Vancouver’s Memorial Cup Bid Puzzling

By Jeff Bromley

The announcement by the WHL this past week that only four member clubs were going to bid on the right to host the 2004 Memorial Cup was disappointing.

The Lethbridge Hurricanes, Calgary Hitmen, Kelowna Rockets and Vancouver Giants are the four contenders that are going to try and sway the vote of the WHL’s Board of Governor’s their way for the pleasure of holding junior hockey’s biggest showcase.

As I mentioned, disappointing, and for different reasons.

Long gone is the lament that the WHL’s triennial kick at hosting the championship is nothing more than an exclusive club for the league’s bigger centers. The WHL is joined by the QMJHL in seeking out the larger venues to host it’s party as evident by the Quebec City Remparts hosting the 2003 spectacle in the 15,750-seat Colisee next May.

The OHL’s selection of it’s host site is much more broader and by the same token much more fair in that it accepts the top four teams from each conference to submit a bid, thereby ensuring a competitive host.

No, I’ve come to terms with the fact that a small center, even one with a brand new facility, has little or no chance of ever hosting the WHL’s portion of the week-long May event. Money is what makes the world and the WHL go ‘round and by stipulating an $800,000 guaranteed profit at the minimum, it greatly diminishes the league riff-raff of small market or small venues.

Looking for the lesser of two evils, one could surmise that the minimum, split twenty ways with every WHL club (including Everett in 2004) contribute greatly to the viability of the aforementioned small-market clubs. It is a trade-off the ‘have-not’ clubs ungrudgingly accept.

The selection system, however flawed, is not of debate here. The final four candidates, or more accurately, the Vancouver bid, is. Not two months into the Vancouver Giants’ second season, on November 19 the league’s Board of Governors are going to be asked to vote on the possibility of the club hosting the big show in the club’s third season.

From a hockey standpoint, be they a Giants fan’s or league wide, it would be a giant mistake, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun.

The Vancouver Giants this season will be an exciting team to watch, that, I have no doubt. But mark this one on the calenders, they won’t make the playoffs. In their second season of existence as an expansion club, I would argue that there aren’t many hockey pundits or purists that would expect them to. By logical hockey sense the third season would be the beginning of the dividends of hopeful drafting and savvy trading and probably a playoff spot.

The expectation to compete with the three Memorial Cup finalists as champions of their respective leagues? The odds would be popular on the Giants being nothing more than round-robin fodder for the league champions.

From a monetary standpoint however the possibilities of a big gross profit from the tournament for the league can’t be overstated. A Pacific Coliseum that can be expanded from the 7300 current capacity to it’s 16,150 with the opening of the upper bowl makes it an inviting carrot. It’s also a carrot that doesn’t have to be shared with an NHL club that might be playoff bound as would the Calgary Flames would be, if the club could ever reach the NHL’s post-season, never mind the second or third round.

One factor favoring the smaller Kelowna or Lethbridge bids is the theory that the Memorial Cup would get lost in cities the size of Vancouver or Calgary. I don’t think it does. Barring a Vancouver run at Lord Stanley’s mug, late May is a virtual dead-zone for sports in Vancouver and Calgary. The CFL’s Lions and Stampeders haven’t started camp yet and minor league baseball, in it’s last year in Calgary, is a non-factor when up against hockey.

That said, the simple fact of the matter is that Calgary, Lethbridge and Kelowna have earned shots at hosting the Memorial Cup. Getting a guarantee the Saddledome will be available is the only concern Calgary really has. Where Lethbridge lacks in building capacity (the Enmax Center seats 4700 with 800 standing) the Hurricanes make it up with arguably the best projected club on paper, with the Hitmen and Rockets not far behind in terms of development.

The Vancouver Giants aren’t even close to the others and in fairness, who would expect them to be in only their third year?

Up and coming players Mark Fistric and Joe Logan or Gilbert Brule and Daniel Bertram, all highly touted draft picks expected to carry the Giants can’t be expected to carry the Giants to competing with the big boys of a Memorial Cup. Considering the former’s will be unseasoned sophomores and the latter’s raw rookies, the task would be too much to ask.

Sure the Giants could bet the farm and trade up to gain experience next season but in all honesty, what do they have for trade bait except draft picks? And for that thought to enter a third-year team’s philosophy could decimate its future for seasons to come.

If you’re trying to sell major junior hockey to a finicky market who has rejected it three times in the past thirty years, building a base the old fashioned way – by winning – is the way to go. Trying to be the popular host at a party that you’re not going to be able to dance at certainly isn’t.

If you’re handicapping the bidders give Kelowna the edge over Calgary due to the building factor. If Calgary guarantees the building, the Hitmen are frontrunners. Although the Hurricanes could very well have the best club, their venue falls short. Vancouver will be in it for the experience of bidding in 2007.