Following is an open letter to Whaler Nation from Whalers Founder Howard Baldwin.
Baldwin's new book - "Slim and None" -- will be available this fall
"It has been about three years since our venture with the Connecticut Whale was terminated by the various forces in Hartford. Since I so deeply care about the people, the fans, and all those who made the Whaler logo/brand such a resounding success over the years, I thought that it was the time now to openly and honestly express my feelings about what transpired, why it didn’t succeed, and what the future holds for the NHL and Hartford.
Currently my wife Karen and I are back in Los Angeles. My son Howard, Jr. is in Maryland. Collectively we view our efforts in the marketplace as a great success. It start with the Summer Festival - attended by 5000 plus loyal fans – and culminated at the end of the second season with the Connecticut Whale.
Suffice it to say, we are as disappointed as any one of you that this venture ended the way it ended. There was no rational reason for it to have to end, other than the ego of certain leaders in the community.
I am able to say with 100% confidence and certainty that had the city and state backed our many repeated requests to extend the lease, we would have been able to capitalize the team properly and be operating the team to this very day. Most importantly, we would have kept the dream of perhaps a return to the NHL for the Whaler brand in the forefront of everything we were trying to do.
One cannot possibly succeed in any league with a rent structure that is 2 ½ times higher than the next team coupled with not being the recipient of any parking, boxes, or concession revenues. The mistake I made, which I have taken full responsibility for – and always will, is that I felt that if we did a good job that the city, state and the Rangers would want to help find a way to keep us in the marketplace. As we all know, unfortunately, this was not the case.
The future – what is it for Hartford as it relates to the NHL? There needs to be a real champion for the city and the state in the marketplace. There needs to be leadership and pro-activity.
Please remember that when we gained entry into the NHL in 1979 that it was because we were a solution to a problem. Since there were two competing leagues the players were the recipient of salaries that couldn’t be afforded by either the NHL or the competing WHA.
The NHL was never contemplating expanding into Hartford in the 70’s. Hartford got into the NHL and became a force in both the WHA and NHL because the business community couple with the city and the state joined forces and tucked their egos into their pockets and made up their minds that this would be a great thing for the community. The only thing that mattered were the city and state being able to prosper as a result of having a major league team.
Once the team arrived, it succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations. No denying it – it is all there in the historical facts and record books.
Sadly, long after we left the marketplace in 1988, the team itself left and moved in 1998 to Carolina.
I am always asked: “Is there a chance for Hartford to ever get a team in the NHL again?”. My answer is the same as it was when we came back five years ago: Hartford has to show the NHL that they want a team and that they deserve a team.
Hartford has the luxury of having an incredibly valuable university basketball program at UCONN. This is huge. Why aren't Hartford and the leaders there talking about a new arena? Not an arena that is mid-sized or not state of the art – but a state-of-the-art new arena just as they have built in Nashville, Oklahoma City, Quebec, Winnipeg, and other markets that aren’t even as big as Hartford. By the way, I fully realize that when we arrived back on the scene to Hartford about six years ago now, we felt that a refurbished arena would be a short term solution and a stepping stone to a new arena---but that was six years ago. Clearly there is now a need for a brand new state-of -the-art arena in the marketplace. At the very least UCONN deserves this.
Right now all the talk is about a minor league baseball stadium. Frankly, that could be exciting --- but it isn’t major league. It is my hope that people can pull together and realize what a great market Hartford IS and that someone will step forward like we tried to do and show some leadership and commit to pulling the business community together along with the political leaders of the city and state and say that we won’t stop until we achieve our goal of a new arena that will attract a major league team.
Practically every other city in North America is doing just this.
Instead of the media racing to criticize those that have tried to do this, what they should do from this point forward is make an effort and do a little bit if work and try to analyze objectively why the Connecticut Whale wasn’t given their lease extension.
We send everyone our best wishes and we will play whatever role is needed for us to be constructive in trying to get the job done back there and bring pro hockey back to Hartford. "