What is easily the worst hockey season in 35 years (Scouts moved in 1976) may come to a close as early as tomorrow when the announcement may be made that Kansas City has been passed over as the “next” NHL city for Winnipeg, Manitoba — a city of 640,000 people with an arena that seats 15,000 fans. We, Kansas City, were told we would be next. Problem is the little city in Manitoba knew they needed all pieces of the puzzle — a reputable owner and a passable arena.
Why is this the worst hockey season in 35 years?
The penultimate nail was hammered in the coffin of the NHL portion of the “NHL or NBA promise”, 40% of the indoor ice rinks in Kansas City shut down this year and two of the major youth hockey organizations continue to bicker in a ridiculous ego-driven struggle of immature hockey parents.
How did we get to this point?
Well, Ice Midwest closing its ice facility had nothing to do with the amount of support for hockey in Kansas City. By its own marketing campaigns, Ice Midwest had more than 400,000 people go through its facility. The ice rinks were shut down by a general manager who cared much more about whether his wife had a place to teach boot camp classes to Johnson County housewives than where kids could learn to play and enjoy ice hockey and figure skating.
The NHL franchise situation is much more complicated.
As Kansas City columnist Barbara Shelly pointed out in a recent article for the Sacremento Bee, then Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes was going to steamroll anyone that got in the way of her plan to build a new, downtown arena – the Sprint Center.
“The mayor at the time, Kay Barnes, coined the “naysayers” label, and she made it clear what she thought of us.
“Get out of the way,” she instructed, as she announced in 2002 that a year-long study had affirmed the need for a new arena. “We’ve had enough of you.”
I was not one of those naysayers. What I objected to was the tactic that Mayor Barnes took.
What was that tactic?
In 2003, after she had already won re-election, she went out and got a powerful partner for her arena plan – AEG and former Kansas Citian Tim Lieweke.
AEG saw an opportunity to penetrate a market in which they formally had no presence. But, AEG was just a corporate name and Lieweke just a familiar name. What they needed was a great hook.
Lieweke came up with, sort of, a promise that an NBA or NHL team would be the anchor tenant for the arena. He did this even though Lieweke knew full well that NHL franchises RARELY relocate and when they do it is within two years of a sale. He also knew that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is EXTREMELY opposed to franchise relocation. Yet, Lieweke knew he could dupe them rubes in Kansas City. It will be interesting to see how the LA Kings vote when the Thrashers relocation comes before NHL Board of Governors.
At the time, the Pittsburgh Penguins played in the oldest and arguable the worst hockey arena in the NHL and, possibly, the history of the NHL. They played in the old Pittsburgh Civic Arena (“The Igloo”), which was actually built as a concert hall for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. Heck, when Pittsburgh was awarded an NHL franchise in the late ’60s, the Civic Arena only met the minimum attendance requirement for an NHL arena by eight seats.
Pittsburgh, like Kansas City, HAD to have a new arena. The owners of the Pittsburgh franchise did what they SHOULD have done. They used Kansas City, and our potential new arena, as leverage to get a new arena built in Pittsburgh. Mario Lemeiux even admitted there was no chance the franchise would relocate.
“Mario Lemieux says the Penguins never were serious about leaving Pittsburgh.
“It wasn’t a possibility,” Lemieux said during a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for Pittsburgh’s $290 million hockey arena.
“We had to do a few things to put pressure on the city and the state, but our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way. Those trips to Kansas City and Vegas and other cities was just to go and have a nice dinner, and come back.”
Later, AEG said they entered into an agreement with William “Boots” Del Biaggio. Well, slick ol’ Boots is now wearing an orange jump suit somewhere. In one of his columns, Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star said that Boots’ problems were no fault of AEG’s and I agree. However, it is, and was, AEG’s responsibility to find an owner for this silly “NBA or NHL team” and is responsible for properly vetting out who this owner is. The fact AEG wiffed on Boots so badly is egg on their face.
Since then, talk of an NHL or NBA team has dwindled. Oh, every once and awhile something comes up like the Hornets leaving New Orleans and sports talkers in Kansas City giggle and guffaw about Chris Paul playing games in Sprint Center.
There is one glaring, gaping hole to a franchise ever coming to Kansas City.
There is no owner willing to take the risk of having an NBA or NHL team in Kansas City when the profitability of a franchise, in either league, in a medium-sized city like Kansas City is tenuous at best.
Here’s the thing, now that Gary Bettman has admitted failure in Atlanta and FINALLY got the monkey of Atlanta Spirit LLC off his back, a terrible ownership group that now admits they were never passionate about hockey, there is absolutely no way that Bettman relocates another franchise for at least another five years.
No, the Islanders, Blue Jackets or Panthers are not going to relocate. The Lightning have extremely strong ownership with Jeffrey Vinik. The Coyotes situation seems to be shoring up. And, if anyone mentions the Dallas Stars or St. Louis Blues, both for sale, as potential relocation candidates they are full of hot gas.
I’ve written this stuff for years.
The Sprint Center is a success. It’s a great arena.
The adjacent Power & Light District is not and needs the 550,000 extra people that a NHL or NBA franchise would provide (gross, not net, since a franchise would tie up some dates now used for concerts, etc.).
Kansas City COULD be an NHL city. We could support a franchise just fine – at least as well as Raleigh or Nashville or Columbus.
Kansas City WON’T be an NHL city because there is no owner for a franchise.
Quebec City has an owner and a building, potentially, in the works.
Seattle may be entering the mix if what Bill Daly says has any truth – that there is a potential ownership group in Seattle – yet no suitable arena.
What we really need is someone to repair the grassroots Kansas City hockey community by building a new place for Kansas City’s youth hockey community to learn and play the game — not the continued farcical pipedream of an NHL team.
If a tree drops in the forest and there is no one to hear – or the NHL has completely passed over Kansas City with no interest from the Kansas City media – does it make a sound?