Saturday, May 14, 2011

Puck Dreams

Wisconsin hockey fans are getting teased again this spring. The blogosphere is rife with rumors of NHL hockey teams that may be on the move either this year or next—and as usual, Milwaukee is named as a “prime candidate” to land one of those teams.

The Phoenix Coyotes continue to operate without an owner—but apparently the City of Glendale agreed to continue committing taxpayer dollars to keep the team at their arena with help from the other NHL teams. It’s hard to believe that a team that had been headed up by Wayne Gretzky couldn’t make any money in an otherwise good sports town. A report out this week shows the Columbus BlueJackets continue to lose money hand over fist. If you have never heard of the Columbus BlueJackets don’t worry, nobody in Columbus has heard of them either—based on attendance figures since their expansion season.

While hockey struggles in those towns—and a couple of others that never should have been given teams (I’m talking to you Miami and Atlanta)--Milwaukee sits there as a beacon of hope—a mid-market city in an area that actually appreciates hockey. The story that has always made the rounds in puck circles is that longtime Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz always vetoed the placement of an NHL team in Milwaukee—mistakenly believing that his team is a huge draw in the city—and that getting a franchise of their own would hurt his bottom line. Well, Dollar Bill is dead now and his son, Rocky, has managed to bring the team into the 20th century with progressive ideas like actually paying to get good players and putting home games on local cable. So maybe Wirtz opposition wouldn’t be an issue this time around.

Unfortunately, the timing just isn’t right for Wisconsin to finally get an NHL team. For starters, the Bradley Center is not the attractive arena it once was. When multi-millionaire Herb Kohl complains he can’t make cash with his NBA team in the building—what are the odds the NHL will say “that is where we need to be!” And the city and state are in no position to provide the kind of financial assistance that a more desperate area might be willing to pony up as incentive to relocate. Milwaukee County is already charging an extra sales tax to pay for Miller Park—and I doubt the voters in the 5 County area will be racing to the polls to approve another one-tenth of one percent. And if the state can barely afford to pay for the registration stickers on your license plates—millions of dollars to pay for bad hockey in Milwaukee probably shouldn’t be a priority.

So Milwaukee will have to continue to sit in the penalty box—frozen out of the NHL for another few years. Let’s allow equally-deserving cities like Winnipeg, Quebec and Hamilton to get teams this time around—the right team at the right time will eventually come our way. In the meantime, I’ll keep throwing a few bucks at the Powerball and MegaMillions in hopes of winning enough to buy the Boston Bruins and move them here.

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