It seems like it’s been a plan in the making since this new realignment system was put in place.
But of course, Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner (and denier of the world being round) Bill Daly have said over and over again, interview after interview, that the NHL has no plans to expand the NHL to 32 teams.
However, if you ask the average gamblin’ man, they will tell you that within the next couple of years, don’t be surprised if the NHL grants two new franchises to two new locations, thus solving our realignment imbalance crisis, and making people in two cities much happier than before.
And why shoudn’t the NHL expand? There are many benefits beyond just making cities happy.
First, the NHL can collect a massive expansion fee. This is similar to the relocation fee we discussed last week, but much more lucrative. Again, the amount is usually case specific, but I’ve heard numbers within range of $200 million. Each. That figure will turn their eyes into dollar signs.
Second, they fix the realignment system. No matter which of the several locations that have been rumored (because our friends in the Commissioner’s office said nothing’s happening…again) gets selected, they will be able to finally balance that 4 conference system that the NHL thinks will work, just like the old days where divisions had names like Patrick and Adams. That would rid the little bug of competitive imbalance, even out the amount of teams to make the playoffs (half would), and potentially create (or re-create in some instances) rivalries to bring the competition level up some more.
Yet another reason to expand is economic. 32 is greater than 30, mathematically, and each of the 30 NHL teams need people to operate both team and arena, plus players and staff, and so on. Add 2 more teams, you add more jobs available in the league. You add more spots for players, and that could make the difference between them playing here or being forced out of the league, to go play in the KHL. Another economic facet is that they get more national coverage of fans, more viewers to the games, more fans in the stands, brand new rivalries, all numbers that we can’t achieve now with just 30 teams.
However, with an expansion to 32 teams, I could see a couple of problems.
The most obvious problem is the dilution of talent from within the players. What does that mean? Think of this: We would like to think, that the NHL’s 690 players on active rosters are all the top 690 players in the world. If you add another 46 to that (2 teams x 23 players on a roster), they would make the average talent in the league a little worse.
Also, there might be an overabundance of teams. Each team has to be able to operate financially on their own, as well as the league having to pay to keep them around, through revenue sharing and such. If the NHL can’t keep up with 2 new teams, then the league will be forced to contract, which is the worst thing that could possibly happen to the league.
But that’s a worst case scenario, and with business booming in the league, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
Now, where would the league put new teams? Here are the main cities who have been put in the conversation:
Quebec City, PQ
This Francophone city in Eastern Canada has housed an NHL team before, the Quebec Nordiques. The team had a bitter rivalry with Quebec neighbor Montreal. There is no question in anyone’s mind that the fans would pay money and come out in droves to see the new Nordiques play.
Do they have a new state of the art arena? Sure do. Here’s a rendering of the Quebec Amphitheatre:
The arena would hold approximately 18,500 fans. Best part about it? It’s currently under construction.
Ownership? You got that too. Quebecor Media Inc. has a group with the money ready to go to re-create the Nordiques.
Any drawbacks? A couple, but none major. First, I’m not sure how Bettman feels about a nearly pure French speaking town in the league. Also, the city is not very big, about 765,000 people.
In summation: Please put a team there. They are ready and waiting for the new Nordiques.
Believe it or not, Seattle has a history in hockey, despite never having an NHL. In fact, the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans won the 1917 Stanley Cup, becoming the first American team to win the Chalice. Also, placing a team in Seattle would instantly spark a new rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, who are just 140 miles up the road. The city has nearly 4 million residents, making it the 15th largest metro (no pun intended) area in the U.S..
Do they have a new state of the art arena? Not currently. They are working on the funding to build this gem, however:
But in order to put a shovel in the ground, the city requires an NBA franchise to call the arena home. Until then, there is the KeyArena, which is ill-suited for hockey, having a hockey capacity just over 15,000, and requiring seats to be pulled up in order to accommodate for a full rink (just like the Barclays Center in Brooklyn).
Ownership? Yes, Chris Hansen’s group has interest in bringing NHL hockey to the Emerald city. But, as mentioned before, he wants the NBA to return more than the NHL making landfall.
Drawbacks? As we mentioned before, the NBA would probably need to put a team there before any NHL consideration, despite previous talks that have been made.
In summation: I think it would be a great move for the NHL to put a team there, despite all the talk of the NBA (who’s probably not moving a team to Seattle anytime soon, though I could be wrong).
Did you just take a double-take? Yeah, Toronto already has a team, the wildly successful (financially) Maple Leafs. But there have been talks to bring a second team to Canada’s largest city for several years. Bill Daly said that this team isn’t happening, but who are we kidding, he says lots of things aren’t happening.
Do they have a new state of the art arena? No. They have been through a few lawsuits, however, to try and get approval for the GTA Centre, which they have.
Ownership? GTA Sports and Entertainment is led by CEO W. Graeme Roustan, who is also CEO of Bauer.
Drawbacks? Tons. Most of them having to do with the Maple Leafs owning the town.
In summation: I don’t think so. It can be done, look at the New York area, but I don’t think this one will work.
Other locations exist with viable arenas (Kansas City MO, Houston TX, Saskatoon SK, or Hamilton ON), or owners that want a team moved to a location (Hamilton or Las Vegas NV), but none nearly as easily attained as the 3 mentioned above. But not nearly enough details to go into specifically why it would or wouldn’t work.
As my opinion would have it, I’d plop teams in Quebec and Seattle, and put Detroit back in the Central where they belong (because screw Gary Bettman’s promise to the Illitch family). Again, not so simple considering everything the NHL is trying to deal with today, such as the Olympics, player safety, and other such ventures.
But NHL expansion will likely happen soon. 30 isn’t divisible by 4. 32 isn’t divisible by 6. There is a reason the league pushed a 4 division scheme. They have the money to support new teams, through revenue sharing, and there is plenty of money to be made. The game is growing enough that 32 teams is certainly more doable today than before. It’s just a matter of time until Bettman unveils the “surprise”.