Change is coming to the NHL. Recent reports indicate that expansion could grace the league as early as the 2016-17 season. Depending on which report you’ve read, as many as four teams could be added to the mix.
Bringing the league’s numbers to 34 teams would result in a terrific financial windfall for the owners but would likely result in a watered down product for a period of time. While it may not take the league (and sport as a whole) nearly ten years to bounce back in terms of on-ice quality, adding four more teams would almost certainly result in a significantly watered down product.
Considering the last round of expansion came in the midst of the dead puck era, the NHL struggle with an inferior product up through the second most recent lockout. While the game has certainly enjoyed a nice surge in popularity recently, I wonder what the addition of that many jobs would do to the talent pool. It stands to reason that lesser skilled players could result in a surge in goal scoring should the rules be enforced properly, but I’m not overly interested in seeing the league try and fill upwards of 130 more jobs with AHL-level players for the next few years. It seems far more feasible to add a pair of teams to not only limit the impact on the player pool but to also ensure the league isn’t spreading itself too thin.
As of now cities like Toronto, Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Kansas City have been floated as potential homes for an NHL franchise. Many reports say that Seattle is atop the league’s wish list and Toronto’s size and corporate presence all but ensures financial stability. Further, Quebec City’s new NHL arena will be done soon and there are some deep pocketed owners ready to bring a team back. Vegas has received a ton of press in recent rumors and it appears Sin City will be the next city to host a club while Kansas City sits well apart from the rest of the candidates.
I, for one, don’t see Las Vegas as a horrible option. Their minor league team saw fair support during their existence and if marketed properly I’m willing to be they would receive fair local support. Selling tickets won’t be an issue there as the casinos will be sure to gobble up most, if not all, of the suites along with plenty of normal seats as well. So long as a decent local following can be cultivated I could see Las Vegas as a viable option.
What works in Sin City’s favor is the lack of another big four franchise to pull eyes and interest from a potential hockey club. While it’s about as non-traditional as you can get, I think hockey could take hold in Vegas if the marketing is done right.
Seattle seems like a no brainer at this point. Their football and soccer fans follow their respective teams with rabid intensity and I wouldn’t be surprised to see hockey receive similar support as the on-ice product improves. The lack of a viable building makes things awfully complicated and may set Seattle up better for a relocated franchise as opposed to a new expansion club. Should the arena issue get solved soon, then perhaps the league will work to fast track Seattle and Las Vegas in an effort to balance the conference alignment.
Quebec is another option and a safe one, at that. Media giant Quebecor is backing the new arena and it seems like just a matter of time before the league is bringing back the Nordiques. Like Seattle, I could see Quebec as a strong candidate for a relocated franchise as well as expansion. However, I think Quebec makes more sense for relocation simply because expanding by two teams out west (Seattle and Vegas) would ensure the conferences are balanced.
I think the most ideal scenario for the league would be to relocate one of their struggling franchises while awarding expansion to two owners in each of the cities described above. This way Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec City each get a team in some combination of expansion and relocation. It matters little who ends up with the relocated team so long as the ownership and conference balance is worked out properly.
Without much more to go on other than reports from anonymous sources, it’s hard to say how legitimate all of this is. Perhaps the league is going to stand fast and wait for Seattle’s arena. Perhaps they’ll make Seattle sit out until their building can be completed while other cities like Vegas and Quebec win new clubs.
Either way, the game is almost certainly set to grow in the next few seasons which marks an exciting time for hockey fans.