Expanding by Four: Should the NHL Get Bigger?

Expanding by Four: Should the NHL Get Bigger?

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

nhl2
Las Vegas- Hockey Town?
  • 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

Hockey deserves to be in the Pacific Northwest. I would cheer for a Seattle team.
Hockey deserves to be in the Pacific Northwest. I would cheer for a Seattle team.
  • 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

The blue collar, affordable Toronto team would play here.
The blue collar, affordable Toronto team would play here.
  • 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

I'll line up for a jersey if they come back as the Nordiques, with something like this look.
I’ll line up for a jersey if they come back as the Nordiques, with something like this look.
  • 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.

2014 MLB Predictions

2014 MLB Predictions

Even though I will surely regret trying to pick the standings for the upcoming season, I might as well give it a shot. Last year, I was way off in my bold prediction of a Washington Nationals vs. Kansas City Royals World Series. I guess there is no harm in trying again! Except for my inevitable hurt pride in being so wrong about things.

AL East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. New York Yankees
  • raysAlways the most difficult division to pick, because there are three very good teams in here, and two others that have great teams on paper but have yet to deliver it on the field. It’s hard to argue with the Rays’ success over the past years.
  • So much went right for the Red Sox last year, it will be difficult to duplicate that. But, they made some smart, low-cost moves over the summer, and should very much be in contention again. I like these guys, because they are tough and scrappy.
  • Yes, I’m picking the Yankees for last place. That rotation is just a huge question mark for me, and that starting infield is brutal. One injury to their old men roaming the shale, and they’re done. Their outfield is definitely improved, but that is only three of nine positions. Brian McCann is an upgrade at catcher, however.
  • I thought about going with the Orioles to win this division, but they are always such a tease. Third is where they belong.
  • Those poor Jays. Even if they put together a year that is injury-free, they will have too tough a time getting past the other monsters in the division. Too many questions in the rotation, as well.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
  • tigersHard to pick against the pitching of the Tigers. They can basically roll out three aces in a row, and the rest of the rotation is pretty solid, as well. I think their bullpen is improved.
  • This year, the Royals start to put it together. After a few seasons of expectations, they started to get it together in the second half of last year. They keep it going. Definitely a team trending upwards.
  • The Indians put together something special last year, making it to the one-game playoff. I don’t think they can do it again, but they are another fun, scrappy team. Love what Francona has done there.

 

AL West

  1. Oakland A’s
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. LA Angels
  5. Houston Astros
  • a'sNot much changing at the top. The Rangers have still more firepower, but there is something about this team that is lacking over the past couple of years, and doesn’t seem to be fixed. It’s finish. They lack finish. Prince Fielder could have a huge year there, if he doesn’t wilt in the Texas sun.
  • The A’s are just consistent. They are a good team, even if they seem to lack good players.
  • Finally, an off-season where the Angles don’t overpay someone. Trout is incredible, but the aging lineup around him won’t do much to help him out.

 

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. NY Mets
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Miami Marlins
  • natsThe Mets will actually probably be the bottom of this division, because there is a lot to like about the young Marlins.
  • I feel that last year was a season-long mistake by the Nats. They are better than what they showed last year, after their success the year before. They pull it back together this year.
  • Is it just me, or does the Phillies just seem like a collection of dinosaurs at this point?

 

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
  • cardsShould be the most interesting division race again this year.
  • Impossible to bet against the always-consistent Cardinals. That rotation is excellent, arguably the best in the NL.
  • I think the Pirates contend again. They had players last year, on their miracle run, that had off-years. If they get it going as well, they can be good. Exciting team to watch, as well.
  • The Reds just kind of stay the same. Pretty good. Not excellent.

 

NL West

  1. LA Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies
  • dodgersThat LA payroll is crazy. As is their roster. Even with the inevitable injuries, they have bought the depth to stay competitive. Another very good stable of pitchers. Seems like they have a dozen starters to choose from.
  • Arizona is building, and this division always seems to have tons of movement in it.
  • The Giants are usually good every second year, and this would be their year again. Don’t count them out, but I feel there are a few too many gaps to oust the Dodgers here.

 

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Royals

NL Wild Cards: Braves, Pirates

AL Champion: A’s

NL Champion: Nationals

World Series Champion: Nationals

 

At the Ballpark: PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)

At the Ballpark: PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)

I want to visit every ballpark in the major leagues. And having been to a small handful already, I think I have found the one that will stand as the one to beat: PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

An incredible view.
An incredible view.

For 20 years, the Pirates have been an awful team, but they began to enjoy a rebirth over the past couple of seasons. They threatened a couple of times with solid first halves, before falling off the map in the home stretch.

Then, last year, finally, the Pirates returned to the playoffs. They won the 1-game playoff and eventually lost to the eventual National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, but the city was swept up in Pirates fever for the first time since the early 1990’s. That is a long time for a town to go between playoff appearances. Even longer to go without having a decent team.

Years of penny pinching and trading away their best players seemed to work out for the team, as a stellar bullpen and young players playing their best and coming together at the right time brought the fans back to the park.

And PNC is one hell of a place to watch baseball.

I was lucky enough to get to do a park tour the day before the game, and it is a wonderful place. The details that went into building it, down to the original rivulets, is truly impressive. Wandering through the suites, and the pressbox was really cool, a way to see how the other half lives. Then we got to go down in to the depths of the stadium, where the dressing rooms are, the batting cage, and eventually, wandering into the dugout and onto the majestic field itself. Standing on a major league ball diamond is something truly amazing, to see the field in the same way that the players see it, and to feel the shale crunch beneath your feet. This was something unforgettable for me.

As far as the game itself went, it was extremely exciting. The fans were great, all clad in black and yellow, and they were there, fired up for their team. This was during the 2012 season, and the Pirates were still very much in the hunt when I saw them. The people of Pittsburgh were fired up. The park is beautiful, and after so many losing years, the prices was right. A $40 ticket got me fifth row seats behind the visitors dugout (they were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks), on the first base side. Couldn’t ask for better seats, and as I arrived, I was even surprised by how good they were. I wasn’t expecting them to be that close.

Standing room only for the young, exciting team.
Standing room only for the young, exciting team.

On my trip, I had lived off junk for too long, so I didn’t have a hot dog at the park, but I did indulge in a few beers with the friendly people in my section. They were nice people, and they made the game that much more entertaining, as we cheered for the Bucs together, dove for foul balls at the same time (made it on the big screen and on the local broadcast!), and roared as the Jolly Roger was raised at the end of the game, to signify a Pirates victory.

I loved everything about my experience at PNC. Great employees, very friendly ushers, a mascot that was fun and not obnoxious, and a young, exciting product on the field all made for a great night. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the view…

Looking in from the river.
Looking in from the river.

Looking into the outfield of PNC Park is one of the best sights in the majors. Downtown Pittsburgh sits across the Allegheny River, and a couple of the yellow bridges that cross the river sit in the beautiful view. It is something beautiful to behold, yet another city that has done it right with the location of their ball park.

The whole area around PNC is also perfectly done, as there is a long cluster of nearby bars and restaurants ready to handle the pre- and post-game crowds. A short walking distance away is Heinz Field, home of the legendary Steelers. The setup is similar to that of Seattle, with the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums being right next door to one another.

Pittsburgh is a surprisingly awesome town, and I was glad that I had the chance to visit there. It was even better having a hotel across the street from the ballpark, but that was an indulgence I would not be able to afford every time.

PNC Park, in my opinion, is my favorite ball park I have visited so far, and it is one that I would truly love to go back to in the future.

At the Ballpark: Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)

At the Ballpark: Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)

Seattle is one of my favorite US cities, and Safeco Field has become one of my favorite big league ballparks. Part of this may because of the proximity of the stadium to me (or relative proximity, I suppose). The Mariners are my defacto home team, since it is only about a 14-hour drive to get from my house to their stadium. Like I said, the proximity is relative. Since Seattle is closer than other major league cities, I have been to more Mariner games than any others across baseball. This is not to say I am a season ticket holder, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been to four games there, which defeats any other stadium in my travel history.

Safeco_Field_nightSafeco is a great place, a great stadium. Nestled in downtown, you can look out into the outfield, and see the incredibly impressive Seahawks Stadium, just across the way. Two have two amazing, modern, and quality stadiums right next to each other, right on the waterfront, and close to everything in town, is truly a great demonstration of city planning. Around Safeco, you are around the center of the action, and most of the highlights of the city are within walking distance of here.

The stadium itself is proof that all of these modern stadiums will offer the best of the best, in order to draw in the best crowds they can 81 times per year. Granted, the Mariners haven’t exactly provided the most stellar on-field lineups in recent years, but now with stars like Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, the team should improve, as should the average crowd.

Ticket prices in Seattle are great, where $40 can get you incredible first or third base seats, only a few rows up from the dugouts. And, since the team has struggled in recent years, it is always easy to get tickets. Of course, you should plan ahead, but walking up to the gates before a game and getting seats is never a major issue. Great seats seem to always be there for any game.

The amenities in the stadium are solid as well. There are tons of food options, perhaps the best variety I have seen in a ballpark. You can get everything from your unhealthy doses of hot dogs and beers, to pretty damn good sushi, or seafood. Who knew a lobster sandwich from a baseball stadium would actually be really good? And affordable, as far as stadium costs go.

safecoCertain sections in Safeco are where you can be catered, and feel extra lazy. For one of my games there, we were in these seats, below the overhand of the upper deck, where there are waitresses that will bring you all your food and drink needs. The menu items cost a little more than walking up to the lines yourself, but sometimes you want a beer and don’t want to miss any of the game. In these instances, I will pay the extra buck or two to have somebody get it for me and bring it to my seat. Another bonus of this service is that you are able to pay for your items with a credit card, and save your cash for something else. A small bonus, but something that I liked about it.

Seattle, being a city known for rain, of course has a stadium with a retractable roof. I find that many stadiums that are indoors lose all of their appeal and baseball traditionalism, but at Safeco, when the roof is closed, it still feels like you are at an outdoor ballgame. The stadium is still open and airy, and you never get that feeling that you are closed in to watch the event. For baseball, I want to be outside, to feel the slight chill of the summer night air. It didn’t feel to me as though this was an issue with a closed roof in Seattle, something I give the stadium creators a lot of credit for.

The fans in Seattle are some of the best in baseball, that I have experienced. The general person is knowledgeable about the game, and very friendly. People respect that you have traveled a long way to see their team, and even in the down times, they still love their Mariners.

I had the chance to witness a couple of cool games there, including one of the legendary Ichiro’s final games as a Mariner, before moving on to the evil Yankees, and a 2-hit shutout gem of a game thrown by Hernandez, one of the best pitchers in the game.

The last time I was at Safeco, at the conclusion of the 6th inning, a man left his prime seats in the first row behind the Texas Rangers dugout, and gave us his tickets. He said that he had to leave, and he wanted us to have them. Gladly accepting, we were able to watch the rest of the game with our beers sitting on the Rangers dugout, a mere couple of feet away from their players. We got to watch the game as the Rangers were throwing sunflower seeds at Yu Darvish, their (at the time) rookie pitcher acquisition from Japan. It was a truly awesome ballpark experience, and one that speaks to the generosity of Mariner fans. It was a perfect conclusion to our couple of days at the park there.

Safeco Field is a secret gem in baseball. The Mariners may not get the media attention of the mega-market teams, but quietly they have created one of the most positive baseball viewing experiences in the league.

I know that I will be back to Safeco in the future. Because it is closer, and because it is great.

#HelloCano

Even though I’ve never been a huge Robinson Cano fan, mainly due to the fact that he played for the evil Yankees, I was beyond happy to see him jump ship and head out West to join the Seattle Mariners.

I’m not a huge M’s fan, but I do have a soft spot for them because they are the closest team to where I live, and they are the team I have had the chance to see live the most times. Plus, I love Seattle, and Safeco Field is one of the best stadiums that I have ever been to.

canoMy primary reason is that because somebody actually left the Yankees. Yes, the Mariners overpaid him. And, yes, 10 years is far too long for a 31-year-old player. But the best second baseman in baseball left the biggest team, and that is good. Sure, he did it for the money, and he will probably miss playing in New York. Plus, this helps out my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, as one of the best players will no longer be someone they have to deal with 18 times per season. So that can only be good.

The Mariners have a long way to go before becoming a serious playoff threat, but this is a start, and it gives them a building block for the next few years. Plus, if they were able to woo someone of Cano’s calibre, then who knows, maybe other big names could be lured by the Emerald City, to enjoy a great sports town and the beautiful Pacific Northwest.