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Rossi: San Jose the model for warmer NHL

LOS ANGELES — Most hockey fans would agree that the sport belongs more in Canada than California, but count me out of any discussion that warm-weathered U.S. cities aren't good for the NHL.

However, the league would be wise to get out of dodge in select sunny sites where puck support is weaker than conservative backing for health-care reform bills.

Don't say goodbye to Hollywood (or Tampa Bay and Dallas), but bid adieu to Phoenix, Atlanta and South Florida.

Fox Sports Pittsburgh Penguins analyst Bob Errey agreed with me this week when I suggested San Jose, where he served as the Sharks' first captain, was the model for how the NHL should have viewed placing teams into nontraditional markets.

Too bad the NHL failed to follow its own lead.

The Sharks were the first major pro sports team in San Jose. The Panthers arrived in South Florida already facing competition against the storied Dolphins (NFL) and Hurricanes (college football), the popular Heat (NBA) and the upstart Marlins (MLB).

The Sharks were born to a city with a top-notch arts and entertainment scene, but on nights they play, they're not facing off against top draws in their own community. The Atlanta Thrashers could play a game on a night when, say, U2 is at the Georgia Dome, or baseball's Braves are hosting an early-season game at Turner Field. Also, they compete for dollars against the NBA's Hawks and NFL's Falcons, not to mention Georgia Tech athletics.

Finally, the Sharks were given to a city where the weather is warm, but not so warm that during the winter months it is unthinkable to head indoors to watch hockey. From November through February in the Phoenix area, the number of reasons to avoid catching a Coyotes game will match the high 80-something reading on the thermometer.

"It's a different lifestyle when people can be outside all year," Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "Fans have more options most of the hockey season than when it's cold, and you just want to watch the game on TV if you can't get tickets."

If San Jose is the model for warm-weather hockey success, Las Vegas should get the Coyotes for next season. The NBA, NFL and MLB seemingly have no interest in the country's gambling capital, which should only make it all the more attractive to the NHL.

Actually, I'd find placements of another team in Toronto and ones in Winnipeg and Quebec City ideally more attractive than Las Vegas — but if warm is what the league wants, it should remember what sharpened the Sharks' bite in San Jose.

Face-off

Columnist Joe Starkey and beat reporter Rob Rossi take the circle for this week's question:

Does the NHL need three California clubs?

Starkey: If the NHL lost three California clubs and nobody noticed, would they actually have lost three California clubs• That is a question worth pondering, Dr. Rossi. Look, the NHL needs about five fewer teams. Can you imagine the excitement of a dispersal draft• I'd lop off Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Phoenix, and if you took L.A. or Anaheim, well, like I said, would anybody notice• I guess that's a long way of saying no.

Rossi: Maybe I'm high on Vitamin D from all this sun, but count me in for three Cali clubs. An NHL without San Jose's Shark Tank and a presence in LA would be less of a league, and at least the Ducks are no longer Disneyfied. Plus, the New York metro area is less deserving of three NHL teams than California. Hey, next time the Rangers aren't needed to fill those buildings on Long Island and New Jersey, I'll be impressed.

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