The American market has been lost. It was on a sickbed before the lockout and taking a year off killed it dead. The vast majority of American sports fans have no interest in the game and probably never will have an interest in a foreign sport played by foreigners. Americans who have been sold on the game are every bit as knowledgeable and passionate as Canadian fans, but there are not enough of them and there will never be enough of them for hockey to be a major player on the US landscape.
It's too late to stop making it worse? It's past time to stop digging, to climb out of the hole and to bury both Gary Bettman and the American Dream. It's past time for the game to return to it's roots. It's past time for the owners of the Canadian teams to acknowledge that the American market has been lost and to decide that it is far better to be a very large frog in a small pond than to drown in the American ocean.
It is time for the Canadian teams to seize the day and to separate. To secede. To fire on Fort Sumter. To stop subsidizing the American market. To form a more perfect union, the Canadian National Hockey League.
Hey Tom, while you're at it, why not blow all the bridges and close all the border crossings with the lower 48? After all, it's what you really want, isn't it?
Like any great fantasist, there's a kernel of truth at the heart of Tom's arguments. I'm on the same page as him when it comes to any plans for NHL expansion in the immediate future. A lot of the problems the league is dealing with now can be attributed directly to a program of expansion in the 1990s that was haphazard and ill-advised -- something that I've written about before. And when Tom talks of the failure to convert the American sports fan to the world's greatest game, it feels like he's cribbed the argument straight from the pages of the Ken Dryden classic, The Game. There, you'll find Dryden lamenting how over and over again the money men have tried to sell the game to the U.S. only to be foiled every time.
Yet, ever so slowly, the league and the game crept further South and West. In the seasons since Dryden's book was published, 19 of the 25 teams to win the Cup have come from cities from the post-1967 expansion era, and the Cup has been hoisted in North Carolina, Florida and Texas. In 2006, the AAA Bantam Champs (under 14) in the USA came from Southern California.
In the Dryden era, the list of Europeans in the league started with Stefan Persson and ended with Borjes Salming. But now, a little more than a quarter century later, we wouldn't be able to imagine the league without players like Peter Forsberg, Alex Ovechkin and Jaromir Jagr. Without the league growing from 4 American franchises to 24, my guess is that many of those great players might never had made their way to North America.
Some failure, eh?
Part of me wishes I could pass Tom's words onto some of the great Canadians who spent the better part of their professional lives trying to win a foothold for hockey in the United States. I'm talking about men like Lester Patrick and Art Ross. Men who left their homes North of the border and took on the challenge of selling the game in regions that had little or no history with it. I wonder what they'd think about Tom's strategy.
For men like those, folks who kept the league alive in the post-World War II era when it very nearly collapsed, I'm sure the challenges the league faces today would have seemed trivial by comparison.
Only 10,000 fans in Nashville? In the short-run, it looks like a disaster. But when you take the long view, it's something to marvel at.
Then again, men like those loved the game so much, that they were committed to growing it no matter what the cost. I'm talking about "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, a man who worked to turn Atlanta into a hockey town, only to see the Flames move to the Canadian prairie.
But even then, he didn't stop selling the game, and lived long enough to see Atlanta become a hockey town again, and have a better chance to win a Cup than it ever did the first time around. Today his grandson Blake -- a Florida native -- is one of the most promising young American talents in the game.
Are there problems? Undoubtedly. At times, it seems like there are more than the league can reasonably handle.
Are we cursed with owners who we could do without? Of course, but can you point to an era in the history of any sport that wasn't dogged by owners both greedy and incompetent?
Is the mainstream media cutting back on coverage and does the league have to fight for even fleeting moments of coverage? You bet, but the mainstream media is changing forever and something better is emerging in its place.
So dream of taking the game back if you must my friend. Unfortunately for you, Canada loved hockey so much, it shared it with the rest of the world. And you just can't have it to yourself anymore.