Both Too Many Men On The Site and Union and Blue have discussed the prospect of a NHL team in the city of Cleveland. While Cleveland is not among the cities often thrown around in relocation or expansion discussions, the return of Lebron James and the Browns drafting Johnny Manziel has Cleveland sports at an all-time high.
Now that the Columbus Blue Jackets are positioned to be a playoff contender, the NHL has an outstanding opportunity to increase the popularity of the sport in Ohio. Even though I am a Cleveland sports fan, I believe moving an NHL team or granting an expansion team to Cleveland is not the best way to do this. Instead of setting up a direct competitor to the Columbus Blue Jackets a mere two hours away, the NHL should do all it can to market the Blue Jackets as “Ohio’s team”.
The Lake Erie Monsters are the current AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche and have been in the top 3 for AHL attendance for the past few seasons. I attended a recent fan outreach meeting at Quicken Loans Arena and we were asked what our favorite NHL team was. Seven of the 10 attendees responded with the Colorado Avalanche. I was one of two Columbus Blue Jackets fans in the room. Not to diminish the relationship between the Monsters and the Avalanche, but hockey in Ohio would be better served by the Columbus Blue Jackets making the Lake Erie Monsters their affiliate. This would cause hockey fans in Cleveland to take an interest in the Blue Jackets, as well as give fans in Columbus a reason to come up to Cleveland to watch the Blue Jackets prospects.
In addition to an agreement with the Lake Erie Monsters, the Blue Jackets should select either the Toledo Walleye or the Cincinnati Cyclones as their ECHL affiliate. If the Cyclones were selected, Ohio hockey fans could literally travel the length of I-71 and see all three levels of the Blue Jackets system. As it currently stands, the Blue Jackets have the Evansville IceMen and the Springfield Falcons as their affiliates. While some fans have made the trek to Springfield and Evansville, neither teams have gained the type of attention that an entirely Ohio based prospect system would.
Instead of diluting the market with a competing NHL franchise in another major Ohio city, the NHL and the Columbus Blue Jackets should use the resources and franchises already in place to their advantage.