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Glitzy NHL award show won't keep hockey alive in desert

June 19, 2009 |  9:53 am


Rather than hold its usual, postseason award show at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto with the likes of Alanis Morissette and the Bare Naked Ladies acting as entertainment, the NHL shot a knucklepuck at its fans by holding this year's hardware handout in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Even though most of the players probably loved being in Vegas (MVP Alex Ovechkin said he won $500 on the blackjack tables), I don't understand why the league keeps retreating from its traditional fan-base like its being chased down a mirrored hallway by Dale Hunter and Derek Boogaard. Why would you have an award show in a place where most people think Frozen Fury has something to do with Chuck Liddell or a pay-per-view involving hotel bellhops throwing buckets of ice at each other?

I realize expanding the fan-base is important, but maybe NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman should turn away from the desert for a while now that his Waterloo -- I mean Phoenix -- is bankrupt.

The Phoenix fiasco is going to take time to clear up, and you know Bettman will never give in to the Blackberry guy's demands. That's because Bettman doesn't want to upset the handful of owners who are certain another team in hockey mad Ontario (Canada, folks, not the one here) will eat away their profits.

Gary Bowing to the owners got him through the lockout, and now he thinks it'll help the league's efforts to reconstruct a Coyotes fan-base that's been missing since the towel-waving days of the 2001-02 season. Bettman keeps citing how the league saved Buffalo and Ottawa, but those teams didn't really have problems getting fans into the seats -- those were ownership issues that needed to be fixed. (Phoenix was 29th out of 30 teams in attendance this year.)

Still, even though I'm critical of Bettman, I agree with his assertion that the league has a future in areas that haven't seen ice since the last Ice Age. The Ducks can be considered a poster child of NHL sun belt expansion -- they have a Stanley Cup, two finals appearances and a strong fan-base. The Kings haven't had as much success, but they have some of the league's most passionate fans, especially when you consider they haven't made the playoffs in seven years.

The league needs to stop giving in to those desert mirages of establishing the game in places like Las Vegas or Phoenix. We're in a recession and the NHL must cater to its most loyal markets until the economy recovers -- not keep a tally on how many "celebrities" show up at the Palms hotel. Plus, if you're trying to reach out to new fans in a new locale, don't give a microphone to Chaka Khan or Jeremy Roenick at your awards show, OK?

By the way, Ducks rookie Bobby Ryan missed out on the Calder Trophy (top rookie), which was awarded to Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason. Ryan had a fantastic rookie campaign, but Mason was destined to win it after posting 10 shutouts and leading Columbus to its first-ever playoff berth.

Kings captain Dustin Brown lost out to Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash for the NHL's Foundation Award (charitable work).

-- Austin Knoblauch

Top photo: Washington Capitals standout Alex Ovechkin shows off his marketing prowess with a couple of Las Vegas showgirls at the NHL awards on Thursday. Credit: Ryan Remiorz / Associated Press. Bottom photo: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images