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Grand Ole Hockey

This was originally going to go into the last post, but it got long enough that it deserves its own.

I mentioned that Matt Donovan of the Dallas Stars committed to Denver. I find it interesting that this news came on the same day that it was announced that the Nashville Predators were sold, essentially becoming the final nail in the coffin for hockey in Nashville. After next season, the Predators will likely be playing hockey somewhere north of the border.

How are the two related? Dallas provides a perfect example of everything the NHL's much-maligned southern expansion can be, and could be.

The Stars moved from Minnesota to Dallas for the 1993-1994 season. It was a tough loss for Minnesota, but in all honesty, Minnesota didn't really need a pro team for hockey to thrive in the state. Dallas on the other hand didn't have much in the way of hockey infrastructure.

It was slow moving, but as the Stars became successful, more rinks were built and more kids started playing hockey. In 2001-2002, as some the first generation of young Stars fans grew, the Dallas Stars AAA program started. Since then, the program has sent dozens of players on to junior hockey, and a few on to the Division I collegiate level. The status of the program has grown to the point that players are now committing to colleges straight from the Stars program.

Dallas is slowly becoming a hockey hotbed. Other than David McKee, Texas' impact on the hockey world hasn't necessarily been felt on the NHL level, but that looks likely to change soon with some of the young players currently playing in Texas.

Nashville hasn't had the same success with junior hockey as Dallas. Nashville has really only produced one major prospect in Blake Geoffrion, and he can be considered an anamoly due to his bloodlines. Though the Predators have only been in existence for 9 seasons, and haven't really had any playoff success to really energize the city and get them excited about hockey.

Nashville struggled to draw decent crowds, and if they move to Ontario, as is being rumored, they'll likely make more money. But in the long run, which place would be better for the sport? Which place will grow the game more? Ontario is probably pretty close to maximizing their potential in terms of developing hockey players. Nashville is no where near maximizing their potential to produce quality hockey players. Without an NHL team in Nashville, chances are much greater that the next potential NHL star will choose to play football, or baseball, or God forbid, soccer, instead of hockey.

The biggest problem facing the NHL today is a lack of skill players. Watching a boring clutch and grab style of hockey is no fun to watch. So how do you get more exceptionally athletes? You get them by expanding to untapped areas and finding more exceptionally gifted athletes. You can't do it by cramming another team into a country of only 31 million people. There just aren't enough people to produce that many great athletes.

So on the surface, Nashville losing a team may only look bad for the 50 diehard Predators fan out there. But seeing hockey fail in such an untapped market is bad for hockey fans all over the world.