Over the past week, there have been a bunch of rumours regarding the National Hockey League’s plans to expand their league by another four teams by 2017. This stemmed from a report stating that the idea of an NHL team in Las Vegas was a done deal, and that there were other deals on the table to bring teams to Seattle, Quebec City, and the greater Toronto area (or GTA, for those who live around there).
Opinions have been going back and forth on why this is a great idea, and why this is a horrendous plan. Expansion is always dicey, but going all in with a plan of four teams is a huge risk, especially in a league that already has more than one floundering franchise (looking at you, Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, and Carolina Hurricanes).
I’ve had time to digest the ideas of expansion, and have some opinions, just on the general effects it could have on the league, and on each individual city that has been named.
The NHL Expanding by Four–The Good
- massive expansion fees means more money for the owners- that they don’t have to share with the players. They have to be drooling over that a little bit.
- Balancing the league. With unbalanced conferences right now, this plan would enable the NHL to even things out, assuming Vegas, Seattle, and the GTA team would play in the West, and Quebec City would play in the east.
- New/renewed rivalries. Seattle vs. Vancouver would become a natural rivalry, as would the two Toronto teams facing off against one another. And bringing back the legendary Montreal/Quebec rivalry would be great.
- Cities getting something they deserve. Quebec deserves an NHL team. They never should have lost the Nordiques to Colorado in the first place, but the doom of the terrible Canadian dollar at the time sealed their fate, as they were unable to compete. Seattle seems like a good fit for hockey, and always has. It is surprising to me that it has only been in the last while that they have started being mentioned as a possible destination. And Toronto is more than able to support another team, which I will expand on more later on.
- Expansion drafts. I have to admit, these are really fun. It is amazing to go through the process of who will be protected by their team, and who will be left to hang in the winds. And then it is interesting to see the picks, as the new teams choose from a pretty good selection of players, only to select cheap plumbers who make us scratch our heads. Maybe with rich new owners, they won’t be afraid to pick up a couple of high priced players to put some butts in the seats, and give their new teams a chance to compete right off the hop.
The NHL expanding by Four– The Bad
- The product will become diluted. There is no doubt that the NHL is the greatest hockey league in the world. But where are we getting another 120 players to play on these expansion teams? The lure for many players to come over from Europe would have to get much stronger. There would be plenty of more AHL players who would have to make the jump up to the big league, and prove their worth on the largest scale. Looking around the league as it is, there are players all over NHL rosters who don’t deserve to be here (looks in the direction of John Scott). With a massive four more teams, this number will increase dramatically.
- Going back to the trap. Expansion teams need to compete in order to create a foothold for fans in their new city, and the best way to do this is to win. And the easiest way to win, with a lackluster roster, is to play defense. And this could mean the return of the trap. Think of the haunting memories of the first years of the Minnesota Wild, and how incredibly boring they were to watch. We could see that type of era return. Play for low scoring games, and hope to keep it within one until the very end. Or play for loser points. It could mean the return of some pretty boring hockey, which the league has tried to eradicate over the past few years.
- What happens to the failing teams we already have? Having these cities around now is good, for the day when the inevitable announcement comes along that the Coyotes are going to move. If the NHL expands, it is left with nothing, aside from perhaps Kansas City, to serve as an escape plan if a team needs to relocate.
- Even more rare chances of dynasty teams. Teams winning the Cup, or even competing for it, for several seasons in a row has become pretty rare. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have alternated Cup wins recently, and this may be the closest we will ever see to dynasty teams again. Having even more teams in the league, and more roster shakeups with an expansion draft will surely affect this.
The Cities #1: Las Vegas
- Another team in the desert? Haven’t the Coyotes proven that this is a bad idea from the start?
- Vegas is very much a transient city. Can we expect a solid enough fan base from the citizens of Vegas to keep this team afloat, while they hope for tourists to come from all over the country and shell out money for something they can often see at home? Would you go on vacation from Montreal, where you can see the Canadiens play all the time, and shell out the same money to see an expansion team play the Blue Jackets?
- Is it really a good idea to have a professional sports team play in the gambling capital of the world? How long would it take before there are controversies with things like game fixing, sports book controversies, players gambling, players partying too hard, etc? Vegas seems like a problem waiting to happen.
- If Vegas is such a good place for a sports team, why haven’t any of the Big Three leagues put a team there already? Wouldn’t basketball or football do better there? Why has the NFL and NBA shied away from this city as a destination?
- The idea of a team in Las Vegas reeks of gimmick. The NHL has long been the ugly cousin of the pro sports leagues in North America, and has always been fighting for credibility. Going to Vegas, in my opinion, does nothing but hinder their credibility.
- Surprisingly, minor league teams in the city have done…okay, when it comes to attendance.
The Verdict on Las Vegas: It seems inevitable that the NHL will end up here. I feel that this city is better suited as a place for relocation, instead of expansion. This way, they will be able to get a team that is more ready to compete, and quickly, instead of going through several painful years of building. I don’t think the town has the patience for that, and I think the tourist draw is overrated. People won’t specifically be going there for hockey, and the team will be fighting with literally thousands of other fun ways to spend your money in that town. Overall, this isn’t a great idea.
The Cities #2: Seattle
- Seattle is a great North American city. It is a beautiful place to visit, and by most accounts, a good place to live. They have a strong sporting tradition. They love their Seahawks, have generally remained interested in their Mariners, despite years of poor teams, and really did support their SuperSonics, until the owner pulled the rug from beneath their feet over an arena deal. They have a history as a good sports town, making it feel right for the NHL to be there.
- Geographically, they are a good fit, bridging the gap between Vancouver and the Alberta teams, and the southern teams of California and Texas.
- Could develop good rivalries with Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Flames and Oilers need new rivalries.
- The arena thing is a problem here. The current spot, the Key Arena, is outdated. They were trying to have a new one built for the return of an NBA team, but all of this fell through when the Sacramento Kings decided to stay put. The NHL won’t go here unless there is something in place to build a new rink, something modern and state-of-the-art. This could also help lure basketball back to town, so could work out quite well for the city, if something can get worked out.
- Seattle has a hockey history, as there have been junior teams in Seattle and Portland forever. They are well supported.
- Would an NHL team mean the death of junior hockey in the area? The Thunderbirds would be in big trouble, and a big league team could even filter off some fans from the always successful Portland Winterhawks as well. There are plenty of places that can support major and junior hockey at the same time, but I don’t know if Seattle could do it.
The Verdict on Seattle: While this may seem like another city better suited to a relocated team than an expansion one, I would like to see hockey in the Pacific Northwest. I feel that it is a geographical fit, and in a city that is desirable for people to live in. Seattle is not a place in the boonies, that people can barely find on a map, like Columbus. It is a major center, and a pretty large media market. I envision Seattle as being a good, strong organization from the get go. Put a team there.
The Cities #3: Greater Toronto Area/Markham
- Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and there is very little doubt that they could support a second team, and that there is a rabid desire for another team in the area.
- The Maple Leafs, and probably the Buffalo Sabres, will fight tooth and nail against this, but the league will not be able to resist the millions upon millions that could be made from a team here.
- In such a crazy hockey market, the Leafs will always rule. But going to a Leafs game is nearly impossible for the regular fan, as they have been priced out of tickets, and the games are mainly attended by business types. A second team would give Toronto a working class team, one that could become loved by the regular fan. Would that mean they would abandon their Leafs allegiance? Probably not. But the new generations of fans coming up, with little to no allegiance to the team their parents loved, and never having seen a good Leafs team, could flock to the new team. Seeing kids at a Toronto NHL game would be something different, instead of the dull, silent crowds that attend the Leafs now.
- Another team in the area would force the Leafs to do everything possible to become a better team. Instead of floundering, as they seemingly have been since the 1993 playoffs, they know that they could lose fans for the first time if they continue to be bad.
- Of course, this would be an amazing rivalry, in the same way that the Rangers-Islanders is, even if the teams are in different stratospheres of success. It would be the underdogs against the Leafs every time, and it would be fantastic, especially once the team takes hold and has a loyal fan base of its own.
- Another team in Canada just means more revenues for the league. No question about that. The current seven teams basically carry the rest of the league as it is. Why not add more to the pot.
The verdict on GTA: Nothing to think about here. Just do it. There is nothing but positives here.
The Cities #4: Quebec City
- When the Nordiques left, it was perhaps the saddest relocation of them all. A dedicated fan base had their team ripped from them, and just as they were getting good. How heartbreaking it must have been as they built up for years, and then won the Cup in their first year in Colorado?
- I only want them back if they will still be called the Nordiques, and will still have those incredible blue and white jerseys. Even though they have been gone for a long time, those are still some of the best threads in the league.
- They are building a brand-new arena, that will be ready to go as soon as they are awarded a team.
- The Habs-Nords was one of the best rivalries in the league, and Montreal has never been able to replicate it. Sure, there is some hate between Montreal and Toronto, but nothing like the in-province rivalry with the capital city. Montreal-Ottawa has never really taken off, considering how close those two teams are to one another. The league wants it to be amazing, but it isn’t. Problem solved with the return of the Nordiques.
- This is a fan base that would be patient as they built themselves into winners once again. Giving them an expansion team would be fine, as they fans would follow them with passion until they were good.
The Verdict on Quebec City: This is my #1 choice for a new team. Bring them back, sign them up now. Being someone who can’t find any reason to cheer for any of the Canadian teams, I would instantly become a Nordiques fan the second of their return.
Gary Bettman has stated time and again that the league is not thinking of expanding just yet, but we all know that there is probably something in the works. I think if the league is going to do it, then it should do it all at once, to put the new teams on level playing ground, and so that they can grow together. Make it a big shock for the league, all at once, instead of dribbling out new teams over a few years, as they did with their two-at-a-time expansion of the 90’s and 00’s. Make it happen, establish them, and let them grow.
And then we can worry about contraction.