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Denver columnist Adrian Dater calls for Nashville to "get the heck out of the NHL"

Apparently the thin air in Denver has been getting to columnist Adrian Dater, given his latest excrement offering posted at Versus. The fact that the Nashville Predators failed to sell out the home opener last Thursday has caused Dater to style himself as judge, jury and executioner of the NHL:

It’s a tough thing to say, but it needs to be said: the Predators should get the heck out of the NHL. They’ve been a charity case team the last few years, needing revenue-sharing money from the rest of the league just to stay operable.

Dater's nonsense would be downright laughable if it didn't come after a summer of bitter discontent stirred up between southern hockey fans and those who see "traditional markets" as the only ones deserving of NHL franchises. In light of all that, and the other challenges facing the league at large, it's only right to call out such garbage for what it is; a pathetic attempt by a sportswriter to gain attention by ripping off a hackneyed, misinformed cheap shot at an entire city.

ABC's of the CBA

First, let's start with "They’ve been a charity case team the last few years, needing revenue-sharing money from the rest of the league just to stay operable". For someone who supposedly makes his living covering the NHL, you'd think Dater would understand how revenue sharing works. It is not about helping charity cases through a rough patch; the NHL revenue sharing model is nothing less than the enabling mechanism for the salary cap, and small-market teams have nothing to apologize for after accepting funds from it.

Just to review, NHL teams must maintain salaries between the current cap (~$56 million) and floor (~$40 million). When the owners and players agreed on this setup as part of the CBA, they knew that this $16 million range between floor and ceiling was set tightly, in order to encourage competitiveness within the league. Many teams can afford more than a cap-maximum team, and many teams (on their own) can't afford a cap-minimum payroll. The revenue sharing model aims to capture some of those extra funds that the richer teams can afford to spend on players, and redistribute it to small-market teams so they can spend to the floor. In fact, the main portion of revenue sharing is specifically calibrated to help receiving teams afford a payroll 1/4 of the way between floor and ceiling (this season, $44 million).

In other words, of course small-market teams wouldn't survive without revenue sharing. But without the salary cap system, they wouldn't have to spend $40 million+ on a team, either, more than twice what they did a decade or so ago.

It's not charity, it's a rare example of the NHL acting as one league of 30 teams, rather than 30 separate fiefdoms which occasionally ally in part for various purposes.

Some may decry the fact that this model takes from specific teams and gives to others, but that's the only effective solution for a league which lacks the strong central revenue sources that the NFL, NBA and MLB enjoy due to national television contracts. Maybe Dater should spend some time browbeating the suits at Versus to get this DirecTV issue resolved and help all NHL teams out.

Time's are tough all over, pal

Before jumping on Nashville's attendance, it would be instructive to wait and see how things pan out around the league. The economic downturn has impacted just about every corner of the professional sports world, and even though Colorado managed to sell out their home opener (what, you couldn't even wait one game to retire Joe Sakic's number?), their 2nd home game, on a Saturday night against division rival Vancouver, drew only 13,416, almost 800 fewer than attended Nashville's 2nd home game, also on a Saturday, against Buffalo.

Over at Puck Daddy, Ryan Lambert deftly turns Dater's clumsy attack back upon him:

Even with a full sell-out, the Avs' two home games have averaged 15,712 people. That's with the draw of an opening night game against a great team like the Sharks (plus the allure Sakic Night) and the also-good Canucks.

The only home game the Preds have to go by is a game against the Avalanche, and, as Dater asks rhetorically, "Would you want to watch the Avalanche play right now?" Judging by the stats, the answer, even in Denver, is "no."

The solution is simple: Contract Colorado.

Couldn't we just contract Dater? That might be easier.

Nothing builds a fan base like a Cup run

"The Predators have been consistently good for several years now, but the fans don’t care."

Dater also tries to portray Nashville as turning away from the Preds despite outstanding performance by the team, but what builds support in the broader community (and among corporate sponsors) is a strong playoff run, much like the Avalanche made to win the Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver (and again in 2001). While on-ice progress in Nashville was steady (albeit slow) during the first 5-6 years of the franchise, the Predators have yet to win a playoff series. All too often, the the playoff bandwagon has broken down before it even had a chance to get rolling. The only truly good team that had the chance to energize the general sports fan in Nashville was the 2006-7 squad that acquired Peter Forsberg at the trade deadline and contended for a first Central Division title.

All that energy went for naught, however, as a first-round playoff exit dashed the excitement of the time, and things got rapidly worse as Craig Leipold moved to sell the team, instructing David Poile to sell off the assets he'd so patiently built up over the years. Gone were Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun, Kimmo Timonen and a host of other talented players. Within a few weeks, the wind was completely taken out of the team's sails, and in terms of both on- and off-ice development, the franchise was set back by a number of years.

The good news, however, is that the leadership team was left intact, and the playbook that had proven successful in the past was still relevant to the current situation. Savvy draft picks (like Colin Wilson, who we'll see tonight for the first time), a focus on retaining core talent, and superior goaltending have the Predators heading in the right direction. This season also presents a unique opportunity, as the dominant local pro sports team, the NFL's Tennessee Titans, have flopped out of the gate to a stunning 0-5 start. Can these Preds make inroads with Nashville sports fans looking for a positive story this year? We'll find out...

Keep moving forward

The bottom line is that the new ownership group has brought a fresh perspective and new energy to the campaign to build a long-term NHL fan base in Nashville, and solid progress is being made. Over the last two seasons the team has basically broken even financially and grown attendance, while building new partnerships in the Nashville business community and taking creative approaches to reaching out to the general populace.

I'll stick with the folks working hard to build something positive and grow the game hockey, rather than the opinion-spinner who only has to throw ideas out there, not follow through on them with any kind of action or accomplishment.

Dater's not the first columnist to take a lazy, juvenile whack at Nashville as an NHL market, and I'm sure he won't be the last. It's sad that he can't find something more interesting to write about here in the early days of the hockey season, like the number of exciting rookies making an impact - which includes Matt Duchene right there in Denver.

When I first read his article, my initial response on Twitter went: "Come on, Dater. You're better than this." On second thought, however, I'm not so sure about that.