Hockey: Why Can't The NHL Just Keep It Canadian? Back in the mid-1960s, the National Hockey League was bullish about its prospects in the United States. Today, the expanded league is struggling to pick up Sun Belt fans in far-flung markets in the South and Southwest.
NPR logo

Hockey: Why Can't The NHL Just Keep It Canadian?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113077058/113107208" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Hockey: Why Can't The NHL Just Keep It Canadian?

Hockey: Why Can't The NHL Just Keep It Canadian?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113077058/113107208" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go now from center court to center ice. The National Hockey League is trying to keep the Phoenix Coyotes from moving to Canada. Our commentator Frank Deford says the NHL needs to let go.

FRANK DEFORD: Long ago, one evening in 1966, I was in a suite at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto with some folks from the National Hockey League. They were all feeling pretty heady. The league was about to double in size, an incursion into the United States that would take Canada's game as far south as Los Angeles. Since the NHL was a huge success in all its six franchise cities in Canada and the northern U.S., everybody was certain that great times must lie ahead in the expansion outpost.

Also, optimism was fueled by a bottle of good Canadian whiskey. When the last drop was consumed, someone tossed it onto the floor. Dead soldier, he said. An old coach pointed at the empty bottle and laughed. That'll be the National Basketball Association after we start next year. Of course, it didn't work out quite that way. Within a few years, Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Los Angeles franchise, would moan: They told me there were 300,000 Canadians who'd moved to Southern California. How was I to know that they were the 300,000 Canadians who didn't like hockey?

What the NHL found out is that it's hard to export a sport to where most residents are unfamiliar with the game. But the league has pressed on, forever sprinkling franchises into places like Miami and Nashville and Raleigh in a vain effort to be a fully national American television sport. It doesn't seem to do any good. NHL ratings are traditionally woeful, especially down South. The Phoenix Coyotes, largely unnoticed by the inhabitants of Arizona, have now gone bankrupt. A wealthy Canadian wants to pay almost a quarter of a billion dollars to buy a franchise that is worthless in the desert, and move it to Hamilton, Ontario, where it would be positively adored.

But the NHL is fighting in bankruptcy court to hold on to the Coyotes. What a shame. Look, it's no insult for a sport not to be appreciated everywhere. Pride and television are no match for love and cheers, and hockey is too good a game to be held up to ridicule just because its vainglorious patrons reach exceeds their grasp. The NHL should render unto Canada what is Canada's and let the Coyotes go to where they are wanted.

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford renders unto us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.