KELLEY: Playoff attendance an issue

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Jim Kelley

I think most any hockey fan can agree that, so far at least, the playoff hockey we've seen to date has been outstanding. Great plays, lots of high-speed action, stunning upsets in some games and workmanlike precision in others. The level of competition has been extraordinarily intense not only in game to game, but quite often from shift to shift. Unfortunately for the NHL, attendance, normally not an issue in the playoffs, has been questionable in some cities. If attendance in what is largely a gate-driven league is down, you can bet there are concerns about television ratings as well. We should point out that there are no truly accurate attendance figures to be had. By and large, NHL teams announce tickets distributed. They don't announce tickets sold and they certainly aren't audited by anyone, at least not for public consumption. Still, certain teams, including the NHL Presidents' Trophy-winning Ottawa , announced that they did not sell out their first two playoff games at home. That was certainly also the case in New Jersey, where sellouts are almost nonexistent, except when the cross-river rival come to town. Though the Dallas reported sellouts for their first two home games with the Edmonton , reports from people inside the building said there were a good number of empty seats. There were similar reports out of Tampa Bay. Philadelphia, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper out of Toronto, was said to have to go to game-time to move all of its tickets and may have fallen several hundred short. Several other clubs are said to have experienced similar shortfalls. Certainly, pricing figures into the equation. In a lot of markets, playoff tickets run substantially higher than regular season prices and escalate as teams advance through each series. A great many clubs also ask (force?) ticket buyers to buy several rounds at once, a substantial cash outlay that can sometimes approach the cost of a small car if you happen to have four or six seats you want to keep. In the past, playoff fever usually swept aside most cash concerns, but the price of hockey is higher than ever these days and the economy in both the United States and Canada is no longer strong. In addition, ticket buyers have become increasingly sophisticated, realizing that in many cities good seats for specific games are relatively easy to come by. That makes it easier to resist the siren song that all too often leaves the impression that if you don't buy a package you could be left out. That doesn't auger well for teams that plan on a long run in the playoffs to raise a lot of cash, much of which is looked upon as profit. It also isn't a good sign for owners who put millions into their clubs via free agency — Dallas being a prime example — in the hopes of putting a winner on the ice while putting the team itself up for sale. Clubs that looked to make a killing in that regard — and there are five or six of them out there — are finding that not only are tickets a tough sell, but moving the franchise has proven to be a lot more difficult as well.

It's his to lose, and it's a lot

There will be much talk about pulling Detroit goaltender in favor of . Joseph has struggled with some of the goals that have put the into a challenging situation with the of Anaheim, but short of injury don't expect a change. True, Legace had a good season and has some numbers that are better than Joseph's, but the made a commitment to the former Toronto goaltender and gave him a contract that has two years remaining after this one. To yank him now would likely have huge ramifications with the confidence management has in its decision-making.
Some things you should know

1. The San Jose still haven't nailed down a general manager. There is growing speculation that Doug Wilson is not interested in taking the job. Sources tell FOXSports.com that ownership there has broadened the search and now has a list of several candidates including former New York general manager Neil Smith. 2. The Calgary are looking to compensate for coach Darryl Sutter's inexperience as a general manager by opting to agree to hire a director of player personnel or hockey operations. Sutter got the GM's job added to his coaching duties when the fired general manger Craig Button. 3. How often do you see the reigning Masters champion drop the puck for a ceremonial faceoff in a hockey game? Probably never, but it happened Monday night in Toronto. Mike Weir, who won the coveted green jacket on Sunday, did it when he completed a contractual arrangement in Toronto for some endorsement appearances for Sears. Weir made the commitment long before the Masters. He is the first Canadian to win the Masters and the first Canadian male to win any of the major golf championships. He's also a huge hockey fan and was only to happy to move over to the Air Canada Center to drop the puck. 4. We told you last week that San Jose forward would be looking for an extension on the time frame for making a decision to stay with that team. He had a clause in his contract that allowed him a seven-day window of opportunity to do that at the end of the season but asked for and received an extension. Selanne is apparently waiting for a sign from management on whom they hire as GM and what direction the team will take beginning next season. If it's a budget cutting, rebuilding mode, look for Selanne to put himself on the free-agent market. 5. It very much appeared that Toronto scoring star was on the verge of losing consciousness as he was being helped off the ice Monday night after being clipped with the stick of in the 4-3 double overtime win over Toronto. That doesn't mean he won't be back for game four. In fact, sources tell FOXSports.com to count on him returning.

Tampa head coach John Tortorella toyed with team chemistry this week when he first benched and then banished from the team. Roy has had temper problems in the past and sources tell FOXSports.com that the coach and the player had words after taking a penalty that led to a Washington goal in Game 2. That escalated to the point that Tortorella chose to leave Roy behind when the series moved to Washington. Roy could be back with the club if a Game 5 proves necessary later in the week in Tampa Bay. The source of the rift was obvious, but not the exchange between the coach and the player. However, Roy has had run-ins with numerous authority figures in the past (he's been suspended for some 16 games and fined in excess of $100,000 for physical displays against officials in recent seasons). Tortorella knows that Roy is popular with his teammates, but he's also stressed that undisciplined play on the ice will result in discipline from him and, in this instance, he backed it up with a minimum two-game suspension. Tortorella has been increasingly frustrated by his team's lack of discipline in this series. Washington had three power-play goals in Saturday's win and nine-power-play chances in the first two games. The Caps have revamped their power play in this series, moving scorer off the point and to a down-low position with the man advantage. It's worked.
Getting the hook in the Olympics and then not having a chance to redeem himself is one of the reasons Joseph parted ways with Toronto coach and general manager Pat Quinn (Quinn also coached the Canadian Olympic team). It might see like an easy decision statistically, especially in light of the fact the Wings are one loss away from elimination, but the have to consider the mindset of one very expensive asset. Besides, Joseph is hardly the sole reason the are behind to the Ducks in this series. A lot of very well-paid forwards have failed to put a shot over the goal line in this series and they are every bit as accountable for that shortcoming on offense as Joseph is on defense. The view from here is that it is Detroit's offense that is killing the club's chances, not the goaltender.

He's still a King in L.A.

We told you weeks ago that the Los Angeles would be making some financial deals at the trade deadline in part so that they might keep high-scoring forward Ziggy Palffy. This week, they picked up the option on the final year of the original five-year deal he signed while still a New York Islander. It's always possible that the could trade Palffy at the draft or at any point next season, but it's not likely. They like the way he plays, he's a proven gate attraction and if there is a plan to move him it would likely come closer to the trade deadline. Then perhaps would like to get something in return if they feel they need to cut the roster because of an impending lockout next season or because they can't get Palffy to sign a new deal.

Heads are rolling in Buffalo

New ownership hasn't officially signed all the papers leading to taking the team over and out of bankruptcy just yet, but they are already moving to control the organization. Some 17 people on the full-time payroll were not rehired by the incoming ownership group. They're mostly behind-the-scenes folks, not big names from the hockey department like general manger Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff. Expect more people to lose their jobs there as the takeover comes to pass in the next few weeks. Some will leave voluntarily, but others may have no choice.

A point of clarification

We told you last week that the situation regarding Chicago forward was somewhat muddled. Technically, the six-month suspension goes into effect immediately so Fleury won't necessarily miss much of next season should he complete his rehab to the satisfaction of all concerned. However, the key distinction is in the paragraph that states he would have to be reinstated after satisfying the commissioner's office. That's a dicey proposition and while there is no doubt that Gary Bettman would want the best for Fleury, his life and his career, he also has to think of what's good for the and the NHL overall. Fleury has used up a lot of chances and burned a lot of bridges in the process. It's fairly clear the would like to be relieved of the second year of his contract (they did put him on waivers near the end of the just-completed season). The commissioner also has to consider the ramifications to the league regarding its image. Also factoring into the decision would be Fleury's legal rights to resume his career (see the Darryl Strawberry history for a parallel). There are no easy answers for Bettman and his officers. To the best of anyone's recollection, this is the first time a player has gone all the way to Stage 3 of the program (mandated suspension and no automatic reinstatement). Fleury is going to have to make a substantial case that he has fully recovered from his substance abuse problems before the league looks favorably on his return. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Kings, Stars, Rangers, Flyers, Sharks, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Ducks, Andre Roy, Jeremy Roenick, Alexander Mogilny, Curtis Joseph, Manny Legace

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