Saturday, 4 September 2010

City Of Various Pro Levels

Unknowingly as I dressed this morning for another day of travels on the open road through the United States of America, I happened to don the t-shirt sporting the logo of the defunct Colorado Rockies. My travels took me to Kansas City today where I am writing this article. How do those two things relate? Well, a gentleman approached me in my restaurant of choice, and informed me that the team I was wearing once played in Kansas City. While I let him regale me with the tales of how the Scouts moved to Denver to become Rockies before moving to East Rutherford, New Jersey to become the Devils, I realized that there have been various levels of pro hockey through Kansas City. And some teams actually did much better than the NHL team that once called this city home.

We'll start with the NHL era in Kansas City.

Kansas City was awarded a franchise in the last wave of NHL expansion to try to curb the WHA's growth. Along with Kansas City, a franchise was awarded to Washington, DC to begin play in 1974. June 8, 1972 was the day that the NHL came knocking on Kansas City's door, and Kemper Arena was built to house both the Scouts and the NBA's Kansas City Kings. The Scouts would eventually play in the Smythe Division as the NHL expanded to four divisions in 1974 when both Washington and Kansas City began play.

The team was originally going to be called the Mohawks - "Mo" from the Missouri postal abbreviation, and "Hawks" from Kansas' affinity to JayHawks. The Chicago Blackhawks put a stop to that name, stating that there was too much similarity between their name and the new Kansas City team name. Instead, the team chose "Scouts" in honour of the scout statue that overlooks the city. The logo reflected the statue as well, and it was nice to see hockey trying to honour the Native American peoples from this area once again.

This is where the good news ended for the Scouts franchise. The 1974-75 season ended in disappointment as there was little talent to draw from considering there were 32 NHL and WHA teams. The Scouts finished the season with a 15-54-11 record, good for fifth-place in the Smythe Division, but out of the playoffs. Wilf Paiement was a rookie for the Scouts in 1974-75, and he'd go on to have a solid NHL career. Captain Simon Nolet was named to the Campbell Conference All-Star Team, and head coach Bep Guidolin was called upon to coach the Wales Conference All-Star Team.

For as bad as their first season was, the Scouts were worse in their second season of existence. After starting the season respectably, the Scouts found themselves one point out of a playoff spot at Christmas. And then the wheels came off. And there was a fiery crash and burn. And nothing remained that was salvageable.

The Scouts went winless in sixteen games from December 30, 1975 until February 4, 1976 before defeating the Washington Capitals on Feburary 7. They then pulled off the nearly-impossible by going winless in their next twenty-seven games. All in all, the Scouts managed to go 1-35-8 in their final forty-four games to post a pitiful record of 12-56-12. Just one of the Scouts players and staff - Wilf Paiement - was called upon for the NHL All-Star Game, an indication of just how bad it was in 1975-76.

While both the Capitals and Scouts were pitiful excuses for professional hockey teams in their early goings, the Scouts also had problems drawing fans to their new 17,000-seat arena. They were averaging only about 8200 fans per game, and rising salaries were making the Scouts' bottom line look less and less appeaing. The 37 owners of the team decided to go on a massive season ticket campaign, but it only drew 2000 people to purchase season ducats. All said, they decided to sell the team to save their financial interests.

In two seasons in the NHL, the Scouts posted a record of 27-110-23 in 160 NHL games - hardly what NHL dreams are made of. They finished dead last in the Smythe Division both years, and twice had the second overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Wilf Paiement was their choice in 1974, and Barry Dean was the only other draft choice made by the Kansas City Scouts.

While the citizens and hockey fans of Kansas City would have to wait a few years for another hockey franchise to arrive, the IHL granted a franchise to the city in 1990, and it turned out to be a fairly successful run for Kansas City.

The suspended franchise of the Toledo Blades was purchased and moved to Kansas City by Russ and Diane Ross. While a "Name the Team" contest was held and ultimately chose the new team name as "Jazz", the Rosses rejected the name since there was already a "Jazz" team in Utah. The second most-popular choice was the Blades, and the Rosses stuck with that name. Thus, the Kansas City Blades were born!

In 1991, the Blades struck a deal with the San Jose Sharks to be their primary minor-league affiliate, and the Sharks would regularly stock the Blades with their up-and-coming players. This influx of talent into the Blades' lineup proved successful as the Blades went on to capture the 1991-92 Turner Cup under the tutelage of former NHL head coach Kevin Constantine. While the Blades would fall short in coming seasons, the 1991-92 team is still the only hockey franchise to bring back a championship on the ice to Kansas City.

Through pressure from the NHL to have its franchises align themselves with AHL teams as their primary affilates, the Blades and Sharks parted ways. During this same time, the Rosses decided to sell the team to the DeVos family. The DeVos clan also owned stakes in the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Orlando Solar Bears in the IHL, and a few owners felt that the DeVos family might be bordering on "conflict of interest". In 2001, the DeVos famly was involved with four of the eleven IHL teams!

The DeVos family didn't market themselves very well amongst the Blades' longtime fans. Changes were constant, and none seemed to bring back fans to Kemper Arena. After several seasons of losing money, the DeVos family looked at relocating the team to Oklahoma City which only further killed their popularity in Kansas City.

The move to Oklahoma City was blocked after the owners of the CHL's Oklahoma City Blazers refused to abandon their stake in Oklahoma City, and the IHL and the DeVos family could not reach an agreement with the Blazers. Once the news of relocation hit the news, the DeVos family was mercilessly booed at every appearance in Kansas City.

The Blades signed a deal with the Vancouver Canucks for two years at the start of the 2000-01 season to be their primary affiliate. Unfortunately for both teams, the IHL decided to fold due to rising costs, and the affiliation was cut short by one year. The Blades, like the Scouts, found themselves in limbo.

The teams from the IHL were considered in terms of joining the AHL, but AHL regulations stipulate that one owner can have a stake in only one team. The DeVos family, having interests in four teams, decided to promote their most successful team in the Grand Rapids Griffins, cutting loose the three other teams they were controlling: the Orlando Solar Bears, the Cleveland Lumberjacks, and the Kansas City Blades. Again, the people of Kansas City were screwed by the DeVos family.

While there was a Kansas City Outlaws team that played in the UHL, their history is about as long as the Scouts' history was. They didn't last long, and didn't come close to any sort of success. On April 15, 2005, the team suspended operations and folded. In one season in the UHL, the Outlaws posted a record of 28-45-7.

So there is a little history on Kansas City's modern hockey ventures. I'm not about to speculate on whether the city can support an NHL franchise, but they do have a shiny, new arena that is looking for a full-time tenant, and they were in talks with the Penguins about moving there when Pittsburgh was battling for a new arena.

What I do know is that it seems the people of Kansas City have been sold short a few times. If the Blades are any indication, hockey can work in Kansas City. Perhaps an AHL team would be a better fit?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Captain Canuck said...

you say that Washington, KC and St Louis were all granted expansion teams, when St Louis was granted a team in the original expansion of 1967

Teebz said...

You're totally right, Captain. My bad, and it has been changed. I guess that's what I get for writing when tired and road-weary!

Good catch, sir!

Aaron Stilley said...

Good stuff Teebz! Thought I'd add a few things:

KC's pro hockey history started long before the Scouts; here's a quick overview:

The Scouts did actually send Wilf Paiement to the 75-76 all-star game. As it is now, all teams had to be represented.

Lastly, a new pro team started play last year: the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League (which has merged with the IHL). Their opening season was a big success.


Teebz said...

Good site, Aaron!

I just went with the two teams that most people will remember, but that site is very comprehensive!

As for Paiement, he wasn't listed on the roster that I quickly glanced at, but I may have missed him. Good call, and I've updated the info!

PucKChaser said...

As a longtime Kansas Citian and huge hockey fan, I commend you on your well-written, information, balanced and accurate post.

Uninformed people will say, "you couldn't even support an IHL team, they folded." You cut through all that with the absolute truth. The DeVos family was a disaster.

I, like you, believe the AHL is the perfect hockey product for our city. Unfortunately, AEG, who operates our shiny, (kind of) new arena, doesn't agree.

Much, much more on my blog: