Last night the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Los Angeles Kings in a preseason game played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. As you may recall, those very same Pittsburgh Penguins almost moved to Kansas City a few years ago before plans to build the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh were finalized. The Nashville Predators were also linked to Kansas City a few years ago. The New York Islanders have been talked about as well.

Yesterday’s game was officially a sell out, though strangely enough it was not televised.

Would NHL hockey work in Kansas City?

The NHL has staged a few preaseason games in Kansas City over the years, but there hasn’t been any serious talk about bringing a team to the Sprint Center recently. When the Atlanta Thrashers went up for sale a while ago, the people of Kansas City were strangely quiet. The same holds true for the ongoing struggles of the Phoenix Coyotes. No one from Kansas City has aggressively tried to bring that team to the Sprint Center.

Why not?

According to an article in the Kansas City Star, they’re waiting for the right time and the right team:

AEG president Tim Leiweke and Kansas City Mayor Sly James met before Tuesday night’s NHL exhibition game at the Sprint Center and came to a conclusion:

Don’t chase just any NHL or NBA team.

“Kansas City can take its time,” said Leiweke, whose company manages the Sprint Center, where an announced crowd of 17,779 saw the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in an overtime shootout.

“The key is you can chase a team, but you’re going to end up not making a great deal and maybe being disappointed. Or you can wait and not only try to find the right situation, but economically make the right deal.

Kansas City is not Winnipeg. The fans won’t snap up season tickets immediately with no concern for how competitive the team will be. The people of Winnipeg just want to watch NHL hockey, even if that means paying to see the struggling former Thrashers franchise.

The people of Kansas City will want to watch a competitive team. That’s what made the Pittsburgh Penguins such a compelling option a few years ago. They were a young, talented and exciting team that would bring in the fans. They were led by Sidney Crosby, one of the game’s marquee players. Sidney Crosby might have been able to sell hockey in Kansas City. With all due respect to Andrew Ladd, he wouldn’t have the same effect.

Joe Yerdon of ProHockeyTalk expands on this point:

Moving a NHL team to a city that’s not rabid about the sport is inviting trouble to that franchise.

The Coyotes have struggled mightily in Arizona, the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, and the Avalanche after a great first ten years have a hard time filling the Pepsi Center these days. Winning has a lot to do with this part of things, but taking a struggling team to an area that at the very least is tepid to the sport has the makings for disaster. It’s great to take the game to cities like Kansas City that don’t have a lot of hockey these days and show off how great the game is, but unless the desire is there from the people there to want a team and shell out the big bucks for tickets, it’s a venture better left for preseason games and not taking a gamble on the future.

Most cities will support a winner. Very few cities will support a perennial loser. If the Atlanta Thrashers had contended for the Stanley Cup for the last few years, they may still be in Atlanta. If the Phoenix Coyotes had made it past the first round of the playoffs, the team may not be struggling right now.

Traditional hockey towns will watch hockey no matter what. In non-traditional markets, winning matters. If the Thrashers had moved to Kansas City instead of Winnipeg, they’d likely still struggle and the fans would likely stop showing up. It would be another failure to attract fans in a non-traditional market.

Tim Leiweke is right when he says Kansas City needs to “try to find the right situation,” not just grab the first team available. Fans in places like Winnipeg and Quebec City just want NHL hockey. They’ll put up with a struggling team. Fans in Kansas City need someone like Sidney Crosby and a competitive to bring them to the rink  every night.

Will they ever get what they need?