Expansion, Relocation and Shootouts, oh my! When will the madness that has become the NHL ever end? Would Howie Morenz, Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore even recognize the sport they helped to create?
Did you hear the one about the priest, a rabbi and a minister going into a bar? I don't remember the rest of the joke, but the punch line is "The Nashville Predators."
Sadly, that is what the third best team in the NHL's regular season has been reduced to, a punch line to the running joke that is the NHL.
The NHL has always been treated like the red-headed stepchild of the four major sports and some can argue convincingly that it's no longer in the top four or top five for that matter. While you could make a pretty long laundry list of all the reasons for the sport's failure in recent years, most of the blame goes all the way to the top.
The leadership of the NHL for the last 15 years or so has taken a sport drenched in tradition and turned it into a passing fancy that attracts fewer TV fans than poker. While it might not be entirely his fault, a lion's share of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of one Gary Bruce Bettman.
Under his reign, teams moved from hockey hotbeds such as Hartford, Winnipeg, Minnesota and Quebec City to lukewarm, at best, hockey markets Raleigh, Phoenix, Dallas and Colorado. Sure, all of these new locations have won the Cup with the exception of Phoenix, but still the tradition of these clubs were lost.
Perhaps the most egregious move though was the changing of the names of the conferences and divisions. Gone were the glorious names of hockey's past Wales, Campbell, Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe replaced by the eponymous Eastern, Western, Northeast, Southeast, Central, Pacific, Northwest and Atlantic.
I guess with all the moving clubs and new clubs coming into the league, it was easier to throw tradition out the window than to invest in a geography class.
And don't get me started about the many little tinkerings that he has introduced to the actual game itself. The two-line pass, moving the lines around every few years and the instigator penalty. And now, he's talking about increasing the size of the nets?
Back when Babe Ruth trotted around the bases, the distance between each base was the same as it is now, 90 feet. It's bad enough that he had to take all the tradition out of the off-ice game, but now it appears that the on-ice product will never look the same.
And now, it's the Nashville Predators. They have become the NHL's own little soap opera. As The Team Turns.
Do you think Bud Selig would sit back and smell the roses if someone signed a purchase agreement for the New York Yankees and then started taking season ticket deposits in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan?
Now, granted a better comparison would be the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but still the sentiment is the same.
As commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman is the man in charge. The CEO. The Cammander in Chief.
Jim Balsillie has struck pre-emptively and declared war on the NHL. Will Bettman raise the white flag or dig in and fight? It's hard to tell.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators as an organization are left in turmoil. David Poile, the team's general manager, has publically stated that he has no idea what his budget is for next season. The team is faced with uncertainty at the critical time of the NHL calendar in which the draft and free agency will transpire in the next two weeks.
Perhaps this is all part of an elaborate plan to soften the blow of an imminent move to Hamilton and if so, then the league and Gary Bettman should be ashamed of themselves. A league that was at one time a proud and tradition rich entity has been reduced to sports talk whimzy.
What's next? Replacing the Stanley Cup with a Dixie Cup?