Kukla's Korner Hockey

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Afternoon Line -Carlo Colaiacovo

02/01/2023 at 1:54pm EST


In last year there was a war launched of international impact, which exacerbated the inflation crisis that was already in progress from the pandemic.  It makes total sense for discretionary things like TV subscriptions to be curtailed.  I’m not here to say the NHL can’t be better, but neither I can I grant Coliacovo summary judgment on his on his claims here.  There are too many variables here to narrow it down to trade rumor blue balls.  


What are you even talking about?



Yeah it's Putin's fault the NHL hasn't properly marketed a team, rivalry or player since 2009.

Gary Bettman needs to move on, he's a horrible commissioner.

Stop watching Rachel Maddow.

Next you're gonna say it's Trump's fault.


What he said basically was there is a recession coming because of inflation and people are budgeting and cutting back on their spending. Hockey is not a necessity so some people are cutting the expenses like subscriptions. Therefore, using this particular measure of financial health might not the best way to determine the NHL’s health.

I think this is part of the issue—but certainly not the whole reason. 

The digital boards, the gambling ads and worse yet vertical integration of sports betting on the mobile, the early game start times, the multiple teams tanking for a generational talent, the tight lipped GM’s that generate no team gossip, the playoff seeding being largely set by March, the spreading out of trades vs deadline day deals, the small increase in the cap ceiling, the camera angles that give an upper deck perspective of the game vs increasingly rare ice level shot, the players giving Mantha level efforts, the condensed schedule to accommodate the winter break, the regional blackout restrictions, Gary Buttmann winning any kind of achievement award, the declining physicality of the game, the lack of setting up prime-time matchups with rivals, the lack of free over-the-air broadcasts, the perception that the league is woke….etc…etc—well that tells me why the viewership is off.

Am I right or is purely economic belt tightening? It’s TBD for sure.


ESPN+ app still sucks. Its great that you now have the option to start a game from the beginning but FF and RW still need some work. I also have YoutubeTV which doesn't carry NHL Network so I have to sign up for another provider if I want to watch those games. If ESPN+ wasn't included with my Verizon plan I can't say that I'd pay for it. 


Everything about multimedia regarding the NHL sucks.

Website sucks, app sucks and marketing is awful. The NHL website is the slowest loading website of all professional sports. The video player plays at dial-up speed and this is using 200mb down.

When was the last time anyone was excited about a Winter Classic game?

I watch recaps of games on Sportsnet and any stats I get from TSN. Even though after their latest update, the site is horrible to navigate.


The double whammy of pervasive gambling ads and the digital board ads pretty much killed the joy of NHL hockey for me. This year I’ve mostly just been listening to the games on the radio, which is only slightly more tolerable. 


There are definitely a few rivalries and storylines but he’s right the league doesn’t have the passion it used to. Everyone involved (almost, anyway) cares more about the money than titles. The hard cap and playoff format are both a problem, if you ask me. 


That really doesn't explain why viewership is down. Every one of those critiques would have applied last year as well. 

Rivalaries - outside of the original 6 and perhaps a few geographical rivalries (which all still exist), when was the last time the NHL had rivalry. It really takes teams meeting up in the playoffs multiple times or a bad blood incident to establish a new rivalry. Teams generally have to be at same skill level too. 

Storylines - Hockey has as many as any other professional sport but its formant (constant action) doesn't lend itself well to talking about them. It doesn't help when some high profile broadcasters get off into tangents that have nothing to do with the game.

More talk of trades than actual trades - talk less about the hypothetical and that balance starts to even out. I'm not sure we want a league with more player movement. The reality is teams generally don't want to trade because it admits failure on some level and the result isn't always better.

Poor marketing of the stars - We've heard this for years too. There is a lot more marketing now, some of it very good, some of it awful. It's a challenge given the multinational, multicultural nature of hockey. I think one has to be willing to watch pre/post game shows if they want more of that. Their actions on the ice are enough for me to take notice.

Too many math equations - please. Nobody is forcing you to do the actual math. Advanced stats can be tricky but most don't need to know the underlying math to get a benefit from them. 

Horrible playoff format - I agree a little bit on this one but my bigger gripe would be the 3 point games that create an artificial parity. Rivalries are built on familiarity so be careful how you tweak it. I'd prefer teams are reseeded after each round or perhaps doing away with divisions altogether but that has its own problems.


I think there are a lot of realities that people aren't really absorbing.

First and foremost, how long have we had discussions just like this since the '04-'05 lockout? The inescapable reality is that even where the game has grown and built new fanbases somewhat successfully in Vegas and Seattle, it is a niche game. The vast majority of hockey fans are east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon. USA Hockey deserves a massive amount of credit for engaging kids in the game, keeping them interested, and developing lots of NHL-caliber talent from all over the country. But there seems to be a pretty low ceiling for the sport in this country, and we've known this essentially forever, but certainly at least since the mid-'90s.

Second, I know most of the people that bother to comment here are Wings fans (myself included). The team sucks! They've been bad for a long time now, and the downward slide started several years before the team truly got bad. We haven't had much to look forward to expect for the offseason Stevie came back, and the occasional glimmer of hope as guys like Hronek, Mo, and Raymond have made it to the club. We should all consider that where we might feel there's less passion around the game as Wings fans, that there's selection bias there.

Relatedly, because the sport is niche and heavily regional, when teams in those regions stink, it is going to have an outsized impact on the overall engagement with the sport in the US. The Detroit, Philly, and Chicago markets are all basically tuned out, and those are three of the largest markets for the NHL in America. Heck, even extending this to Canada, which we take for granted as being constantly hockey rabid -- the Habs are really bad and really injured and have been bad for a while (the Cup run was an insane fluke), the Sens should be kind of existing but much like the Wings can't put together a complete game of hockey (and are in the process of being sold), and Vancouver's owner and team president are running the club like... I don't even know what you call the shit they're doing. That's six of the 12 most important NHL markets in an ebb right now. (And go ahead and add in the Isles and Sabres -- while neither has the juice of the Rangers, having those two teams where they are in the standings is going to hurt given the size of the overall media market in New York state.)

Sorry guys, but I just can't get with this shit about the players not having passion, or it being all about money for them instead of winning. Max Pacioretty worked for a year to recover from one of the nastiest injuries a professional athlete can suffer, finally got back, and suffered the same injury again. The fact that he hasn't yet snap retired and collected on an insurance policy says a thing or two about his passion. I would take a team of the best players in 2023 against the best players from any other year in league history. The development models in all the major hockey nations have accelerated incredibly over the last 20 years. The players are so good so young now. I mean, say anything else you want about Ovechkin, but you cannot tell me there isn't a boatload of passion in the game to do what he's doing -- barring injury, he will break a record that most people thought would never be broken.

As far as the money is concerned, given the physical and emotional sacrifice NHL players go through for a career (not to mention the opportunity cost of spending so much time from early childhood to middle age focusing on shit like shin angle and gap control)... I don't see how anyone with a shred of empathy could argue these guys are "overpaid." Remember, every single owner is worth at least several multiples more than even the most elite player with the best non-hockey financial portfolio. Different sport, but case in point is Derek Jeter. You can hardly find a player in professional sports that made more in career salary, more in off-the-field/ice endorsements, and yet his stake in the Marlins was only 4%. Daryl Katz is worth 4.2 *billion* -- even if Connor McDavid were worth 420 million, that's *10 times less* than Katz! And realistically, McDavid's personal wealth is probably closer to 42 million. And by the way, none of us pay to see Daryl Katz do shit, but we sure pay to see McDavid.

On Colaiacovo's points, I think there's a lot of truth in there.

No rivalries: I agree. Best I can say is, if the league (read: owners) want more intense, organic rivalries, they need change the financial structure of the league to encourage dynasties again. You get good rivalries when teams have chances to play each other repeatedly when the stakes are the highest. When you create a financial scheme to balance team revenues and expenditures, you make it harder to build dynasties. Everyone knows this. I know we'll never go back to a non-cap game, but if quality of the product is ever going to be more important to owners than on-paper valuations, they need to at least convert to a soft cap with luxury tax. 

Lacking storylines: I don't entirely agree with this, but I think the intended point is really almost the same as "no rivalries." I think there are a lot of interesting storylines in the game, but so many of them are isolated to themselves, they don't link numerous teams together. The Canucks and the Oilers have been very interesting teams to follow on the bad/confusing side of things. The Canes and Devils have been on the good side of the interesting coin. But for broader interest, league-level intrigue, the most exciting things that have happened this season on the ice are Ovechkin and Kessel hitting major goal scoring milestones... and those are incredibly fleeting. Ovi's chase was fun for a few weeks, then he passed Gordie, and now it's back to the grind until he's closing in on Gretz. The biggest systemic excitement we've had in the last year was the off-ice drama around the free agencies and related trades with Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Huberdeau, Weegar, and ultimately Naz Kadri.

More buzz around talk of trades then actual trades: See above. I think the last offseason is a heck of a counter-example, but I get the point about in-season trades. A whole lotta Eklund-style bullshitting, not a lot of actual happening. Hockey geeks know the importance of the glue guys that get traded around deadline time, but it doesn't register to the Sportscenter viewer. In fairness to the NHL, this is a problem in all major sports. I'd go back to the point about having a hard cap. Teams have to be so careful in managing their cap that even if they have the resources to make a big trade, the cap will at best put a significant handicap on making a big trade when looking at the medium-term opportunity cost.

Poor marketing of stars: This one is fraught. It's definitely true, but I don't know what the answer is. Anytime a player shows a little personality, the old boys come out and chastise him for it. And then when the Crosbys and McDavids just sort of plug along with on-ice excitement and off-ice platitudes, people complain. PK Subban should've been the most fun and hyped (in a good way) player in the game for 10 years. Ovechkin has won over most hearts by now (at least with regard to his on-ice play), but the North American Hockey Knowers sure tried to beat the personality out of him during the first several years of his career, ragging on him for his big celebrations. And closest to home, we surely all remember how Sergei was treated here for daring to bask in a little fame off the ice. Nevermind that it never took his play below a HOF level.

Too many math equations: This is probably a knuckle-dragging complaint about "analytics," but I'll interpret it according to my own preferences and say that it's about sports gambling and that yes, it sucks. I'm not making any moral judgment on anyone that likes to gamble on sports. You do you. But it has gotten to the point where it seems like we have political ads for 6 months out of every 2 years, and sports betting ads for the other 18 months. I am personally sick of it, but the thing is, it obviously makes money for the game, which means in some measure, it is getting more people interested in the game.

Horrible playoff format: The divisional alignment hasn't worked out as well as hoped, but I am still a sucker for it and don't think they should throw it out just yet. I still buy into the theory of how this can help with rivalries. I believe the key difference between the prior era with divisional rounds and the current era is that the last time we had this there were fewer teams in the league. Now you have larger divisions and more teams overall meaning less games against your ostensible rivals.

We'll never make everyone happy, but I think the league should seriously consider trimming the schedule by as many as 12 games per team, and condensing the remaining schedule and not starting until November. NFL and college football take all the air out of the proverbial room, especially through the start of December when the college regular season winds down. And the fact is, a lot of these barns aren't being heavily used in the summer anyhow, we're already playing in year-round warm climates... wouldn't hurt to play into late July.


Niche sport because of location? No. 30 years ago you might be able to argue that—but especially not today. I can point to the NFL or large MLB markets and make any team from a small market a niche sports team. Doesn’t make the comparison a proper correlation.

Newsflash, most of the US population lives east of the Mississippi River. And those largest cities out west—more than a few of them have a hockey team (LA, Phoenix, Dallas, SJ).

1)Tampa has been around so long they were in the Norris division (1992 so 30+ years ago). Hockey in Tampa brings in larger crowds than baseball in the same city. Want to tell me the Rays haven’t been good lately? So it has little to do with standing or location (as the stadiums aren’t that far apart) and more to do with competition for time—beaches there get a lot more use outside of winter; therefore, harder to get people in the baseball stands.

2) The Minnesota North Stars left a city on the Mississippi River and north of the Mason-Dixon Line for a city in Texas in March of 1993 (almost 30 years ago) for a reason hardly anyone remembers. The arena in Minneapolis they played at had Coca-Cola as a sponsor (from the Timberwolves being the primary occupant and arena’s owner) with “pouring rights,” but the North Stars had Pepsi as the team’s sponsor. Ownership wanted taxpayers to foot the bill for a new stadium to settle the issue. When they balked he moved the team out of town. But again, hear anything about the Stars looking to move back north? Nope. Ownership got their arena deal. Fans were minuscule in the calculations.

3) SJ another 90’s franchise founding. Non-traditional market…hear talk about that team needing to move? No, because the target wasn’t traditional fans. It was the Silicone Valley’s wealth that was the draw.

Analytics is here to stay. Blame moneyball all you want, but statistical modeling analysis made its way into sports and it isn’t coming out. Promoters like Evil Knievel aren’t grabbing the gate revenue receipts and running as the sport is a well managed professional entity—unless you are the Leafs then there is the question of being owned by the pension union or the corporate board and thus both are scared to spend a dime.

Sportscenter didn’t cover hockey because of cross promotion revenue until recently again… asking a highlights audience to understand the nuances of the game is like asking the super bowl crowd how long they have been fans of the teams involved—hint: most are there for the spectacle not because they are going to cheer for their team. That glue guy has a better chance to turn into David Legwand than Brad Stuart.

The playoff format might not be perfect, but I’ll take an opening series knocking out a contender over the same teams in the conference finals every year. Leafs vs Lightning to open the playoffs—better than 1 vs 8 any day of the week.

Finally, it would take massive amounts of energy to cool these buildings in places like Vegas/Phoenix in July/August and the ice would be so bad someone is getting hurt. Extending the season makes 0 sense.

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