Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you’re only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
Yesterday it was revealed that an application of site plans for an NHL-quality arena in Markham, Ontario, will likely be submitted today and could lead to permits to begin building by the fall.
This news was reported on Twitter by The Hockey News editor in chief Jason Kay, and soon followed with more beefed-up details from TSN: In short, GTA Sports and Entertainment, the company submitting the plans, is going to spend $325 million to build a rink in the greater Toronto area (thus, GTA; Markham is about 19 miles from the Air Canada Centre) for reasons that are not, currently, entirely clear.
The TSN report says the hope is that the rink could be completed in time to host the World Junior Championships in 2015, but if you’re either GTASE or the city of Markham – which is footing half the arena bill for some bizarre reason – you don’t spend $162.5 million to host World Juniors once, and then a handful of other events.
Clearly, the hope is that this leads to an NHL team. And it very well should.
Not that there aren’t more than a few suitable sites that already exist or might soon — among others, Kansas City’s still-vacant 17,000-seat Sprint Center falls into the former group, and plans in Seattle and Quebec City fall into the latter. But of all the prospective ideas for either expansion or relocation, either of which one assumes the league is loath to undertake, one just a short drive from downtown Toronto has and always will make the most sense for all involved.
Oh, the Maple Leafs, which earn more revenues than any other team in the NHL by a good 20 percent, would like it about as much as they’d like to continue this run of futility, and certainly that gives them a certain amount of heft to throw around. The same could likely be said of the Buffalo Sabres, though to a far lesser extent.
But with so many teams very visibly struggling to draw crowds and generate revenues across the league — the Coyotes, Devils, and Islanders, for instance — relocation, though unappetizing, seems on the horizon in at least one case. The Islanders could very well move to Brooklyn, and who knows what happens with Phoenix or New Jersey, whose ownership situations seem unstable to put it mildly.
The question with regard to a team in Markham is: Would people show up? And the answer is yes. Particularly if a team like Phoenix, which is well-managed and well-coached, moved there instead of being an expansion franchise. This team would rake in money in ways that Winnipeg could only dream of, if only because of the population base.
Of course, this is all quite a ways off. If the plan is for the rink to be open by 2015, which is the same projected opening date for the potential Quebec arena, that means at least three more seasons of a team not moving there, and the situation across the league is, shall we say, more than a little liquid right now. We don’t know what’s going on with the Devils at all, except to say things are looking a little grim. Jeff Vanderbeek owes his lenders a lot of money and doesn’t have nearly enough to meet obligations with less than a week remaining. Meanwhile, in the desert, we haven’t heard a word out of Greg Jamison or the league about how they’re trying to bridge their own $20 million gap between the funds to buy the team and the league’s $170 million asking price.
All of this makes the league look awful. It’s stuck around in a no-win situation in Phoenix forever, and New Jersey could be a real disaster in the making if the report about Vanderbeek not being able to meet his debt payment obligations is true.
Not that the league is doing badly or anything overall (see: everything written by non-ownership shills about the impending potential work stoppage) but if we’re really that concerned about slumping revenues from teams with terrible ownership or arena situations, then boy oh boy, doesn’t a Toronto-area rink just solve every conceivable problem immediately?
If only the people involved could make it so that rink would be ready next month, rather than next month plus three years. That would set everything right no problem at all.
Fathers, lock up your unsigned defensemen
So Andrej Meszaros is going to miss a significant amount of time this coming season with a torn Achilles tendon, and now there must be some serious fretting about the Flyers’ defensive situation.
Paul Holmgren was very clearly not happy with a defense featuring Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, Meszaros and one of a number of third-pairing guys, hence the Shea Weber offer sheet. But now this leaves the team in a serious pickle, and no one can be considered safe.
Sure, he might opt to go the trade route, but a defenseman of any quality, even one of the vaguest shadow of Weber’s capabilities, will fetch a steep price the Flyers may be reticent to pay. And sure, they might try to find some help on the free agent market. But, well, there isn’t much there.
And so, we come to an inevitable crossroads.
Holmgren has already shown a certain amount of ruthlessness rare among NHL GMs in breaking the apparent gentlemen’s agreement not to go around extending offer sheets to other team’s restricted free agents. And now, backed into this kind of corner, there’s no telling what he might do.
Dmitry Kulikov, P.K. Subban, Mike Del Zotto and John Carlson are all top-end restricted free agent defensemen who have yet to re-sign with their teams, and you have to assume that Holmgren isn’t going to take this lying down. These are the only difference-making defensemen that don’t cost the Flyers players from their roster or farm system, just picks. If I’m Dale Tallon, Marc Bergevin, Glen Sather or George McPhee, respectively, I’m frantically calling the agents of those players and trying to get a deal done right now and today to make sure they don’t get some silly overpayment offer sheet from Philadelphia that I then have to match.
Before, the Flyers needed an upgrade on defense, and Weber very clearly fit that bill. Now, they need a serious replacement, and you have to really worry about what this team is capable of doing when it’s backed into a corner.
Ryan Lambert is a columnist for Puck Daddy. Follow him on Twitter or whatever.