Saturday, January 19, 2008

 

In Praise of Tradition, Redux

To any who may have found their way to this site through this piece in the Edmonton Journal, welcome. The unabridged version of it can by found by clicking here. You'll have to skim through some other business at the top, including one curse word, but it is there. I hope you enjoy. Many thanks to the readers who suggested I submit the post, and many thanks to the Edmonton Journal for printing it.


***Update***

Bruce has shared some great memories in the comments section, and they inspired me to go look for some stuff on YouTube. Here are some neat clips of historic nights/events at the Coliseum. If people find any other cool clips, or have any stories they'd like to share, I'd love to see/hear them.

• Gretzky plays on a line with Gordie Howe against Moscow Dynamo.
• Gretzky scores his 50th goal in 39 games.
• Gretzky fights Neal Broten.
• Messier scores the tying goal in Game 3 of the 1984 Stanley Cup Finals.
• Fans sing the Canadian national anthem.
• A history of the Banners (which have been replaced).

Labels:


Comments:

Nice job, Grabia.
 


Hey, I thought you retired.
 


Great job, good to see you getting more press.



(Media whore)
 


You crazy nostalgist!

Remember when those buggers at Northlands tore down the Gardens?
No debate
No saving the facade
No outcry
No nuthin.
 


Great piece Andy, I honestly couldn't agree more. It's a damn shame they're talking about replacing one of the most intimate, storied arenas in the NHL.
 


Hey Andy, great piece in the Journal, thanks for the link to the unexpurgated original post with the interesting commentary. Missed it first time 'round.

I went to the Oil Kings game last night with an old friend who asked my opinion of the downtown arena proposal. We were both season ticket holders through the glory years and he is one to this day. (I miss the days of $8 tickets!)

My immediate response was that Northlands, er Rexall has one thing the new arena won't have for a long time if ever: a glorious history. I pointed to the 25 championship banners, all but two of them (the Oil Kings Mem Cups) won by teams that skated on the ice below them; and the 6 retired numbers of men who did likewise, including some of the greatest players in the history of the sport.

I spoke of a few personal Gretzky memories:

-- January 26, 1979,the 18th birthday party where "The Kid" signed a 21-year personal services contract at centre ice before the opening faceoff (vs. Cincinnati Stingers), with his parents and little brothers in toe, two cakes in the shape of 9s which added up to his age but spelled out both his famous number and the expiry date of his amazing new contract;

-- December 30, 1981, five goals in one game to cap an incredible 15-goal homestand that completed the incredible rush to 50 in 39, when the Great One was still just 20 years old;

-- May 19, 1984 when Gretzky opened the scoring with his 99th and 100th goals of the season and closed the night by lifting his first Stanley Cup, the first to be won by a western Canadian team in 59 years;

-- May 31, 1987 setting up Jari Kurri for the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7, then passing the Cup directly to Steve Smith

-- May 26, 1988, his last goal as an Oiler being a Stanley Cup winner, then organizing the now-traditional team picture in the maelstrom of post-game celebrations;

-- October 15, 1989, ten years to the week after his first NHL game, Gretzky now weearing black but still at home in Northlands, dramatically breaking Gordie Howe's points record by scoring the game-tying goal with the goalie on the bench; stopping the game for a ceremony featuring Gretzky, Howe and Oiler captain Mark Messier, now the three highest scorers in NHL history; then picking up where he left off by scoring in overtime to put his typical exclamation mark on another new record ...

I feel exceedingly fortunate to have been in the building on all of those occasions, plus countless other memories involving the Great One, his brilliant teammates, records galore, and I would suggest more historic moments than any other still-extant hockey arena in the world. I still feel it every time I walk through those doors and see those banners. The banners can be moved to a new building, sure, but they will seem as out of place as those two Oil Kings banners which belong but don't belong in their current place.

The proposed new building is expensive enough in 2008 dollars, but let's also measure the cost of abandoning our hockey shrine. As Joni Mitchell famously sang, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
 


Once again, the TEAM makes the arena, not the other way around. We cheer for the team, not the venue.
 


Once again, the TEAM makes the arena, not the other way around. We cheer for the team, not the venue.

Once again, what's your point?
 


the 18th birthday party where "The Kid" signed a 21-year personal services contract at centre ice before the opening faceoff (vs. Cincinnati Stingers)

Were Messier and Gartner still Stingers then, or were they already on the Oilers and Caps?
 


Were Messier and Gartner still Stingers then, or were they already on the Oilers and Caps?

They were still Stingers, in fact my treasured game program records them both setting up a goal by Rick Dudley, while Gretzky assisted on one by Dave Langevin. Three of the greatest scorers in NHL history, all cutting their teeth as teenagers in the WHA. It was quite the time. (The real scoring star of that game was Robbie Ftorek with a hat trick in a 5-2 Stingers win.) Gartner wore the #11 that they both later made famous, while Messier, more recently acquired from Indianapolis, wore #27. And to complete the numerical trivia from that scoring play, in later years Dudley would become one of two non-Gretzkys to briefly wear #99 in the NHL, Wilf Paiement being the other.

It was only after the merger that fall that Washington and Edmonton drafted Gartner and Messier, 4th and 48th overall respectively.
 


Congrats, Andy. A wonderful piece all around. The legacy of hockey, I think, is one of respect. We can do no less than to show respect for hockey's history.

And now back to rabidly partisan blogging.

Go Flames!
 


That's a great story, Bruce. Thanks for sharing. I found some cool clips on YouTube, and have put them up on the main page. Have a look. I was ten at the time, but I remember that Messier goal against the Islanders. Messier avoided Potvin altogether, and went right at the lesser Dineen. It's not my first Oiler memory, though. I remember earlier games, including both the Miracle on Manchester (arena is gone, btw), and Game 4 of the SCF in 83. That image of Coffey sitting in the bench doorway...uggh. I don't remember the upset against the Habs at all, so 82 must be my starting point.
 


Nicely done, Andy. And it looked great in the print edition.
 


Hey Andy, you're welcome, those are stories that should be shared, and certainly need to be remembered whether we save our heritage building or not. Here's a couple more for you:

My own starting point was way back in the spring of 1963, and that fall I went to my first live game, an exhibition at Edmonton Gardens between the Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs (yeah, I'm THAT old!) and the San Francisco Seals of the WHL. It was a training camp barnstorming tour as the boys played their way into shape and gave their western fans a little treat.

But while I saw many NHL superstars past and future in the Gardens and later the Coliseum in the WHA, I never saw an actual NHL game until October 13, 1979, at Northlands Coliseum. Detroit Red Wings at Edmonton Oilers, the first home game after the merger/expansion/pillage.

It was my 24th birthday and it was my best present ever. I think it was no coincidence that the scheduled opponent was the Red Wings who traditionally had had an affiliation with the old Edmonton Flyers, but from my perspective it was a fairly remarkable coincidence that 24 years previously both had won their (last) league championships as the Red Wing organization stood on top of the hockey world. (Those were the Flyers of Glenn Hall, Bronco Horvath and Norm Ullman, and the Red Wings of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly and Terry Sawchuk.)

The game was delayed about an hour as the Red Wings had trouble with their flight, but eventually it got underway. B.J. MacDonald scored the first goal, but the Red Wings took a 3-2 lead into the dying minutes before Mark Messier became the unexpected hero by notching the tying goal. A bit of a fluke deflection, but no matter: his first NHL goal, and it was a big one.

Well, after waiting 24 years for my first game I had to wait 24 hours for my second; the next night the visitors were the Vancouver Canucks, and again the Oilers tied it very late, with the goalie on the bench in fact. This time the hero was Wayne Gretzky with his first NHL goal, also a big one.

First two NHL games in the history of Northlands Coliseum, and two 18-year-olds scoring their first of many, many goals to send Edmonton fans home happy. By the time these opening-game heroes retired decades later, they ranked first and second on the all-time NHL points list and very high on the list of all-time hockey heroes.

I know you can't bring back the Good Ole Days, but that building is our most direct connection to some of the greatest moments in hockey. I for one am in no hurry to decommission it.
 


Come on fellows. If Mapleleaf Gardens and the fabled Forum can be moved from, surely a ugly cement eyesore can be moved out of. Memories are great, but it seems that the Oilers fans and Leafs fans are the biggest "pastlivers". Maybe cause its the perpetual crappy state of the "contending" Leafs or the always "rebuilding" Oilers teams of the last years. In my mind, if Edmonton doesnt build a new rink, the franchise will be gone within 10 years. Again, its about corporate dollars these days, and Edmonton cannot compete with a new financially structured league.
 


In my mind, if Edmonton doesnt build a new rink, the franchise will be gone within 10 years.

You are wrong.

Edmonton has almost doubled its size in 25 years, and the market for hockey has only increased. The Oilers make plenty of money here. Saying that 40 luxury boxes ($10 million in more revenue) will make the difference is ridiculous.

Rexall is good for 50 years, and likely more with a cheap renovation.
 


In my mind, if Edmonton doesnt build a new rink, the franchise will be gone within 10 years. Again, its about corporate dollars these days, and Edmonton cannot compete with a new financially structured league.

I'm not an economist, but since that doesn't appear to be a prerequisite in this debate, I'll just lob out the possibility that there are other ways for this franchise to generate revenue. There's obviously a huge fan base that will tolerate this team's inadequacies to an extreme degree. Is that being exploited to the fullest? Is there an "Oilers TV"? Is there an "Oilers Central" bar or restaurant? Are there "Oil Country" tours and road trip packages? I'd need to look at the CBA again, but I believe those ideas are also excluded from revenue sharing schemes.

That's just a few ideas, which I cribbed from the Red Sox. Fenway Park is much smaller than most stadiums in MLB, so the Red Sox have had to get creative with revenue generating ideas. It's the same thing here. Get creative. It's not going to be exactly the same, but the point is that it's terribly lazy to just decide to build a new stadium every ten years because the revenue stream from the last one has been tapped out. In fact, I'd argue that it's a league-wide problem. Too much reliance on gates.
 


By the way, the "team will leave unless we build a new stadium" argument is so 1995.
 


Although Boston proper has a population of about 600,000, its metropolitan area contains about 4 times ours (4,000,000). Thus getting back to the fact that Edmonton is for all purposes a small market team in the real world of the NHL. There's only so much we can do within the market we have to work with.

I can tell you that the Oilers are constantly looking to find ways to maximize revenue. They are certainly open to just about everything. Having said that, they know they have also pretty much maximized their revenue potential in the Edmonton market. There's only so many people here who will spend money on the team and anything to do with it. And in the case of Fenway in Boston, about 1/4 as many potential fans to work with. How many home games do they (Boston) have to work with by the way?

We know the team is profitable, and has likely been for a while. From all accounts (gleaned mostly from reading some very excellent Oiler blogs such as yours), I figure they're making in the neighborhood of $3-4 million a year. So, lets say the cap is $10-15 million higher in ten years. You see where I'm going with this don't you?

Look man, I totally appreciate your sentiments and I congratulate you on breaching the barrier with the MSM. But emotion isn't going to pay the freight in a few years time. And neither will $500 single seats in the blue section of Rexall.

Crosby!
 


But emotion isn't going to pay the freight in a few years time. And neither will $500 single seats in the blue section of Rexall.

So now it is about keeping the team here? I haven't even heard the EIG float that one. I thought it wasn't about the arena at all. I thought it was about economic development and moving up the global urban food chain?

So, lets say the cap is $10-15 million higher in ten years. You see where I'm going with this don't you?

This CBA doesn't last for ten years. Furthermore, isn't the whole point of this one that the salaries are tied to revenue? You see where I'm going with this don't you? :)
 


Oh, and I think the idea of not knocking down one of the last hockey shrines in North America is a pretty compelling argument, one that speaks to the best interests of the sport. But if this city wants to join every other dumb town that has knocked down its history to put up some atrocity that's out of fashion and lacking in space the moment it's opened, so be it. Now that I think about it, it wouldn't be the first time this city has tried to hide its low self-esteem through terrible facelifts.
 


"So now it is about keeping the team here?"

I never said that. Its just that there's certain financial realities that seem to be conveniently shelved with this line of thought. If you have any ideas as to how these can be addressed, I'd love to hear them. I know you mentioned a few things above, but they are not likely to provide the amount of revenue that will be ultimately be needed. Remember, the team still wants to be profitable at the end of the day. Its still a business after all.

"I thought it was about economic development and moving up the global urban food chain?"

Well, to a certain extent, it is. And what's wrong with that? As long as private financing can shoulder most of the burden, then we might have something positive for the city. The GUFC thing was an extension of the argument on your part I believe.

"Furthermore, isn't the whole point of this one that the salaries are tied to revenue?"

Yup. Of the league, not the Oilers. And teams that have plans that cover future contingencies will have greater revenue possibilities. Yeah, I may be a little out of my league on this one as you guys really know about this stuff. But I would submit some larger market teams are very profitable and will continue to be, skewing the average way up.

Hey look. I get where you're coming from. But your entire argument, while very well written, is coming from an entirely emotional viewpoint. I just can't see costs not escalating over the next ten years. Jeez, PJO posted up the latest Oilers survey that pretty clearly shows ticket prices are going to rise next year.
 


Hell of an article Andy. I gotta get myself to Edmonton for a game someday before the arena goes.
 


Once again, the TEAM makes the arena, not the other way around. We cheer for the team, not the venue.




This ain't the 80's anymore. There are no dynasties, there are 30 teams, and Sidney Crosby (Crosby!) doesn't play in Edmonton. It could take decades for the "new arena" to have even a fraction of the history that rexall does.
 


But I would submit some larger market teams are very profitable and will continue to be, skewing the average way up.

Edmonton is a large market NHL team. In the Staples' story today Cal Nichols says that "the Oilers revenues are now higher than the Forbes estimates, with the team sixth overall when it comes to gate receipts and likely close to the top 10 when it comes to overall revenue."

Good to see Mason back shilling his terrible idea in that story, by the way. Arena by itself? No. Arena put beside condos? Nirvana! Just condos? Completely ignored. Also notice the use of public funds slipping back into the argument. Mason doesn't have a view on this, though. No, no. He's probably been misquoted again. Poor guy.
 


"Edmonton is a large market NHL team."

Aughhhh! (head in hands)

In TODAY'S market. Where we have a ridiculously perfect, bad-ass economy. More like Edmonton is a small-market team generating big-market revenues - for the time being. And once you get used to eating steak every day...

I'm totally with you on the public/private financing thing. But, ya gotta know there will be an attempt at that pot. Hey - they have to try right?

Gawd I hope Katz buys this team. SOON. Guess we'll know about the latest offer this coming week huh?
 


BTW- That Staples article you pointed out today is like a live report from weasel-palooza.
 


In Columbus, Nationwide Insurance built the rink and redeveloped the surrounding 95-acre area at a cost of only $32.5 million to the city in the form of infrastructure upgrades, Mason says. "When you think about how much the South Edmonton Common interchange is going to cost, it's peanuts."

You know, I read Dan Mason's defence of himself here and I felt kind of bad for taking some cheapshots at him, particularly when there are so many easy points to score on the merits of this argument. The quote above is a perfect example.

I don't know whether he was taken out of context here or what, but that's a ludicrous argument. The one, quite simply, has nothing to do with the other and it's misleading to imply that it does by making a statement like that. You know what else would cost less than the South Edmonton Common interchange? Cutting me a cheque for $30MM. That still doesn't make it good public policy though and that's the proper test to be applying here.

The reason that I wonder about Mason's credentials is because he makes statements like this. I'm willing to believe that he's not a dumb guy; I'm willing to believe that he knows better than the quote he's given. So when I read that quote, what am I to think? I see two options: a) he's dumb (not likely), b) he's unqualified (possible) or c) he's advocating for a certain outcome. c) is probably the most favourable to his position.
 


From Staples' blog...

"P.S. Remember, whenever anyone complains about the mainstream media from now on, Grabia is now part of the big, voracious, soul-swallowing corporate machine. :)"

Heh heh
 


I agree with David. Edmonton is a small market team generating bigmarket dollars. I also think that if Edmonton sticks with the present building, the team will be gone as soon as.
A. The economy falters
B. Salary-cap rises to a level which takes the profit from the investors or Katz.
With a new building, at least the Oilers could secure themselves against a relocation. Say in 2013 the salary cap is 68 mil. And the Oilers are either playing at the bottom of the list and suffering on the ice for it, or then maxed out and losing money. If say Oklahoma comes calling with a new 20,000 seat building, 16,000 season tickets sold and every luxury box sold, the Oilers are gone.
With a new building, at least the somewhat unbandwagony fans of the Oilers would still most likely sell out the games, which would make moving much more difficult.
On a final note, Rexall might be a hockey shrine to Oiler fans, but it somewhat of an abnormality to the rest of the NHL fans across Canada. I for one think that the 80's Oilers were awesome and really something that almost can never be repeated anywhere, but for some reason I do not hold the Oilers teams in any reverence compared to the Canadians, Leafs and so on. Maybe there is lots of history there, but it happened to fast to be looked upon as a "hockey shrine". So with that said, tear it down and secure the future. Nothing would be worse than losing another Canadian team to a country which cleary does not deserve it...
 


In TODAY'S market.

And tomorrow's. Hockey is big here, possibly bigger than anywhere. With a city of a million there will always be a market for hockey.
 


If say Oklahoma comes calling with a new 20,000 seat building, 16,000 season tickets sold and every luxury box sold, the Oilers are gone.

Hockey mania in Oklahoma. Yeah, this seems like a risk worth insuring ourselves against at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars (and who knows whether a new building would be enough?).

Thank God Anonymous is here to make the devastating economic arguments.
 


"And tomorrow's. Hockey is big here, possibly bigger than anywhere. With a city of a million there will always be a market for hockey."

This is where somebody re-posts that Candy Mountain video..."Shun the non-believer!" Haha!

BTW - good to see the boys at the beginning of another five game winning streak. That kiddie line is starting to bring home the bacon!
 


Nothing would be worse than losing another Canadian team to a country which cleary does not deserve it...

While I'm willing to concede that Cleary doesn't deserve anything, I'm unwilling to buy the argument that the NHL will lose another Canadian team. Unless it's Ottawa. :)

Say in 2013 the salary cap is 68 mil.

Say in 2013 it's $1 dollar. It's equally feasible when one fails to offer a shred of evidence.

More like Edmonton is a small-market team generating big-market revenues - for the time being.

Hey, let's put a team in Jakarta, then. According to your measure of market size (population), they are a big market team. They'll be super successful, right? Same goes for Miami and Atlanta. Huge markets, those places.
 


*sigh*
 


Anonymous guy again. There is no evidence I suppose. I just think though that for Edmonton to cement themselves into Edmonton, a new rink MUST be built.
Its an obviously touchy subject with you guys though, so i'll let it be. I hope that Edmonton is always around in the NHL. So thats that,
Good night
 


Anonymous had to go get in line to buy season tickets for the last team we "cemented in" with a new building. Go Trappers!
 


I also think that if Edmonton sticks with the present building, the team will be gone as soon as.
A. The economy falters
B. Salary-cap rises to a level which takes the profit from the investors or Katz.


What I don't understand is this Field of Dream-esque "If you build it, they (revenues) will come" mentality. Say we sink $30 mill on a new arena (partially funded by taxpayers) and the economy falters. Will the fact that the arena is new make people more likely to attend games. If the owner (Katz or whoever) has to sell because salary cap rise to the point that it dries up liquidity or he ran out of cash, does sinking all this money to build an arena from scratch beforehand make them likely to buckle up and stay. I just don't understand how a new arena will alter people's choices on the strength that it's NEW. If money is tight, it's tight. A new arena will not be part of the decision process.

I mean, I see that you can get lucrative revenue through luxury boxes. But that doesn't offset the cost of building an arena from scratch. Especially not within the lifespan of the current CBA.

Now, I admit that there are some flaws in the Fenway-Rexall parallel. In that the Sox ticket sale benefit a lot from tourists and they have a longer history to build on. Okay. But the Oilers will not have a chance to build a history of that scale if we keep tearing things down every 20 years. There will be growing pains. There will be a twilight zone where it's not old enough for the building/franchise to be historic, and not young enough to be young. But that a phase that will pass.

As for the design aesthetics of Rexall. Yeah, it looks ugly compare to modern standards. But who is to say a 2010 design will be looked on favorably in the eyes of future generations. Designs go in and out of vogue. Had we torn down everything, New York city will not have so many (pricey) pre-war brownstones, Boston will not have its unique triple-deckers. Also, the innards of Rexall is good. If you're looking for a face lift, you can easily do an extension-renovation that incorporates the current building structure. Get a big name designer and do something like what Daniel Libeskind to the Royal Ontario Museum. (Except don't hire Daniel Libeskind, because he's probably too expensive and that ROM crystal is kinda unfortunate looking.)
 


It's a shame that a thread that should have been about giving Andy some credit has devolved into another muck up over the arena. Not surprising, though.

I have to admit I'm very confused about this whole market size thing. I'd take a small market that can sell tickets even when the team is underperforming over a big market that can't even when the does well. (New Jersey, for example.) If the oil money dries up in the next few years (US recession + royalty changes = good possibility) then ticket sales might take a hit, but as someone else mentioned, if the economy is in trouble are people really going to be pulled in by a pretty building? I could see the opposite happening, actually, where casual fines adopt a screw-them attitude at an organization that spent a big chunk of public money on an unnecessary building.
 

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