5 (21) 91.4
26 Edmonton Oilers 6.8 (30) 84.4 (11) 91.2
27 Anaheim Ducks 11.3 (28) 79.7 (20) 91.0
28 Phoenix Coyotes 9.3 (29) 78.9 (23) 88.2
29 New Jersey Devils 18.0 (17) 69.0 (30) 87.0
30 Atlanta Thrashers 12.8 (25) 71.0 (29) 83.8
by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/28/2007 01:05:09 PM
Category: Hockey
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Tuesday, October 16, 2021

hot hot hot
I caught wind of Thermablade, the electronically-heated ice blade that slightly accelerates the melting of ice under your skate to give the skater a speed/power boost, a couple of weeks ago. And I figured, even with Wayne Gretzky’s endorsement, it would remain a fringe oddity.

Wrong. The National Hockey League is getting ready to test them with players, with an eye toward introducing them into games.

Maybe I’m missing something. Can someone explain to me how this wouldn’t lead to completely chewed-up, slushy ice during the course of an NHL game?

We’re talking about creating less friction/resistance between the blade’s edge and the ice surface in order to achieve the extra speed — fine. But that means more water on the ice, which will build up. Even now, with the unheated friction effect from regular skates, a lot of the rinks in the league end up with soft ice. How will they fare when you add heat to the mix?

I know the Zamboni will still be there to do its job between periods. But will it be able to compensate for the extra wear-and-tear? I’m doubtful.

In fact, I can see this attempt to speed up the game having exactly the opposite effect: Creating slog-fests where skaters will struggle to gain traction on slushed-up ice, with a marked increase in injuries from added muscle strain to boot.

I’d like to think the league’s ice expert, Dan Craig, is being consulted on this. It looks like he’s been in on it, but I can’t find any ruling from him. If he’s signing off on it, I guess it won’t be a problem. But I’d like to hear an explanation that makes sense.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 10/16/2007 11:11:01 PM
Category: Tech, Hockey, Science
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Sunday, October 14, 2021

store lineup
I took some time out of my busy Friday schedule to attend the midday grand opening of the National Hockey League’s new flagship retail store, NHL Powered by Reebok.

It was a zoo, all right. I don’t know that I managed to capture that crazed atmosphere with my MWW Group-loaned Nikon D80 camera, but I took a few pictures of the event nonetheless. They’ll eventually all show up on the Picture This Project page as well; because I’m limited to adding 5 photos per day there, it’ll take a couple more days for all of the shots to get posted there.

Being surrounded by so much raw retailing imagery, I felt strongly compelled to come away with a purchase. Aside from a tea from the on-site Starbucks, I refrained, mainly due to lack of time and not being able to find my size. I did almost grab a “vintage” Minnesota North Stars t-shirt, and even considered another vintage New York Americans shirt (representing a long-defunct team, notable only for its demise signaling the commencement of the Original Six era). I’ll be making future visits, and I’m sure I’ll be dropping a fair amount of cash there.

A few notes, with appropriate Flickr’d links:

- The Brodeur-Crosby-Thornton mural, which I used as a glyph image above. I imagine it had to be a challenge to do the work on the sidewalk, with everyone walking by and gawking.

- I did show up with my prize key for the Unlock Your NHL Dreams contest. But the line to get to the safebox was wayyyyyy too long, and besides, the choice prizes were already gone. So I gave my key away before I left.

- I got a glimpse at some NHL alumni, including Butch Goring, Ken Daneyko and Bruce Driver, and last but least, Eric Cairns (who at least had a semi-hot Islanders Ice Girl with him). No Rangers old-timers while I was there; I found that curious, given that this was the heart of Manhattan.

- Also got a glimpse at the Stanley Cup. I didn’t try to get my photo taken with it, though.

- Among the kookier items for sale in the store: anime-ized Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin action figures. I didn’t see them flying off the shelves, which is understandable as the store is fairly apparel-oriented (the Reebok influence).

- A stand-out piece of hardware: An Orange County Choppers-commissioned NHL-themed motorcycle, near the entrance. I’ll have to catch the show episode where they build the thing.

- The much-vaunted giant hockey-stick sculpture hanging from the ceiling didn’t really stand out for me. If anything, it brought to my mind the ceiling-dangling samurai swords to be found at Kobe Club, even though I’ve never actually seen the latter.

- The much-hyped permanent ice wall was pretty disappointing, to me. It was a lot smaller than I expected, and what’s with the for-sale ice skates superimposed over it? Plus, it seemed to have excessive frost on it, which wasn’t particularly yielding to my attempts at finger-writing; it made me wonder if it wasn’t somehow malfunctioning.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/14/2007 09:22:18 PM
Category: Hockey, New Yorkin', Photography
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Tuesday, October 09, 2021

on-keyScore! After coming up empty yesterday, today I managed to snag one of the Unlock Your NHL Dreams prize keys.

I could already be a winner! Or, by the same token, I could already be a loser…

I went to the subway station on the corner of Columbus Avenue and 60th Street, where I found a kid, wearing a vintage Pittsburgh Penguins t-shirt and somewhat nonchalantly offering out keys. He definitely needed to pump up the volume, but whatever; I got mine, as you can see here and Flickr’d here (as well as over here, since I took the photo with my MWW Group-provided Nikon D80 camera).

Before coming upon this key, I had in mind to stop by Bryant Park on the way home today, as another NHL intern team was supposed to be handing out keys there as well. But as you can make out, the key doesn’t appear to be distinctively-toothed — I have a feeling each one is identical. So I’m guessing you need only one key to get a shot at a prize.

Now, to wait until Friday’s grand opening of the 47th Street NHL Powered By Reebok flagship store, when I’ll get a chance to use this key for some hockey swag. I’m crossing my fingers on winning the trip to the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 10/09/2021 11:16:48 PM
Category: Hockey, New Yorkin'
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Monday, October 08, 2021

turn-key solution
Contrary to prior reports, there won’t be any National Hockey League fanfest in New York City tomorrow.

However, the league’s flagship merchandising outlet, NHL Powered by Reebok, is set for a grand opening this Friday, October 12 at midday. Despite the dreary weather forecast for the rest of this week, I aim to be there for part of it, hopefully to snap some pictures (and get some free hockey-themed Starbucks samples).

As a run-up to the opening, the NHL is running Unlock Your NHL Dreams, a promotional on-the-street campaign. Teams of interns are supposed to appear all over Manhattan this week to give out prize keys, which will be used during the grand opening to unlock safes with potentially valuable swag.

Great concept. I’m hoping these kids are actually showing up at their designated spots. I went out of my way this morning to intercept the NHL Team that was supposed to show at Grand Central and Lexington; I waited until 9:30, half an hour after they were supposed to start handing out the keys. I saw nothing and no one; and so I left, having braved the rush-hour rush for nothing.

I’m not bitter. Tomorrow afternoon, a Team is supposed to station itself near Columbus Circle, near my office. So I’ll give it another shot. They’d better materialize. Heck, I’ll even take a photo of that.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/08/2021 10:51:18 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Hockey, New Yorkin'
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Wednesday, October 03, 2021

facing the music
It really started this past weekend with the pair of Kings-Ducks games in London. But tonight, with all preseason action finished and a handful of night games on tap, it feels more like the commencement of the 2007-08 National Hockey League season.

With a steady supply of Rangers, Devils and Islanders games pumping in on basic cable, plus the Versus and NBC games, I can (mostly blissfully) kiss my free time goodbye for the next several months.

To get the season started off right, I’d like to propose a rebooting of the musical selection in NHL arenas across North America. Specifically, the choice of tracks for certain on-ice situations needs to be freshened up — badly. Once that situation is addressed, we can move on to eradicating audio transgressions like “Cotton-Eye Joe”…

Here are my modest proposals for proper musical accompaniment at a good ol’ hockey game:

Gotta go with Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. Fire away!

My choice is Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”. A glass pane that’s actually shattered might warrant Annie Lennox’s “Walking On Broken Glass”; but somehow, it seems too light of a song for arena play.

Despite its geeky Trekkie connotations, hearing the “Amok Time” soundtrack, aka “Kirk vs. Spock Fight Theme” (adjust volume accordingly) while watching two skaters face off is just too irresistible. Props go to the music maestro at the Shark Tank in San Jose, which I believe is where this idea originated.

On the flip side, I propose a moratorium on “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” for this purpose. It’s been done to death, and the corniness is no longer cute.

“I Fought the Law”. I perversely would hope for the twisted Dead Kennedys version, but the original lyrics as performed by The Bobby Fuller Four, The Clash or anyone else would suffice.

Moratorium: Judas Priest’s “Breakin’ the Law”. Overused. Besides, ever since the days of “Beavis and Butt-head”, I haven’t been able to take that song even remotely seriously.

I would love to hear some vintage Public Enemy when the home team is shorthanded! “Fight The Power” goes well here — as in fighting the opposing power play opportunity. Alternatively, “Shut Em Down”.

Rather slim pickings in my mind, surprisingly. But let’s go with Snap’s “The Power”.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting”, to match the ripple of tedium and anticipation while the refs chat on the ice-level phone.

Moratorium: The theme from “Jeopardy”. Too hokey for hockey.

Feel free to contribute your own options…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/03/2021 10:23:17 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Hockey, Creative
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Monday, October 01, 2021

to market, to market
My perpetual beef with the National Hockey League has been its largely inept marketing efforts over the years. Generally, the league’s been content to preach to the choir in its promotions, as though the hardcore fanbase somehow needs constant reassurance; meanwhile, the larger pool of casual and other-sport fans are addressed only incidentally, if at all. And somehow, the NHL can’t figure out why it can’t grow the sport.

And yet, I’ve sensed the stirrings of something at the start of this 2007-08 season (which started this past weekend with a couple of overseas games in London between the Kings and Ducks, which yes, I did follow/watch). Combined with some of the negative press the other Big Three leagues got this past summer, the NHL seems to be poised for a gain in popularity. But as a rabid hockey fan, I’m too biased to get an objective read.

Still, after reading an interview with John Collins, the league’s newly-installed Senior Vice President of Business and Media, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Heck, I’m ecstatic! Because Collins is frank enough to make statements like this:

We have 22 million people at our arenas every year. We have 53 million avid fans in North America. But the big insight we came to after the lockout is that our fans say they love hockey, but they don’t behave like they love hockey. They behave like a million fans of the New York Rangers, a million fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. The passion they have is at a local level, but that doesn’t translate to passion at a league level. If you are a fan of the NFL’s New York Giants, you’ll still watch Monday Night Football even if the Giants aren’t playing. You’ll watch the playoffs and Super Bowl even if the Giants don’t make it. But according to the traditional metrics that tell you about the health and vitality of broadcast ratings, we’re not able to scale at the national level of the NFL, MLB or Nascar. So we don’t feel like a $2.3 billion business; we feel like a $300 million business, like a niche sport like Major League Soccer or AVP [professional volleyball].

Amen. Collins goes on to state that using the existing local fan infrastructure to build a broader, national halo-effect popularity is the going-forward strategy. I question that approach, but at least he’s grounding himself in a realistic assessment of the present situation.

He goes on with a particularly intriguing vision for how to package the NHL experience, ala an NFL Films ambience:

The key is about being authentic. Slowing the game down and celebrating the smaller moments is a real key to some of the things we are trying to do. As a comparison, I started in the NFL at NFL Films, and they have done a phenomenal job of slowing the game down so you see what happens at the line of scrimmage, you can look into the eyes of someone like [former all-pro linebacker] Mike Singletary. It’s getting fans a different view of the sport. The NHL’s greatest strength is speed, and sometimes that is used as its greatest weakness and the game is often accused of being too fast for television. So we took this opportunity to slow the game down. Like the face-off. We’re looking at it in a way that’s never been seen before.

Again, I’m liking what I’m hearing. Purists be damned, because it’s really all in the presentation. If the viewing experience doesn’t resonate for the viewer, s/he isn’t going to stick with the game. If a bit of fancied-up camera angles forges a connection with those potential fans, then bring it on.

Finally, Collins presents a smartly synergistic vision of selling the game on TV:

We want to bring Crosby or Ovechkin to Los Angeles or New York every night. Right now, if you go a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, you’ll get a fantastic Rangers experience. What you won’t get are the in-game highlights of other games in progress. So we developing an in-arena highlight program. And with our broadcast partners at the regional networks, you’re not getting bumped up into a total league experience. So if you watch local telecasts, you’re not seeing in-game highlights of other action around the league. You’re not getting bumped into fantasy hockey the way you would with the NFL where you’re constantly getting hit with highlights from around the league, fantasy stats, NFL.com. But we are beginning to change that.

All this is making me think that finally, finally, the NHL has a marketing mind in place who gets it: Understands that you have to extend the reach, rely on more than just the on-ice action to sell the game, and proactively offer avenues of engagement with sports fans (and non-fans).

Collins’ ideas are by no means a slam-dunk; ultimately, sports entertainment consumers have to be receptive to a sport that’s got a lot of same-old baggage. But it certainly feels like a window of opportunity is open, and that Collins knows what do to with that opening. Here’s hoping.

Also, incidentally: This same interview reveals a solid date for a much-awaited opening:

On Oct. 9, the league will hold a fanfest in New York to celebrate the Oct. 12 opening of its flagship retail store, NHL Powered by Reebok, and its new corporate offices.

I know where I’ll be next week!

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/01/2021 10:23:24 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Hockey
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Wednesday, September 26, 2021

black day
I have to admit, upon reading about the death of Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz today, my first thoughts turned to the corrosive effect he had on the NHL team.

I didn’t feel right about trashing someone when the corpse was hardly cold. But someone closer to the situation did, and managed to do it without being overly vindictive.

Well, mostly:

I know it sounds insensitive, but if we are going to pass ourselves off as being in the truth business, then the truth is that the greatest impediment to the Hawks success was the Hawks owner, one of the worst in sports history from a fan’s standpoint and the man who almost singlehandedly killed hockey interest in this city. Rich, stubborn and backward, Wirtz’s business practices were rooted in another century, protecting the laughable concept of “season reservation holders.” In fact, you will probably see more of the man’s funeral on home television than you saw of his team. Truth is truth.

With more voices than usual predicting a more successful season for ‘Hawks this year, I guess the players have one more motivating factor to inspire them.

I’m sure this has been covered in other reports on Wirtz’s passing, but a few ancillary notes:

- I was unaware of the Blackhawks’ long-ago invitation to go to the Garden State:

In 1981, Wirtz turned down a group from New Jersey that had invited him to move the Blackhawks to a $100 million arena built in the Meadowlands sports complex.

“We feel like the girl who out of the blue gets a marriage proposal,” Wirtz said when asked about the flirtation with his franchise. “She’s flattered and says she doesn’t know. But deep down she knows the answer is going to be ‘no’ as far as she can foresee because she has this love affair that has been going on for years and years.

“That’s our hockey team and the people of Chicago.”

The Meadowlands, of course, got their hockey tenant shortly thereafter, in the form of the Colorado Rockies, who morphed into today’s New Jersey Devils (and who have left East Rutherford starting this season for Newark).

- The Blackhawks’ 1961 Stanley Cup win marks the current longest championship drought in the National Hockey League, having ascended there after the Rangers broke their own 1940 curse. (If Chicago manages to break it anytime soon, the Toronto Maple Leafs would then inherit the longest-drought dubiousness, with their last Cup having come in 1967.)

- Also significant about that 1961 Blackhawks win: It stands out as the only Cup championship during the Original Six era (1942-1967) that wasn’t claimed by Detroit, Montreal or Toronto. That bygone era wasn’t exactly known for parity.

- I was also unaware of Wirtz’s central role in engineering the merger with the World Hockey Association. While that was successful from a business-strategic position — the WHA remains the last rival league to have seriously challenged the NHL — the choice of remnant teams/markets to absorb turned out to have been short-sighted and somewhat disastrous. Consider that of the four clubs that joined the NHL — Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers, Winnipeg Jets — only the Oilers remain in their original city. Meanwhile, rock-solid WHA franchises in Houston and other markets were passed over.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/26/2007 10:58:12 PM
Category: Hockey
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Thursday, September 20, 2021

currencies on ice
Seven years of Bushonomics have taken their toll on the ol’ greenback: The U.S. dollar has sunk so low that it’s now on par with the Canadian loonie for the first time in more than 30 years.

There’s much rejoicing north of the border over the dollar-for-dollar equality, all the more so because the Canadian currency is likely to jump ahead in the immediate term. The prospects of which has National Hockey League players wishing for the old days of Canadian contracts:

A hockey player making US$4 million back in the 2001-02 season, for example, would have earned about C$6.5 million that season. That premium has been steadily eroded, leaving what amounts to a de facto pay cut.

“It was great, you’d cash your cheque and you’d be getting 45 or 50 cents on the dollar. It was awesome,” said Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan. “I come home to Canada to live during the summer and it’s a huge difference now.”

Added Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Wade Belak: “I think I’m going to have to do my next contract in Canadian dollars, like the old days. It’s unbelievable. … Before it was awesome making American dollars. Now it’s going to be a wash and soon we’ll be begging for Canadian contracts again.”

That won’t be possible for the duration of the current CBA, which if the players don’t opt out of after the 2008-09 season, expires following the 2010-11 season - and who knows where the dollar will be by then?

And let’s not forget, the chief reason the NHL’s financial picture has been so rosy post-lockout wasn’t so much the crowd-pleasing salary cap, but rather this evolving dollar parity:

Less than five years ago, the dollar sat at just over 61 cents before soaring to over 90 cents as recently as [summer 2006]. All of which has allowed the Canadian clubs to boost their payrolls in U.S. dollars while adding modestly or not at all to their burdens in Canadian funds.

For example, in 2001-02, the Flames’ payroll was $26.92-million, which cost the team about $43.42-million in Canadian funds, based on a 62-cent dollar. [During the 2005-2006 season], though, the Flames’ payroll had ballooned to $36.59-million but the club’s costs in Canadian funds actually dipped to $40.65-million with the dollar at 90 cents.

“Their payrolls have increased in American dollars but have not increased much in Canadian dollars,” said University of Ottawa economist Marc Lavoie, who specializes in the business of hockey. “That’s a big part of the answer.”

Oh sure, there are non-hockey implications to this international financial maneuvering. But I’ll leave that to others.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 09/20/2007 11:33:45 PM
Category: Political, Hockey, Business
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Friday, September 14, 2021

Leave it to the Motor City to push for a re-alignment job on this goofy National Hockey League unbalanced schedule. Citing softer attendance of late, Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch promises to push the league to abandon the hyperdivisional scheduling that eliminates most potential inter-conference matchups.

“It’s been a hot topic for us in Detroit for awhile,” [Wings General Manager Ken] Holland said. “Being that we’re in the Eastern time zone, we’d like to be in the Eastern Conference but that’s not going to happen, so we’d like to play more games against the Eastern teams and the rivalries we have with some of those teams.”

This is playing out like a classic appeasement strategy inside the NHL: To pay back Detroit for sucking it up and staying in the West, it gets its way in having the schedule revert back to pre-lockout formula. It can count on support from other clubs, particularly the Canadian teams who want to ensure they all play each other annually.

Granted, the empty seats at Joe Louis have more to do with the hit the local economy is taking from the auto industry’s woes. But certainly, it can’t be helping ticket sales when potential walk-ups see the same teams coming to town with such frequency. It’s been my chief complaint, and I’ll be glad to see it remedied.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 09/14/2007 05:31:25 PM
Category: Hockey
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Wednesday, September 12, 2021

It’s called the International Hockey League, except that it’s really just the United Hockey League in disguise.

Assuming the name of the former Triple-A minor league circuit — which basically self-destructed when it tried to raise itself into a challenger to the National Hockey League — was questionable enough. But now that the ersatz league is adopting the old IHL’s league records and history, I think we can call this what it is:

The sports equivalent of identity theft.

Not surprising, considering the UHL is a goon league, with 99 percent of its players having virtually no shot at ascending all the way to the NHL. It was in vital need of image rehabilitation. But why disturb the ghost of the old I to do it?

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/12/2021 11:17:49 PM
Category: Hockey
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Sunday, September 09, 2021

on the range
A few days ago, I wrote:

I’ll have to be sure to grab a ticket for the January 24th Rangers game versus the Atlanta Thrashers, just to see the on-ice ceremony when New York retires Brian Leetch’s No. 2 jersey at Madison Square Garden.

So much for that idea:

Overwhelmed by ticket requests for their entire season, the Rangers have only about 350 seats available for any given game. And for Leetch Night, they must set aside every seat not assigned to a season-ticket holder for family members and guests, leaving none available when individual game tickets go on sale Sept. 15.

So it looks like I’ll have to make friends with some season ticket holders. And/or some scalpers. And/or plan a few trips to Newark, to take in live NHL hockey at the Devils’ new digs.

Why the frenzy for Blueshirts tix? I haven’t detected a word-on-the-street groundswell of excitement, but apparently, local hockey enthusiasts are looking at a team built for a big things — even a Stanley Cup championship.

Is this warranted? Indeed, Rangers brass made the right moves on paper this offseason, aimed right for the middle: They upgraded bigtime from Michael Nylander and Matt Cullen to Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. The center position has been the team’s notable weak link for the past two seasons, although more from a case of mismatching than a lack of talent: Nylander, while a good fit with Jaromir Jagr, isn’t cut out for first-line work, and Cullen works better as a third-line pivot (which is the position he’ll resume in Carolina). It’s impressive that Rangers management deftly addressed this area, and it makes the team that much stronger.

The rest of the roster looks solid enough. Henrik Lundqvist looks like the real deal in goal, and the blueliners in front of him are, at a minimum, capable. The third line might be a question mark, but there’s faith that young forward Brandon Dubinsky will grow into his role there.

But is this enough for a championship run? Training camps start this week, and the season opener will be here soon enough. I can’t wait to see.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/09/2021 03:25:12 PM
Category: Hockey
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Thursday, September 06, 2021

rangers deuce
I’ll have to be sure to grab a ticket for the January 24th Rangers game versus the Atlanta Thrashers, just to see the on-ice ceremony when New York retires Brian Leetch’s No. 2 jersey at Madison Square Garden.

I always felt the most underrated aspect of Leetch’s game was his mastery of the hip check. That’s the clean hip check, not the cheap-shot knee-on-knee version that players like Bryan Marchment dealt out.

Like any physical play, that move eventually wore out Leetch, contributing to the waning of his skating skills in his later years. Still, that maneuver, along with his conspicuous production as a offensive defenseman, made him one of the more complete players to lace them up for the Blueshirts. And it goes without saying that the Cup never would have been hoisted in Manhattan if Leetch weren’t in that 1993-94 lineup.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 09/06/2021 10:35:15 PM
Category: Hockey
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Playing off past reports of a text-messaged retirement “announcement”, David cheekily speculates on how Jeremy Roenick (with his 495 career NHL goals) communicated with San Jose GM Doug Wilson to arrive at a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Sharks:

[Wilson]: wnt 500?
[Roenick]: gols?
W: $
R: wnt both
W: play in sj?
R: k

Does Roenick’s wireless provider get the agent’s commission?

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 09/06/2021 09:59:58 PM
Category: Tech, Hockey
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Wednesday, September 05, 2021

The good news is that Laredo Bucks head coach/general manager Terry Ruskowski has been re-signed to a new “lifetime” contract with the Central Hockey League team, meaning he can stick around for as many more years as he wants.

The bad news is that, well, it’s Laredo. (Kidding, of course. I’ve got nothing against the southern Texas town. In fact, I’m glad to see hockey thriving on the Rio Grande, even on the Double-A level.)

I’m always dubious about these extra-long-term contracts in sports, whether for athletes or management. What happens if the Bucks hit a sour stretch for several seasons? Not that a lifetime contract can’t be terminated…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/05/2021 11:05:14 PM
Category: Hockey
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Saturday, September 01, 2021

stars are blind
Finally, signs of a pulse in National Hockey League marketing, at least on a team level. The Dallas Stars are using their new ad campaign to trash-talk on the other three major-pro sports leagues.

Notably, the NHL squad is taking aim at the NBA’s well-documented referee scandal:

As part of the team’s “come into the cold” ad campaign to sell seats for 2007-08, the Stars took a shot at the NBA’s referee scandal on a billboard near the American Airlines Center, the building the Stars share with the Dallas Mavericks.

The message? “The only thing our refs shave is the ice.”

No hard feelings from Dallas’ hoops king, Mark Cuban, who admires the attempt at edginess. Of course, given his track record as a maverick (pun intended), it would have been a shock if he had expressed raised hackles.

Besides, it’s not just basketball that the Stars are picking on:

The campaign, dreamt up by the Stars and Austin, Texas ad agency Door Number 3, is aimed at conveying the toughness of hockey players in an edgy style. One board reads “One game a week? Is the N in NFL for Nancy?” the [Dallas] Morning News reported.

Even baseball was not immune, despite the fact Stars owner Tom Hicks also owns the Texas Rangers: Another billboard reads “Maybe baseball should stop using the word sacrifice,” according to the Morning News.

It’s about time a hockey team got proactive about selling its wares. Anything to attract attention. It’s not like the other leagues are going to strike back — apathy for hockey does enough of a job. Why not adopt this tone on a league-wide level, without overdoing it of course? The NHL’s got nowhere to go but up, and with the image problems basketball and football have suffered this summer, there’ll never be a better opportunity to generate attractive PR.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 09/01/2021 06:34:53 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Hockey
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Sunday, August 26, 2021

I guess I’ll have to retire the above logo. After much rumoring connected to the introduction of the new RBK Edge streamlined NHL uniforms, the Tampa Bay Lightning has re-jiggered its logo.

Perhaps because the new look isn’t particularly different from the previous one (which had been largely unchanged from the original 1992 expansion team look), fan reaction has been mostly disparaging.

Since I’m not longer residing in Tampa Bay, my opinion doesn’t count for much, I guess. But I’ve still got a soft spot for the Bolts, and some legacy knowledge, so a few thoughts:

- That “comic book” vibe some of the fans are feeling from the redrawn lightning bolt is probably reminiscent of the dearly-departed Zot!. I agree, it does come off as rather minor-league.

- I’m surprised the team kept the “Tampa Bay” wording as part of the logo, instead of the team name. When it comes to sports merchandising, the rule of thumb is to avoid making the city/geographic name part of the logo, because it’s limiting: Beyond the team’s home market, sales are going to be softer nationally/internationally. Sticking with the team name, which isn’t necessarily specific to any part of the country, makes it more of a neutral fashion statement. There are exceptions — New York and other big-city teams tend to have a cachet when it comes to moving ballcaps and jerseys. But Tampa Bay? Doesn’t have the same appeal. This is one more example of the general National Hockey League marketing ineptness, frankly.

- Way back when, probably ten years ago, some talk had been going around about a logo/uniform reboot. One idea that was floated around was to replace the lightning bolt logo altogether and anthropomorphize the team symbol. The choice came out of mythology: Thor, the Norse god of thunder. For intellectual property reason, it wouldn’t be the Marvel Comics rendition, but rather, the classical description. I thought it would have been neat. From a marketing perspective, the team could have exploited Thursday night games under this motif (Thursday, “Thor’s Day” — get it?), and maybe even branded power-play opportunities as “Hammer Time” (with accompanying MC Hammer oldies on the arena soundsystem).

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/26/2007 12:59:37 PM
Category: Hockey
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Sunday, August 12, 2021

the originalthe copycat
So, that cute little promo commercial NBC Sports was running tonight during their NFL preseason Sunday Night Football broadcast? Where Peyton Manning and Reggie Bush were checked into the same hotel, and they both wound up ordering prank room-service orders to each others’ rooms?

Yeah, it looked a little something like this NHL promo from last season:

The Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby sequence wasn’t as extensive, either in length or comedic value. Still, it obviously came first.

As it happens, both spots were produced by NBC Sports. So I guess the network’s creative department ripped itself off. Not sure if the hockey folks should be offended or flattered.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/12/2021 11:23:36 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., TV, Hockey, Football
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Tuesday, August 07, 2021

deal struck
You mean to tell me that the Tampa Bay Lightning was just sold, and Jim “Blackberry” Balsillie wasn’t consulted first?

I’m sure there’s much hand-wringing in southeastern Ontario over this misinterpreted missed opportunity.

Despite the obviously overdone associative motif, this NHL franchise sale was indeed shocking. Despite a blatantly absentee ownership under Detroit-based Bill Davidson, there was no sign that he was looking to unload the team — not to mention the lucrative downtown Tampa arena and land-development rights that went with it.

So, given that the new Doug MacLean-led ownership group is called Absolute Hockey Enterprises… Can we look forward to Absolut Vodka winning the alcohol-pouring rights for the St. Pete Times Forum? Let’s hope so!

Having spent much time in Tampa Bay, including the span from the inception of the expansion team through to the Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup win, I’m keenly interested in this development. Not that I expect anything earth-shattering — no, the team’s not moving, not with that sweet facilities-control deal locked in — but it’ll all be worth watching.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/07/2021 11:25:17 PM
Category: Hockey
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