The End of Hockeytown

With the Wings failing to sell out playoff games last spring and their opener this season, I’ve seen a lot of talk about “The End of Hockeytown” around the web. They’ve got a thread over at Rangerland that references a recent piece by the Freep so I took the time to put together a little rant/response that I’ve decided to repost here…

This is a debate you hear a lot around the Wings sites and you’re never going to just get one answer.

Personally, I think “Hockeytown” was a misnomer anyway. It was their marketing slogan for 1996-97 and they just happened to win the Cup that year so it stuck. Had they gone with it a year earlier, it would have disappeared.

A lot of Detroit bloggers are quick to say it’s not the economy but I don’t see how you can ignore that. Michigan’s got the worst economy in the country. Our foreclosure rate is huge. How can you expect people to buy hockey tickets when they can’t afford to pay for their houses? Those that do have money have it stretched thinner. The Pistons are good, the Tigers are good. The Lions aren’t mathematically eliminated yet. The Wings have more competition in the sports marketplace. If you’re a borderline fan, split between the Pistons and the Red Wings, why wouldn’t you pick the cheaper alternative?

The ticket prices are far from the worst but they’re not good, either. Yeah, you can get tickets for $22 or even $9 if you go to the box office but the $44+ tickets are the vast majority of seats. And the exhibition prices are the same as regular season. Last week I took my dad to the Wings-Leafs exhibition, seats were at center ice but were the last row in the arena, right in front of the press box. Total cost, $100 (Ticketmaster charge included, but not parking).

That kind of thing p*sses the fans off. The Wings came back from the lockout and their big thing was “Look, we’re not raising ticket prices!” Aside from the $9 seats that I can’t get because I live in Lansing and it’s not so easy to just hop down to the JLA box office, they haven’t lowered ticket prices (even just to raise them again) since the lockout. It’s like they didn’t even try to make it up to fans.

And some of the more embedded (or embittered) bloggers will also point out that the Wings’ organization is extremely media-unfriendly. The beat writers basically have to spew what the team tells them.

Their website is awful. Their only official fan communication is through a $40/year subscription site that they don’t even take the time to update (I paid my $40 twice and then figured out how to hack their forums, so I feel better that they’re not getting my money for that sh*t anymore). The players aren’t accessible to fans (unless you pay $500 to enter the Hockeytown Hold’em poker tournament that just happens to be at the casino owned by the Ilitch family).

The Joe, as much as I love it, is a dirt pit. It is an awful, awful arena. I love that there aren’t any stupid distractions to make it seem like you’re at a carnival rather than a hockey game but even I have to draw the line somewhere. I’ve been to Columbus, I’ve seen what a fantastic arena they built there, and if that building was dropped down behind the Fox Theater, more people would be in it than are in the Joe now. I know it’d be a lot easier to get my wife to go to games.

Personally, almost none of this applies to me. I’m 90 minutes from the Joe. I watch the games on TV. I was on the season ticket waiting list and my number came up last year. I passed because I can’t spend that kind of money to race to get to Detroit in time for a 7:30 faceoff against Columbus or St. Louis on a weeknight. I’ll buy a few single-game tickets throughout the season (my first set are next Friday against the Blackhawks).

The Wings don’t sell to the rest of the state. They’ve got a farm team in Grand Rapids and they don’t do any kind of promotions there. They’re in the same state as the NCAA’s defending National Champions, a team that won the tournament on a clutch goal by a Red Wings prospect who also happens to be from in-state, and there’s no cross-promotion except for when they try to bring in Wings fans to watch “College Hockey at the Joe.” Here in Lansing, what few hockey fans there are are MSU fans first and maybe Red Wings fans after that. The Wings have managed to get into a position where they’re competing with the college teams when they should be working with them. To a certain extent there will always be competition (you can’t schedule it so that the Wings are off every night that MSU or U-M or Western or Northern or Tech or the Griffins are playing) but they could at least work together to build fans across the state.

The thing that I haven’t seen mentioned a lot is that a lot of the supposed fanbase the Wings built in the 90s were bandwagon fans anyway. You stop winning and of course those people are going to go away. Detroit wasn’t selling out in the early 90s when they were a good team but kept losing in the first round, why would it be any different now? Especially with all of the other things taken into consideration.

That’s my essay on the matter. It’s gotten a lot of publicity lately. This summer some of the southern fans were asking why they should feel bad about Detroit’s problems. I’m not asking anyone to feel bad. I’m not asking anyone who’s not a Wings fan to care. I fully admit that the Wings are in a bit of trouble, this is why I think that’s the case.

Downey Waived

Dave over at Gorilla Crouch makes mention of a thread about the Red Wings waiving Aaron Downey. I feel dumber just for having read that thread, so thankfully the Detroit News confirms.

The Wings put forward Aaron Downey on waivers Friday, but general manager Ken Holland said the Wings will keep Downey on the roster if he isn’t claimed by another team by Saturday afternoon. He’ll likely be sent to Grand Rapids later in the month when forward Igor Grigorenko is brought up.

Seems like odd timing, no need to do it now but also no reason not to. Maybe the thinking is to try to have him clear waivers now when fewer teams have injuries. If a team was short a man three weeks from now they’d be more likely to claim him but right now just about everyone is healthy. That’s just my guess.

Red Wings Open Season with Shootout Win over Ducks

The Detroit Red Wings earned a 3-2 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night, opening their season with a victory over the team that elminated them from the playoffs last spring.

Jiri Hudler scored the only goal of the shootout, faking out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in the third round. Bryzgalov had previously stopped Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, while Detroit goalie Dominik Hasek made saves on Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry.

The Red Wings got on the board first with a power play goal by Zetterberg at 9:46 of the first period. Left all alone in the right faceoff circle, Zetterberg wristed a shot over Bryzgalov’s shoulder.

The Ducks tied things up with 5:28 remaining in the second. A shot by Perry deflected off the skate of Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja and to the slot, where former Red Wing Bertuzzi grabbed it and wristed it past Hasek.

Bertuzzi connected with Getzlaf for Anaheim’s second goal, scored on the power play with 42 seconds remaining in the period.

Tomas Holmstrom tied the game at 4:04 of the third period on another power play goal. After a blast by Brian Rafalski, the puck came to Zetterberg at the side of the net. He threw it out front and Holmstrom lifted it over Bryzgalov.

Rafalski wasn’t the only Red Wings newcomer to make his presence felt, as Dallas Drake got in a second-period fight with Perry.

Hasek made 13 saves on 15 shots against. Bryzgalov stopped 40 of 42 Detroit shots.

Detroit went two-for-seven on the power play while Anaheim was one-for-five.

The Red Wings are back in action on Saturday when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks, featuring former Red Wing Robert Lang.

Notes on “Masterminds of Hockeytown”

The Detroit News has a great piece in today’s paper called Masterminds of Hockeytown. The News got to sit down with Mike Ilitch, Jimmy Devellano, Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Scotty Bowman and talk about the past 25 years of the Red Wings and a little bit of the future.

The full transcript of the session is also available. A lot of the history has been told before but there are a few notes about the future that find important.

News: Do you have any assurances from the league, if there’s expansion, which they’re talking about again, about getting back to the Eastern Conference?

Ilitch: Well, (NHL commissioner Gary) Bettman has told Jimmy and I on two or three occasions that we’re next.

Devellano: I’d just like to add one more thing about expansion. There’s little doubt that Vegas is coming in (as an expansion franchise) — it’s about four years from now. And I truly believe Gary Bettman will move us East at that time.

Ilitch: Oh, I’m not selling anything, that’s for sure.

The first confirms what’s been rumored for years. The Wings belong in the Eastern Conference and they’ll get there someday.

The second terrifies me. I still contend that NHL talent is diluted. Expansion will not help this league.

The third puts to rest a rumor that apparently started during a Tigers broadcast this summer.

Wings’ Roster Set

Bruce MacLeod blogs that the Red Wings’ final roster has been announced.

As expected, Derek Meech claims a spot as the 7th defenseman. The injured Kyle Quincey will work out in Grand Rapids and join the Griffins when healthy.

Matt Ellis will remain in Detroit. Free agent try-out Aaron Downey has been offered a contract and will play in Detroit if he accepts, which he’s expected to do.

Igor Grigorenko will head down to Grand Rapids. This is likely only to last through the end of the month as he’ll have the ability to return to Russia. At that point, Ellis or Downey would have to be sent down.

Mark Hartigan has been placed on waivers and will go to Grand Rapids if he clears.

Wings Name Datsyuk Alternate Captain

George Malik blogs that Helene St. James of the Free Press reports that Pavel Datsyuk has been named an alternate captain for the coming season.

The Red Wings decided this summer to utilize three alternates this season, rewarding Datsyuk for his playoff leadership.

“We’re going to name him one of our assistant captains because we think he’s a big part of our leadership group,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We want Datsyuk to understand that.”

As only two alternate captains (or three if the team captain is not present) can be in the lineup at one time, the team will work out rotation to share two As among Datsyuk, Kris Draper, and Henrik Zetterberg.

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