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Florida Hockey – a Failed Experiment?

Are the talents of a superstar like Vincent Lecavalier wasted in Florida? Are the talents of a superstar like Vincent Lecavalier wasted in Florida?

With the 2010-11 NHL season underway, it looks like another lackluster outing for the teams in the Sunshine State. Both Miami’s Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be icing mediocre teams at best, which will do little to draw fans to already sparsely populated arenas.

So what has been the problem? Tampa Bay and Florida both enjoyed steady crowds during successful runs in their histories, but unlike teams in hockey-mad markets, neither the Panthers nor the Lightning seem to be able to draw unless they’re at the top of their games.

Most of the NHL’s “non-traditional” markets have struggled to make ends meet. The Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes have had even less success than the Florida teams. The Carolina Hurricanes have struggled to fill their building in recent years despite some strong runs to the Stanley Cup in the past, and the Atlanta Thrashers are an afterthought in a southern U.S. market with NFL, NBA, and MLB teams.

Of course, the U.S. economy can bear some of the blame too. The Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders have been in financial trouble recently, and it wasn’t that long ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins were on the verge of moving. In the case of the Penguins, a new arena and a winning team have brought fans back in droves.

But as for Florida hockey, the problem is largely cultural. On its best day, hockey will never be a bigger deal than baseball or football in Miami, and with the Miami Heat dominating headlines this season, you can forget about anyone in that city thinking they would be better served to follow a losing NHL team than a superstar NBA squad.

Tampa Bay might have a little more potential. After all, with no NBA team, there is some down time between the NFL and MLB seasons. Additionally, the Lightning have a bonafide star in Vincent Lecavalier, and an emergent star in Steven Stamkos. But fans still seem to be reluctant to vacate the beach at sundown to head into an ice arena.

Maybe the NHL would be best served to forget about expanding into non-traditional markets. And instead play to the fans already hungry for hockey.

The fans of teams in the northern U.S. including the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston  Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers have supported hockey faithfully for decades. It could be that the NHL has a small man’s complex and is trying to prove something by competing with other major sports in the South. But for tried and true fans of the game, the experiment is wearing thin. Struggling teams, empty pockets, and deadbeat owners just won’t do when there are viable options elsewhere. For now, Florida gets its hockey, but if in the future the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning pack up and head north, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone shedding tears.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 00:27

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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