Friday, July 31, 2009

Scouts Notes: December 1975

December of ’75 saw the last of the border-line respectable hockey that the Scouts played before the unimaginable collapse in the second half. At the end of the month, their record stood at 11-22-4 (.338). They’d played 37 of the season’s 80 games, which put them on pace to win 12.8 more; instead they managed just one in the remaining 43 games. Unbelievable.

Mike Baumgartner’s NHL career consisted of just 17 games, all with the Scouts early in the ’74-’75 season. On December 14, 1974, Baumgartner took a slap shot in the face. By early December of ’75, Baumgartner was forced to give up any hope of returning to hockey, and Ken Rudnick penned this piece for the Star:

The month opened with what may have been the finest win in Scouts history, as they managed to beat the mighty Canadiens 6-5. Wilf Paiement recorded the only hat trick in team history. The Canadiens entered the day with a six game winning streak and an imposing 18-4-3 record. They would cap their season with a Stanley Cup while going 12-1 in the playoffs. Ken Dryden had been the goaltender for the six straight wins, and coach Scotty Bowman decided to rest him for what he must have thought would be an easy win at Kemper Arena. So Michel Larocque got the start for the Habs, and was blitzed for goals from Robin Burns, Craig Patrick and Paiement in the first eight minutes. The Canadiens managed to right the ship after that, but the damage was done, and the Scouts hung on for the win. The two wins the Scouts enjoyed in Boston rank right up there with this one, but the fact that this one came at home and with the bonus of Paiement’s hat trick make it arguably their finest night. Robin Burns thought so: “This has to be the biggest win we’ve had in our two years. For the players, fans, everybody.” (12/4/75 Star) Coach Bep Guidolin got a little excited on the bench: “I didn’t know how to change lines. It was like being high on something, it was like, well, I don’t know, like out of sight.” (12/5/75 Star)

Defenseman Gary Bergman was the grizzled veteran of the ’75-’76 Scouts. Ken Rudnick had this piece in the December 11th Times on Bergman fighting through one last year:

On the 16th, Rudnick had this to say about the Scouts’ netminding stalwart Denis Herron:

After a 4-1 win against the Red Wings on the 19th, the Scouts had an impressive 7-6-2 record at home for the year, but would manage only one more victory in the remaining 25 home dates.

The sports editor at the Kansas City Star during the mid-’70s was Joe McGuff. He was an institution in the Kansas City sports scene, and his “Sporting Comment” column covered all aspects of KC sports. Here are three articles from McGuff that appeared in December ’75; the first focuses on Wilf Paiement after his hat trick, the second on Guy Charron’s stellar play, and the third is a wrap-up of Kansas City sports happenings in 1975. The last one doesn’t touch on the Scouts much, but is a good read for those interested in Kansas City sports history in general:

On the 28th, the Scouts visited one of their favorite foes, the California Golden Seals. The Scouts skated to a 3-1 victory. Here is what the standings looked like the next morning:

The top three teams in each division made the playoffs, and the Scouts where just one point behind third place St. Louis. They would end the season 36 points behind the Blues and a playoff berth. I have no idea what caused such a monumental collapse; hopefully I’ll have a better idea once I’ve read through the microfilm for the remainder of the season. (The Scouts relative success through the first half of the season seems to have rested on outstanding goaltending from Denis Herron and the scoring of a very small group of forwards. To hazard a guess, perhaps I’ll find that Herron’s play fell off slightly and the top forwards cooled off in the second half.)

Alan Eagleson was the head of the NHLPA at the time, and made waves by proclaiming six NHL franchises were “shaky” in terms of viability. He named Kansas City, Washington, Minnesota, Atlanta, California and Detroit as the weak franchises, and proposed consolidating them to four teams. The Scouts were forced to refute the claim, though the front office by this time had to be pulling their hair out behind the scenes. “‘The Scouts are not shaky, definitely,’ said Ed Thompson, president of the Scouts. ‘Alan Eagleson should stick to his law business and stay out of things he knows little about.’…‘Sid Abel, Scouts general manager, was equally emphatic…‘There’s no worry as far as we’re concerned.’” (12/3/75 Times)

The Scouts went 5-9-0 (.357) for the month, and drew an average of just 7,809 for the six home games.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Quick Links

  • From the Hamilton Spectator:
    Speculation in NHL circles suggests league executives have been working to find prospective owners to buy and move the (Coyotes) to Kansas City, Las Vegas or even Winnipeg.

    They want to block any move to Hamilton because relocating the Coyotes kills the promise of a huge expansion fee for a second team in southern Ontario.
    There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support those statements, so I wouldn’t put much stock in them.

  • A long interview with Islanders owner Charles Wang in which Kansas City is brought up numerous times. Wang says he plans to be in KC for the preseason game September 22nd. He also repeatedly says that if the Lighthouse Project (which would include a new rink for the Isles) is not approved by October 3rd, all options will be open. Maybe the most interesting part of the conversation to me was when the host asks if Wang would be interested in owning a team that is located somewhere other than Long Island; I’ve always assumed he wouldn’t, but he indicates he may like to stay in the league even if the Islanders relocate. Of course, everything coming out of Wang’s mouth right now is calculated to put pressure on the powers that be to approve the Lighthouse Project.

  • Don’t forget to get your tickets to go hang out with Charles on September 22nd.

Scouts Notes: November 1975

November of ’75 got off to a rough start for the Scouts, getting shutout first in Toronto and then in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, they were not merely shutout, but completely blown out of the water by the score of 10-0 (an identical score to a game in Philadelphia the previous season). This ended a brutal five game losing streak in which the Scouts were shutout four times and outscored by a total of 25-2. The streak came to an end with a 3-2 home victory over the Golden Seals on the 5th.

After that game, the Scouts power-play stood at a dismal 3 for 63 (4.86%). It improved to 13.07% by the end of the season, but special teams were abysmal all year: they finished dead last in both power-play percentage and penalty-kill percentage (72.88%).

After earning a tie against the Maple Leafs at home in their next game, the Scouts embarked on a seven game road trip. The American Royal rodeo kept them out of Kemper for 20 days. They earned three points in the seven games by virtue of a victory against the Rangers and a tie in St. Louis. The Rangers were in the midst of intense upheaval; stars Derek Sanderson, Gilles Villemure, Eddie Giacomin, Brad Park and Jean Ratelle had all recently been shipped out, and Phil Esposito was still brand new in town after a blockbuster trade with the Bruins. After the Scouts scored their sixth goal in their 6-4 victory, Rangers fans rained down chants of “Ed-die, Ed-die” in protest of the Rangers shipping their beloved goaltender Giacomin out of town. Rangers goaltender Dunc Wilson flipped them the bird.

Guy Charron and Denis Herron seem to be the only Scouts who played decently early on in the season. Herron couldn’t get many victories, but he got a lot of credit from the press for impressive play and keeping the Scouts in games they otherwise didn’t deserve to be. Wilf Paiement started the year ice cold. He told the Star, “I’m not relaxed like I was last year. I can’t sleep.” He broke out if it towards the end of November (but then missed the last two months of the year with an injury).

The team returned home on Thanksgiving, November 27th, to host the Blues. The Scouts treated captain Simon Nolet to a 3-2 victory on his 34th birthday, and fans were treated(?) to a performance by the Hudson Brothers after the game.

The Scouts record for the month was 3-8-3 (.321), and attendance for the four home games averaged 8,167.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Playing With Attendance Numbers

I finally came across some league-wide attendance numbers for the two seasons the Scouts played: The average attendance at an NHL game was 13,224 in 1974-75 and 12,644 in75-76. This helps put the Scouts attendance of 8,529 in 74-75 in better perspective (I don’t have a number for ’75-’76 yet). That means the Scouts drew only 64% of the league average in their first year. That is the equivalent of drawing 11,261 fans per game in 2008-’09, or 2,512 fewer than the Islanders’ league-worst 13,773 average last season. Which sounds pretty bad. Because it is. But of course, countless conditions have changed in the last 30 years.

Perhaps most importantly, the KC metro population has grown from 1.4 million in 1976 to 2 million today, a 143% increase. That projects as an additional 3,667 butts in seats per game. Add that to the above 11,261 number, and you get an average of 14,928 per game. That would have ranked 28th in the NHL last season, ahead of Phoenix, Atlanta and the Islanders.

League-wide attendance increases over the last 30+ years are due in no small part to population increases in NHL towns, so it’s probably double-dipping to increase Scouts attendance numbers by both league attendance trends and KC population trends. Another potential factor is that the Scouts were competing for sports fans’ dollars with the NBA Kansas City Kings at the time, something a team of today wouldn’t have to contend with. For those and many other reasons, the above numbers are mostly useless to project what the reality would be if Kansas City were to gain an NHL franchiseI just thought they were interesting to play with.

In the end, how an NHL team would draw in Kansas City today doesn’t have a lot to do with how the Scouts, Blades or Outlaws drew, or how the Mavericks will draw. Attracting a respectable number of fans would rely primarily on how successful the team was on the ice (which is why an expansion franchise might be on shaky footing until/unless they start winning). Secondarily, it would take strong, patient ownership that was dedicated to a long-term goal of making the NHL stick in Kansas City. Thirdly, the team would have to be innovatively and aggressively marketed. The Scouts had none of those things going for them.

This chart shows just how brutal Scouts attendance was. I'm missing numbers from four games, but in the 36 games I do have, the Scouts only had an NHL average crowd twice in their entire first season. Almost makes you sympathetic towards owner Ed Thompson for bailing after two years.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The AHL Not In Kansas City

My original intent for this blog was to focus solely on the past and future of the NHL in Kansas City. But the more Ive thought about it since starting this blog, the more I think that the AHL would be a fantastic fit for Kansas City, and the more confused I get about why the AHL in KC is never even brought up as a possibility.

PucKChaser has already covered this, but it was announced that Oklahoma City is leaving the CHL, apparently to clear the way for the Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate to begin play there in 2010.

Why does Kansas City not even
gett a sniff from the Oilers, or other teams that have relocated recently? Like PucKChaser, Im left to guess that AEG has no interest in putting AHL hockey in the Sprint Center. Which baffles me. I can certainly understand if their top priority is to go for the best, and get an NHL or NBA team. But I dont think that goal is mutually exclusive with a secondary goal of landing an AHL team in the meantime. In fact, I would think an AHL team would help the cause.

KC has what would surely be one of the nicest arenas in the
AHL, and a populace dying for sporting events to attend in it. And while KC would rank near the bottom in population as an NHL team, we would be the fourth largest US market in the A.

s a look at AHL markets in the US, with Oklahoma City and KC thrown in (metropolitan populations have been used where possible):