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Return of the Whalers? Howard Baldwin thinks he can make it happen (again)

Nov 15, 2011, 1:06 PM EDT

Ron Francis Getty Images

All right so we got the Winnipeg Jets to come back in some way, now how about the Hartford Whalers? If it were up to former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin he’d put his new five-year plan into action to make it work.

Baldwin showed off his plan to business leaders in Hartford to help him and the city of Hartford to help realize their (or his) dreams or bringing the NHL back to town. Before you get too excited, as Rick Green of the Hartford Courant notes, the plan involves a lot of upheaval in the city and more importantly, a lot of public money to make it happen. Highlights of his plan include:

  • $105 million in public funds to renovate the XL Center
  • Support from businesses in Hartford to get things rolling
  • Support from the Governor of Connecticut to move ahead

Sounds like a stacked deck against Baldwin’s plans and it’s probably for good reason. While we’re all extremely nostalgic about the Whalers now, getting full support to a team these days in a new economy to get 18,000 fans a night in a small New England town might prove difficult. Never mind that they’d still need a team to want to move there.

While Baldwin has been busting his tail to make Hartford look like the go-to place for hockey, it’s not as if this is the same situation as Winnipeg. Yes, the Connecticut Whale are there now and keeping the dream alive, but averaging just over 4,700 a game won’t instill confidence that things could work. Compare that to the Manitoba Moose who drew over 8,000 a game last year before getting the Jets this season.

We’d love to see the Whalers reborn, we’re shameless for 80s-90s nostalgia here, this plan just doesn’t make it feel very likely given that you’re asking the people to give up so much money to make it happen.

  1. brucewaynewins - Nov 15, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    I don’t know if minor league attendance is the best precursor for NHL attendance. There are other contributing factors. In some cities people only want to watch NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA, etc. They won’t accept minor league teams. Same as some cities only want college and some won’t support college sports.

    Another thing to look at is businesses. Companies, especially larger ones, tend to buy more season tickets or are more likely to buy season tickets if its a major league level team.

    That doesn’t mean that Hartford could or could not support an NHL team. I’m just saying I feel its something that isn’t as obvious or transparent as most might expect.

    But that’s just my opinion not a fact.

    • greatminnesotasportsmind - Nov 15, 2011 at 5:58 PM

      Your dead right. The AHL/IHL tried to replace the North Stars with the Moose. They eventually moved to Winnipeg before we got the Wild here. Wild had sold out every game until last year.

  2. pastabelly - Nov 15, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    Too close to Boston and NY, no NHL arena, and small tv market. Three strikes.

    • greatminnesotasportsmind - Nov 15, 2011 at 6:00 PM

      Like the Rangers/Islanders/Devils aren’t close? XL Arena would be renovated to be an NHL arena.

  3. firemarshal1 - Nov 15, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    Hartford Whalers uniforms were awesome.

  4. unknowneric - Nov 15, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    “We’d love to see the Whalers reborn, we’re shameless for 80s-90s nostalgia here, this plan just doesn’t make it feel very likely given that you’re asking the people to give up so much money to make it happen.”

    Extremely well-said. The 10-year-old in me wants the Whalers back and “Brass Bonanza” blaring from the arena horn again, but it just doesn’t make sense at the present time. I’ll just have to settle for being happy to see the Jets back for now.

    • greatminnesotasportsmind - Nov 15, 2011 at 6:02 PM

      Nordiques will be re-born next season, according to sources. This is the last year of NHL hockey in Phoenix.

  5. govtminion - Nov 15, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    I’d love to see it happen… but agreeing with the others in here, it’s just not feasible right now, if ever. Being a small-ish city parked right in the middle between the New York threesome and Boston, it’s going to be tough to get fans in seats. Quebec City is much more likely.

  6. bobo8192 - Nov 15, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Your article is filled with misinformation. First off the XL Center’s capacity would still hover around 15-16,000 post renovations, not 18,000. It would be financed through redevelopment bonds, private investors and public funds. Who are you to proclaim it sounds like a “stacked deck” If you were closer to the situation you would know that the XL Center is due for renovations or new arena anyways. 105 million vs. 400 million is a lot easier to present to the public. Also you failed to mention the biggest player in all of this, UConn is 100% behind this plan. The governor spends money at will and this deal makes to much sense for him to turn down. Do a little research before you try to pass off your misinformed opinion as fact, after all it is your job.

  7. atwatercrushesokoye - Nov 15, 2011 at 8:53 PM

    Finding a team to buy and relocate seems like the easiest part of this situation.

  8. slackpro84 - Nov 30, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    I grew up in NY going to both Ranger and Isles games my entire life. I love hockey.

    I also loved the Whalers and bought season tickets, and travelled the distance from college in Mass and home on LI to make all the games. I loved it.

    Since the team was killed by the league and slimebag pete karmanos I have lost a lot of passion for hockey. Still a great game but there aren’t any character teams anymore. No real underdogs. Fewer great rivalries.

    If the Whalers came back I’d be buying NHL center Ice and dragging my friends and fam to every game I possibly could. I miss being fanatical about a team I can actually watch and root for.

    Unfortunately the NHL has created a new formula for teams the Whale just doesn’t fit in:

    1) Pick a mainstream/safe name that is boring: Predators, Panthers, Hurricanes (yawn….)
    2) Make sure you do your best to incorporate black and/or red color schemes
    3) Disregard game history in terms of existing rivalries, division names, retired numbers, etc
    4) Don’t upset Boston or New York with additional rivals (other smaller cites you can screw over)
    5) Disregard the hotbed of hockey fabs in new england and canada — shoot for southerners that love nascar and college football, that’s the ticket!

    Until them I’ll be at every isles and rangers game I score free tickets or heavily discounted tickets (or games where I bribe the ticket agent to let me in for $20 — it works!), with my HARTFORD WHALERS jersey, dreaming of the day….

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