NHL Report: December 13, 2007



They are the most dominant, most consistent and most impressive team in the NHL this season, without question.


Yet the Detroit Red Wings are struggling where it counts most -- at the turnstiles.


"Detroit's Hockeytown crown has slipped," Sports Illustrated suggested the other day.


Indeed, there have been large numbers of empty seats at the Joe Louis Arena, and the Wings are more than a trifle concerned.

It reached the point where, this week, Wings owner Mike Ilitch hired a new vice-president for business affairs. His name is Steve Violetta and his mandate is simple. He's responsible for filling those empty seats.

It won't be easy. The economy is poor in Michigan. Leisure dollars are not readily available.

Since the beginning of last season, the Red Wings have had only four sellouts, including their lid-lifter this season against the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.

Average paid attendance for the first 15 home games this season is 18,044. That's about 90% of capacity. And some of the sold seats were unoccupied, as well, largely because season-ticket holders weren't been able to peddle their seats to a secondary market.

Violetta, who left his post as vice-president of business affairs with Predators to join the Wings, will try to emerge with the sort of magic that he exhibited in Nashville. Under him, the Preds' ticket sales increased by more than 50%, corporate sponsorships rose 40% and television ratings more than doubled.

Violetta intends to reach out to the community in Detroit. He'll place more emphasis on group-ticket sales to churches, schools and clubs. Aside from youth hockey, the Wings haven’t focused much on such group sales, primarily because they didn’t need to when the economy was stronger and when other sports teams in Detroit weren’t winning.

Violetta, 48, knows Detroit. He was born and raised there.

“The Red Wings are one of the great brands in all of sports,” he declared, and now he'll have the chance to prove it.

•Entering Thursday night, the Wings had won seven consecutive games and owned the NHL's best record, with 46 points.

They led the league with 3.4 goals per game.

One could easily argue that they have the best defenceman in the NHL in Nicklas Lidstrom and the top forward in the NHL in Henrik Zetterberg. Their goaltending is the stingiest in the NHL, too.

"We have a lot of talent here, a lot of talent," said Detroit centre Pavel Datsyuk, who went into last night with at least a point in nine consecutive games and ranked second to Zetterberg in NHL scoring.

"We have no excuses not to keep up our good play. We should be doing this all season, seriously. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to win (the Stanley Cup) this season. We just have to stay healthy."

•While the Wings soar, the Colorado Avalanche are headed in the opposite direction.

The Avalanche score a lot of goals, but they allow more.

Future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic has been sidelined lately with a groin strain, and Ryan Smyth hasn't come close to contributing the way his club expected him to when it signed him as a free agent.

Neither Colorado goalie, Peter Budaj or Jose Theodore, has stolen any games for their team. They've been below average.

That's why Colorado's decision-makers are trying diligently to obtain a new goalie and are engaged in serious trade talks with several clubs, including the Ottawa Senators, who may wind up dealing Martin Gerber and his bulky contract to the Avalanche.

Avalanche bosses think Gerber would be a major upgrade over Budaj and Theodore. Theodore, by the way, could be part of a package sent to Ottawa for Gerber.

•There's a new hockey book out called By The Numbers, written by veteran journalist Scott Morrison.

Truthfully, I couldn't get through it. Found it dull. Wouldn't advise anyone to waste hard-earned money on it.

As most good journalists know, numbers generally bore readers. And there are way too many numbers in this thing for me.