January 8, 2009

Expanding to 32 Teams

There is talk that the NHL has hopes of expanding to 32 teams in the future. Of course, with the current economic situation those plans are most likely on the back burner. There is also the issue of four cities which can barely keep their teams as is. Nashville, Florida, Phoenix, and Atlanta are all on the bubble. If the NHL wants to expand, it should look at correcting those situations first.

When you look at those four cities, not one of them jumps out as a place where hockey might be popular. Atlanta is on their second NHL franchise, Phoenix doesn't even play in Phoenix, Nashville just wants to play football, and Florida already has one team.

Lets pretend that all of those situations have been fixed. Lets look at possible new locations where the NHL wants to put teams and where I would like to see some teams.

1. Las Vegas
The NHL wants to be an attraction on the strip. Getting enough season tickets sold might be a challenge. Initially it might be a good sell, but when the novelty wears off will the locals and vacationers still be there?

2. Kansas City
They have an arena ready to go. I believe they also have potential owners ready to go who believe in hockey in Kansas City. If they believe, I say give them a shot. The tough times would be during the NFL season, but most teams get through that period by having a lot of road games in Canada at the beginning of the season and not playing opposite the NFL team on Sundays.

(Srint Center in Kansas City)

3. Winnipeg
Winnipeg thinks they desperately want a team. Problem is, when they are given a chance to prove it they can't. During the 2007 pre-season the Maple Leafs played the former Jets, the Phoenix Coyotes, in Winnipeg and they fell a few thousand seats short of selling out. Possibly the market is just not big enough in Winnipeg

4. Quebec City
Can't see any problem here. There would be an automatic rivalry with the Canadiens, and right now hockey in Canada is bigger than ever. A puck, stick, and ice could sell almost anywhere in Canada right now. A new arena would be needed, thus of course private and/or public money would be needed.

5. Saskatoon
Again, maybe not big enough of a market. If there could be some sort of Winnipeg/Saskatoon team where each city hosts 20 home games that might sell. That would be a bad situation for the players though, as they would not be able to establish a permanent home for themselves or their family.

6. Toronto
Everyone will hate me and think I am biased for saying this, but another team in Toronto would work. Leaf tickets are extremely hard to come by and Toronto is the 5th largest city in North America. Plus surrounding areas have very accessible public transit into Toronto. On the down side, any hockey that is not the Leafs has been a hard sell. Edmonton had their AHL team in Toronto for a season and left due to poor attendance. The Leafs' AHL club now plays in that arena (in the downtown core) and also has trouble packing the place.

7. East coast Canada
This team would be supported heavily. The problem is that they would be the most eastern team in the NHL and all other teams would have to travel further to play them. In the AHL, all teams on the east coast eventually moved because of the travel costs and inconvinience of fly into the east coast. Then again Vancouver and LA are west and they work.

8. Seattle
I have the same attitude toward a Seattle franchise as I do towards a Kansas City franchise. The difference being that Seattle doesn't have a rink or owners ready.

If the NHL were to expand to 32 teams, it could return to its 4 division system. Currently, divisions only matter if you win yours. Other than that they just deicde which teams you will play the most during your 82 game schedule. A return to the 4 divisions could also mean a return to Divisonal playoff matchups. 1st versus 4th, winner plays the winner of 2nd versus 3rd for the playoff divison championship, then conference championship and Stanley Cup Finals.
I was always a fan of that system.

Also, I'm perfectly content with 30 healthy franchises also. Although there are a few teams I would like to get rid of. I'll cover that some other time.

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