So, Steven Stamkos favorited a tweet (or two) about him possibly “pulling a LeBron” and going home to Toronto when his contract with Tampa Bay expires in 2016. Naturally this set off an explosion among people who are so starved for hockey talk that we’ll manufacture it when we can’t find it naturally.
It’s now a war between Tampa Bay’s defensiveness over being a sunbelt team and Toronto’s defensiveness over being increasingly irrelevant. Southerners insist that people go to games. Canadians insist that the scrutiny there is actually a draw, not a turn-off.
The fact is that in the American South, NHL hockey takes a backseat to college football, the NFL, MLB, and the NBA, probably in that order. It’s a truth. There may be a growing number of your neighbors who follow the local NHL team, but more of them follow the local football, baseball, or basketball team.
In southern hockey markets, for a number of different reasons, there are always groups of opposing fans in the building. The bigger the visitor, the more of them there are. Partly this is because season ticket holders sell those tickets on the secondary market to recoup some of their costs. But that’s not all that’s happening. It’s also true that there are relatively cheap, unsold tickets available for out-of-towners to buy.
Ticket prices have begun to increase in some of these markets, but I can still get a lower bowl ticket for the Lightning at Nashville for less than $60, which is below face value. And this actually is a bit of a problem for southern hockey fans, given how much NHL teams rely on gate revenue. Low ticket prices are an added instability for NHL teams. If they could raise prices they would. They can’t–or at least not very much. As a fan, part of you should want that. It means your team is more likely to stick around.
On the other hand, the insistence that Canadian markets are intrinsically more attractive to players is getting just as tired as southern insistence that local attendance is just fine.
Toronto is a historied franchise that young kids grow up dreaming about, and still there are players who get the fuck out the second they can. There are players who leave money on the table to play elsewhere. If you have to pay players a premium to choose you, your claims that everyone wants to choose you loses something. The fishbowl isn’t for everyone, and constant (and often unfair) scrutiny can get real old, real fast for some people. As can bad coaching and lack of competitiveness.
This Canadian inferiority complex–we’re the original; we’re the craziest; we’re the best–is every bit as strong as the southern one. It’s a lot louder, of course, and has been around longer, so people tend to think of it as self-evident truth rather than the knee-jerk defensiveness it really is.
Will Steven Stamkos leave Tampa Bay in 2016? Does he dream of playing for his hometown team? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else jawing about it. Of course Toronto will try to get him. They’ve been trying since he was 18. Will Steve Yzerman have to pay top dollar to keep him? We were expecting that before anyone noticed that he’d favorited the link to that story. We were guessing that a year ago. And as long as Steven Stamkos is one of the top 5 players in the NHL, he deserves to be paid like it.
In any event, this is two years away. A lot can happen in two years. And a mouse click isn’t really either a negotiating position or a statement of intent. It sure is easy to see our own self-image in that mouse click, though.