Howard Baldwin, for better or worse, refuses to acknowledge the longshot (an understatement frankly) chances Hartford has of ever landing another NHL franchise. Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs has a column today in which Baldwin says this of next year:
“I’m absolutely adamant next year that our average attendance is closer to 10,000,” Baldwin said. “We should lead the league. We’ve got a good building. We’ve got a good market. I’d be pissed off if we didn’t lead the AHL in attendance. I’m sorry, but that’s the way I feel.”
Jacobs says he skeptical, I personally burst out laughing when I read the predictions. After all, the Whale only managed to attract 4.514 fans to their must-win Saturday night game 6 against the Portland Pirates (coached by former Whaler Kevin Dineen). Furthermore;
We can tell you Baldwin returned to Hartford with a bang last year. He had a plan to rebuild hockey in the market with a long-term view of bringing back the NHL. He scored some substantive gains, absorbed some pocket losses and, all in all, pushed the puck down the rink in a positive direction. The Whale improved from an average attendance of 4,188 in 2009-2010 — 18th in the league — to 5,695 and 12th. What those numbers do not show is that if you remove the announced outdoor game crowd of 21,673, the average of the remaining 39 is 5,285. Then again, the Wolf Pack averaged 3,466 the first 11 games and the Whale averaged 6,540 in the final 29 after rebranding. So take your pick.
It should also be noted that the outdoor game’s actual attendance was far lower than what was announced. While the attendance numbers are nice, I’m still not convinced they’re anything more than curiosity/hopes for an NHL return. I’ll call Baldwin’s quest a success if he keeps the numbers up after a few more years when the novelty of Pucky wears off.
To say Baldwin is unhappy with last season’s schedule is an understatement. He also had the misfortune of a number of games on nights with the Fiesta Bowl, Super Bowl, Big East tournament, NCAA Tournament… I actually attended the Whale’s game that was pushed up to five from seven to allow fans to watch the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s day. Unfortunately the fact that the Whale are forced to compete with–and lose to–these other sporting events says something. Namely, the market will come out only if there’s nothing else to do. I am however curious about this bit;
Baldwin said he expects “really good” announcements on both radio and TV broadcasts in the next 30-45 days. This could open eyes. Baldwin isn’t thinking small. Asked what AHL team has the best blueprint to copy, for instance, he responded, “The NHL Whalers from the Eighties.”