Expansion Possibilities

It’s taken a little while, but it’s starting to sink in: NHL expansion is a possibility.

There are subtle hints popping up many places.  The first talks of expansion came when the rumors started about realignment to four divisions, two with seven teams, two with eight.  Two more teams would certainly even that out some.

Kevin Dupont isn’t a fan of going odd in the first place:

Not sure about you, but I don’t like the imbalance, or lack of symmetry, inherent in 8 and 7.  A seven-team division is just aching to be turned into a matching eight-team division, and if we learned anything in the NHL’s ever-expanding ‘90s, it was that bigger is definitely not better.

We don’t need a 32-team NHL. 

In fact, we don’t need a 30-team NHL. There just aren’t enough NHL-caliber players to stock the existing NHL teams (no calculator necessary).

Reading into things, the first hint might have come up during all the Penguins relocation stories a month ago.

When Jim Balsillie was making an offer to buy the Penguins some got their hopes up that another NHL franchise could start making HNIC appearances.  The NHL had other ideas and Balsillie backed out when the league wanted to add extra conditions into his contract with the league.

The league was and is doing whatever they can to keep the team in Pittsburgh, something many wish the league would have done with Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hartford and the original Minnesota franchise.

Despite the league’s efforts, the Penguins may relocate.  Kansas City, Houston, and Portland (OR) seem to be the front-runners for the team.  Arenas and market size play heavily into the equation.  Winnipeg is usually thrown into the mix, but is rarely considered to be a real possibility.  That prompted Victor Chi to wonder, “why is Canada is being written off?

Some Canadian cities supposedly lack the corporate base to sustain an NHL club. But they don’t lack a built-in audience appreciative and savvy about hockey. And wasn’t the new collective-bargaining agreement sold to the fans as being a system in which all markets, big and small, can compete on untilted ice?

Perhaps his question is really the answer to the expansion question.

Why let any rich Canadian relocate a franchise when he/she/they might be willing to pay some heavy expansion fees instead?

Expansion is not going to go over well, no matter what, but if you expand to Canadian cities, well… you’ve got a large fan base and probably a good chunk of the media who’ll cut you some slack for that one.

Keep relocation in the US, expand to Canada, and your PR is a lot better than the reverse.

There aren’t too many large cities to choose from.  You’d have to think Winnipeg would get another crack at the NHL and either Southern Ontario or Quebec could grab the other team.

The US cities will likely stay the same for relocation, and if it’s not the Penguins it could be the Predators or another southern team.  Like the Penguins, many of the southern teams have bright futures on the ice.  Some city will have an instant winner, similar to Quebec moving to Colorado and winning the Cup immediately.

Could a couple of Canadian cities and some new US locales not just support, but strengthen NHL support across North America?  The debate will be strong.

Just as fiery will be the debate about whether or not the talent pool can support expansion.  Dupont doesn’t think so:

Unfortunately, what the NHL doesn’t have is the players.  Sure, parity can be a beautiful thing.  North America still cranks out enough homeboys to keep the NFL, and even the CFL, stocked with corn-fed linemen and ball luggers.

But now, some 20 years into having all of Europe’s doors being swung open, even hockey’s worldwide talent pool isn’t large enough for 30 NHL teams to stock the shelves.

Imagine the fun we wouldn’t have if reconfiguration led to 32.

Others will call for the NHL to simply drop teams rather than expand.

Jamie Fitzpatrick explains contraction probably won’t give them the result they’re looking for.

If more scoring is the sign of a more entertaining game, it’s hard to see how shedding the bottom rung of talent would make a big difference. If so many of today’s fourth-line forwards and depth defensemen are mere NHL pretenders, why aren’t the Joe Sakics and Ilya Kovalchuks of the world skating rings around them? If anything, today’s presumed surfeit of mediocre players should mean more offense, not less, while a smaller league would make scoring even harder. If contraction reduces the NHL to its best players, that includes the best defensemen and best checking forwards.

I tend to agree with Fitzpatrick and liken it to watching the NFL to compared to NCAA football.  The talent disparity in the college games leads to the breakout plays and high scoring.

High scoring?  I heard the NHL is after that also.

Posted by David M Singer on Jan 19, 2007 at 04:39 PM


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