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New NHL Cities?

A post lockout league could have a very different look

This dreary and depressing work stoppage showed some very familiar patterns this week, as well as a couple of new developments. Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller continues to vent his outrage towards those greedy and obstinate owners who refuse to negotiate fairly and show the players “respect.” Apparently a guaranteed contract northwards of $30-million for Miller is not respectful enough. So carry on. Nothing new to see here.

This week the negotiation tactics went into a new phase, a players-owners-only faceoff without the presence of lead negotiators Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Then the league’s board of governors met mid-week to assess their next move. The likelihood of more game cancellations beyond the current December 14 time frame seems imminent. If things could be solved now, then an early January startup to the season could be possible.

In the midst of all the posturing and negotiating and meltdowns, there has come speculation that the league might eventually contract by a number of teams if things become dire enough. Alternatively, the league could expand by yet another two teams, offering an immediate revenue injection and the addition of 50 more highly paid jobs for the NHLPA.

So where might one see the new-look NHL? During this lockout there have been some breaking developments regarding two existing franchises which have had serious financial challenges, as well as a number of new markets proceeding with arena plans in the hopes of becoming an NHL city. Here is the rundown:

Brooklyn, New York

It is a done deal. After years of going nowhere in trying to gain traction for a new arena on Long Island, owner Charles Wang of the New York Islanders signed a lease to move his franchise to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, starting with the 2015-16 season. The team will continue to be named the New York Islanders, and with the venue optimally configured for basketball (the primary tenant being the NBA Brooklyn Nets), this will immediately become the smallest arena in the NHL, with a seating capacity of about 14,500 for hockey.

Phoenix, Arizona

The next chapter of the long drama to prop up a failed hockey franchise in the middle of the desert has the city of Glendale paying potential new team owner Greg Jamison $16 million a year for the next 20 years (that’s $320 million in taxpayer funds) to operate the Phoenix Coyotes at the Arena. Jamison will then pay the league roughly $170 million to purchase the bankrupt team. Who will all of a sudden start filling all those empty seats at their games is yet to be determined. As is who will pay for such sundry things as firefighting equipment and garbage pickup. You know, those things that municipalities normally pay for.

Quebec City, Quebec

Hockey enthusiasts still mourn the loss of the Quebec Nordiques and the energy and passion that their rabid fan base brought to the NHL. Well, construction has started on the new Quebec City Amphitheatre, an 18,000-seat arena right next door to the current hockey venue, Le Pepsi Colisee. Observers note the box office success that occurred when the Jets returned to Winnipeg last season, with their building quickly selling out at eye-popping ticket prices and multi-year season ticket commitments. Many believe the same would happen in the hockey-starved Quebec market.

Seattle, Washington

Seattle has been without a major winter sports team since the NBA Sonics departed a few years back. Just this week renderings were released for a new $490 million arena, which would be built in the SoDo District, adjacent to Safeco Field (MLB) and Century Link Field (NFL). Some argue that the underused Key Arena could also adequately house an NHL team, albeit with major renovations. Seattle is home to a number of major junior teams playing in the WHL and has a very dedicated hockey fan base.

Markham, Ontario

This suburb just northeast of Toronto has been working hard on plans for an NHL-ready arena which would be situated just off of Highway 401. Studies have indicated that the Greater Toronto Area could support not just two but three NHL teams. The NHL has indicated that it might support an expansion team for Markham if an arena deal were in place. City fathers aren’t ready to commit to the arena unless an ironclad commitment was made for an NHL team. For now this is a stalemate.

Kansas City, Missouri

The good news? They have their gleaming newish arena, the Sprint Center, ready to go. They have some history with the NHL, as the Kansas City Scouts (now the New Jersey Devils) played there from 1974 to 1976. What they don’t have is a defined ownership group and a fat cat potential owner waving a checkbook and demanding a team. Fans there were bitterly disappointed when the NHL cancelled a preseason game in Kansas City this past October, which was to have featured the Avalanche and the Rangers.

Taro Sez...

■ “Viel Glück” to Sabres center Jason Pominville, who last week signed a contract with the Adler Mannheim of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. Pominville, his wife, and their two young children will be living in Germany for the rest of the season, or until the NHL resumes play.

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