They were the Brooklyn Dodgers of hockey. A small community that came together behind it’s team and the lasting impression they made is still felt 17 years after they moved.
The Hartford Whalers were a unique franchise. Great logo, unique theme song, and far enough away and maybe not good enough to be considered a rival of New York, but close enough for local hockey fans from the city to like them and take in a game.
The Whalers also had a very tight relationship with the community. Like the Dodgers of old, they were a woven into the fabric of the Insurance Capital where fans and players interacted with each other.
They were Connecticut’s answer to New York and Boston. A team that was their own instead of invading neighbors from the northeast and southwest.
Alas, it wasn’t going to last forever. The Whalers were never the greatest team in the world. After dominating the WHA, they never duplicated the success in the NHL. They had one division championship in 1987 and when they did make the playoffs – eight times in 18 years – they generally went out in the first round.
Because of that and because of the small market, they Whalers always had trouble drawing to the Hartford Civic Center – called “The Mall” because there was a shopping mall attached to it and it quickly became an out dated arena in the 1990s.
Much like Walter O’Malley in the 1950s, new owner in Peter Karmanos was looking for a new building. The state of Connecticut dragged its feet and ultimately he moved the team to Carolina to become the Hurricanes.
Now, though, with the NHL talking about expansion and with the success of the new Winnipeg Jets, why not give Hartford another shot? After all, the Whalers are looked upon fondly. They still have a booster club and anything with their logo on it is a popular sell.
Even with that it’s going to be tough.
First, the NHL is primarily looking to expand out west, since there are 16 teams in the east and 14 in the Western Conference, so that’s why Vegas, Portland and Seattle are mainly being named.
And then there’s the case for the arena. All the cities mentioned, and Quebec is another one, have new buildings built or being built. Hartford will need one at least approved to be considered. Right now, though, everything is in the talking stage.
Also you wonder in the market can sustain five teams in such a concentrated area. With the Rangers, Islanders and Devils in New York and the Bruins up in Boston, it will be very difficult for local television to grab a large piece of the share, unless the league will allow a station like SNY to carry the broadcasts in New York.
There’s money in Connecticut and the Whalers can work. However, the league is probably looking elsewhere when it comes to expansion. They seemed hell-bent on Las Vegas and Seattle is making a real push. Quebec is also a frontrunner and don’t be surprised if there’s another team from Canada in this round of expansion.
There’s also the possibility of a franchise, like Florida or Arizona moving but as we have seen in the past, the league looks at that as a last resort and will do everything to keep them in their current markets.
So a Whale revival will probably have to wait, but maybe someday the Brass Bonanza will play again.