Migratory Patterns of the Short-Sighted Hockey Franchise

March 2, 2011

Jets ’95-’96 11,300 / 1.37 = 8,248 equivalent fans in us dollars

Coyotes ’96-’97 15,200 * 1.375 = 20,900

Coyotes ’09-’10 12,000 / 1.08 = 11,111

Nordiques early ‘90s 14,300 / 1.25 = 11,440

Avalanche ’99-’00 (new arena) 18,000 * 1.485 = 26,730

Avalanche late ‘aughts 15,900 / 1.05 = 15,142

*= max capacity

Look like a bell-curve; doesn’t it?  Yup.  It’s a couple’a good ol’ fashioned bell curves.  If you asked a person who was brilliant with math and economics but new nothing about hockey what would they tell you?  The future.

It is easy to sympathize with cities losing their hockey teams to cities which have tenuous histories with big league hockey.  Even before Atlanta was given its second kick at the National Hockey League can (tallboy, obviously), traditionally strong hockey areas felt ripped off, but a lot of blame was placed on the dollar, and I can’t find a quote but I’m sure that included by people within the organizations.  This must have seemed less plausible to people in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, where teams made money even in the worst of times.  As some of the variables have changed since the NHL relocations and expansions of the mid nineties, we can see that the dollar really was temporarily screwing some teams, and we can draw some pretty solid conclusions about what will happen over the near future to some of the league’s more troubled organizations.

All things are not equal, of course.  Addressing the NHL’s consistent inability to garner television network coverage like that of the NBA, NFL or MLB has long seemed a top priority of the commissioner’s office.  Perhaps it was thought that truly national coverage by the league, geographically, was the greatest, or even the only hurdle to achieving the desired television coverage.  We now know at least the latter to be untrue.  The league is all over the south now, but coverage continues to mostly consist of Sunday afternoons.  Is this a problem?  I certainly don’t care.  Some of the league’s southern teams, however, will depend on that revenue and publicity, even if they don’t already.  Of course, the ones which are making money are also losing money.

This issue appears to me to be related to the headshots issue, which is related to the brawl issue, but that is a matter for another day.  The current concern is how this seeming legacy-building project on the part of Bettman and Co. is effecting the ability of hockey crazed Winnipegers and Hartford . . . um . . .ers to enjoy top level hockey.  This is where the numbers up top come in.  It is certainly plausible that the NHL people who let ‘market forces’ move teams South never expected the Loonie to rise above the value of the American dollar, but if so that would simply indicate another way in which NHL brass have failed to plan effectively for the future.  The cold, hard numbers suggest that both the Jets and Nordiques would make enough from their home gate to be not just solvent, but economically competitive, now that the exchange rate has changed.  But is the home gate what matters?

Now we return, full circle, to the question of whether a lucrative American network television deal is a) realistic, and b) worth changing the criteria for what makes a city worthy of the honour of being an NHL franchises’ home.  If not for the striking clarity with which question a) has been answered negatively, question b) might be an interesting conundrum.  As it is it is irrelevant.  Nashville and Tampa and Dallas got teams, and the games showed up nationally in the USA on the Outdoor Life Network or not at all.

The sad fact of the matter is that when those articles appeared explaining the mechanics of the Fox puck, the success of the great NHL foray into Confederate territory peaked.  Now that it has waned, franchises like Florida and Atlanta are guaranteed money pits, the Coyotes are owned by the league (what does this even mean?  Post coming soon. . .), and the Avalanche may as well be in Quebec.  If you agree, I will signal you when to write the NHL asking that I be made commissioner, during the upcoming hockey ‘labour dispute.’

PS.   I personally consider every team below 80% capacity on this list in danger of moving or folding.  Long term.  You know.


January 15, 2011

Something strange has been happening in the language of sport.  Terminology has been leaking back and forth between hockey and basketball.  The first instance I’ll offer in support of this claim is not just terminology, but a statistic.  Wikipedia claims that ‘plus minus’ (or ‘+/-‘) has been an official hockey stat since ’68-’69, and the Habs were using it in the ‘50s (which of course explains the Stanley Cups) but the NHL has +/- records for the ’67-’68 season, so somebody’s hiding something.

+/- comes to the basketball world via a couple of stats nerds, who were hired back in 2000 by (drum roll) Mark Cuban!  Jeff Sagarin and Wayne Winston turned to +/- as a way of more effectively evaluating players’ overall value, searching for ways to weight the stat, which meant complicating it.  Theirs is not the version which most fans know, which is basically the ‘original’ +/- formulation from the NHL:  you add the points your team gets while you’re playing and subtract the ones the other team gets.  The common NBA calculation is simpler, because it does not involve the complications of special teams that hockey does.

This simple version is found in NBA.com box scores, and comprehensive sites, such as those of ESPN, and Yahoo!, while +/- is not included in less comprehensive box scores like those of Toronto’s newspapers.  Furthermore, it has been mentioned casually during NBA broadcasts for a couple of seasons now.  When I first started hearing it, it always came with an explanation, as in ‘Salmons has 17, but the Bucks are getting outscored by 14 with him on the floor: minus 14!’  During the intermediate period, it would sometimes have sort of truncated or short-hand explanations, or reworked phrasing, as in ‘Salmons has 17, but the Bucks are minus 14 with him!’  +/- is rarely verbally attributed to a team now in that sense, however it has long been applied to ‘units,’ as in ‘The Wildcats are plus nine with this second unit.’

The terms’ adaptation to a new sport should be considered complete with the innovative uses like the later example above.  This also raises questions about its applicability to other sports, like the even more stat-crazy football and baseball.  Indeed, number wonks in both sports are constantly searching for better metrics for overall effect on game play, but that is a topic for several other posts.

The other terms which have crossed over between basketball and hockey seem to have done so differently, and will be discussed here in future posts about ‘the second assist’ and ‘the post.’  The point is, the Dallas Mavericks will win the Stanley Cup before the San Antonio Spurs.  Book it!


For different measures see www.basketballstatistics.com

The site most credited with popularizing +/- in basketball is www.82games.com/

A few other interesting articles on the subject:

–          www.stat.columbia.edu/~cook/movabletype/archives/2005/07/basketball_plus.html

–          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/APBRmetrics

–          http://www.seattlepi.com/basketball/152685_sonx16.html

–          http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/10/sports/basketball/10score.html

Go to ‘career statistics’ for tons of fun.  Bobby Orr was +124 one season.  For real.  Look it up at www.nhl.com/ice/app