If the NHL is dead set on expansion, which Dejan Kovacevic of Triblive.com reports is the case, the league is heading down the wrong road. NHL expansion is a ridiculous thought for the simple fact that the league can’t fill the 30 rinks that currently host a team, so why would Gary Bettman and his posse even consider the option of adding two more teams.
Kovacevic mentions that the NHL is intent on expanding to a 32-team league even though no one is saying anything about it. Do they know deep down that it’s the wrong move? Probably not given how excited Bettman is to add teams to markets in the US that are clearly not desirable hockey destinations.
For years the NHL has battled with the other top professional sports leagues and for years hockey continues to sit in the number four position. The NFL, MLB and NBA are light years ahead of the NHL when it comes to attracting a southern US audience and one could argue that Nascar is a bigger hit in certain geographic locations.
Adding two more teams likely wouldn’t come in the form of Las Vegas, Kansas City or Oklahoma City, names that have been brought up in the past. Maybe Bettman has learnt his lesson that the game that he is so proud of (that he almost destroyed this year with the lockout) just doesn’t succeed in non-traditional hockey markets.
Which is why when Kovacevic mentions places like Quebec City, Markham, Ontario and possiblly Seattle as the front-runners for the expansions, it’s at least worth taking a look. But that’s as far as it should go.
The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t exactly breaking attendance records and the Nashville Predators, despite success on the ice are a small market club that could see their crowds dwindle if they ever have to rebuild and don’t stay competitive. The Florida Panthers play in front of a half-empty rink on most nights and the Atlanta Thrashers are now defunct. Yes, the Winnipeg Jets are thriving since their return to Canada and adding a team back in Quebec is likely the most reasonable option. But just not expansion.
Why not relocate the Panthers or better yet the Phoenix Coyotes who haven’t had an owner in what feels like forever. The league is running the team, the city of Glendale says they want to keep the team but can’t attract any investors and yet Bettman continues to fork out the dough to keep the team afloat, barely. Relocation is the obvious answer versus expansion.
In the article, Kovacevic discusses how adding two more teams could water down the talent pool, but the game’s biggest adversary, Sidney Crosby feels that this wouldn’t be the case.
“It’s only two more teams. I don’t see it as that big an issue,” the captain said. “The league’s found a way to stay competitive with 30. It can do 32.”
Not exactly proof in the pudding Sid, but for argument sake, let’s go ahead and give the Europeans more roster spots in the NHL to help fill the void of ‘lack of talent.’
Kovacevic then writes that expansion would allow the NHL to get into more markets, thus increasing the gate revenue. Again, when the Phoenix Coyotes only draw 8,000 fans when the Edmonton Oilers in town, this point holds little merit.
How about the benefits that expansion would help realignment as Kovacevic states. Sure, it likely would but so would contraction if you think about it.
He then turns his focus to adding a team in Quebec and using the Jets as the perfect example, something that’s already been mentioned. A second team in Quebec again makes perfect sense with a new arena already said to be in place. A second team in the Toronto area? I’m not completely sold on this idea with the Buffalo Sabres within a two-hour drive of the Maple Leafs. If it came down to it, Hamilton would be my choice versus Markham.
Seattle is another healthy option but let’s be honest with ourselves; that new 40,000 capacity arena was built to lure back the SuperSonics and not to attract the NHL. With the Seahawks looking like a budding success in the NFL, the NHL would quickly cement themselves as the number four sport should the NBA give Seattle another shot. The number four sport. Sound familiar?
In the end, money talks and when presented the opportunity with a revenue filled potential (at least on paper), Gary Bettman will always be interested. Whether or not it’s good for the game is another matter.
But in this case, when the league can’t operate all 30 teams successfully, something the NFL can boast, adding two more organizations to the mix is a recipe for future failure. After all, the best predictor for future performance is past behavior, or in this case, failed expansion.