In an article published Wednesday on the Yahoo blog Puck Daddy, Greg Wyshynski talked about how the National Hockey League may be looking to expand to 32 teams. The basis of this was a vote that took place on Tuesday night by the Markham, Ontario city council that rejected a measure to block the building of a 20,000-seat arena with the intention of bringing a team to the Southern Ontario market.
On the surface, this seems like a smart idea. If the league is going to realign to 4 divisions a la the Smythe, Norris, Adams, and Patrick, then it would make sense to bring in two more franchises to make the number of teams in each division even across the board. If the NHL brings in two extra teams, then there is a larger pie for owners and players to share. Plus, there are two more cities that will see a boost in jobs and revenue in and around the arena. Sounds great, right? Well, not so much.
Before the National Hockey League considers expansion, wouldn’t you think it should take care of its own business first? By “own business,” I’m referring to the Phoenix Coyotes situation. In fact, the Phoenix situation is in such dire straits that if potential owner Greg Jamison cannot come up with the required capital to purchase the team by January 31st, then his investment team will be shut out from purchasing the team (Editor's note: Looks like Jamison won't make it). This would turn the situation back to square one and open up any investor who wishes to purchase the franchise. The Coyotes may even end up moving to Seattle. Before the National Hockey League thinks about expansion, it would behoove them to take care of this situation first.
The NHL's first priority should be ensuring that each of the 30 NHL teams/cities are on solid financial ground before they set their sights on adding teams/cities to the mix. The current problems aren't just going to fix themselves. The idea of expanding and welcoming in a new fan base is a fun, enjoyable experience. The idea of fixing what's currently broken requires getting your hands dirty and putting other projects - easier, more enjoyable projects - on hold.
The Glendale situation is a troubling one because it’s a textbook example of what happens when greed takes over for common sense. Expanding, or even moving a team, to a market with a “if you build it, we will come” mindset can and will have dire consequences. Hopefully, this will not be the case when it comes to the next city the NHL occupies.
With the Coyotes deal falling through, my immediate expectation is that that franchise is going to be on the move in the near future. Between the difficulties finding competent local ownership with pockets deep enough to absorb the franchise, and the issues with the city and financing for the deal on that end, it seems more and more likely that the Coyotes are going to be calling a different city home sooner rather than later.
I ran this by my buddy in Ottawa, and he doesn't think that Quebec is the likely spot, because hockey-mad Canada is more likely to be ready, willing, and able to cough up expansion fees for the next round when new teams come into the league. A line of thinking, I'll admit, that makes a great deal of sense to me, given the NHL's past dealings when money comes into play.
That said, the league is not ready for expansion for a whole host of reasons. It's inability to handle Phoenix is certainly the largest protruding tip of the icebergs the league needs to navigate, but that's hardly the only franchise on hard financial times. The cap and floor situation, namely that it's adversely effected for small- and mid-market teams by those handful at the top with large markets, plenty of rabid fans willing to pay exorbitant gate prices, or both, driving the lion's share of the league's revenue growth. Meanwhile, the pool of revenue sharing has increased mildly, but the pool of teams drawing from it has increased more substantially, a net balance at best, and more likely a net negative to some teams at the bottom that were relying on those monies to make up the difference and stay afloat financially. Certainly, it's possible that two new teams in Canadian markets might be a net positive to this generally, but has the league really learned its lesson? Remember, this is still the same league run by Gary Bettman that expanded the league with franchises in places like Phoenix in the first place.
Meanwhile, I'm sure there will be the same calls from the usual quarters. Increased number of teams leading to more spread in the talent base - essentially bringing in the next best 46 AHL/KHL players to fill spots created by two new teams. That doesn't worry me so much, as we're already at 30 teams, I can't imagine that the overall dilution of talent by team would be that noticeable by adding two more. What I would worry more about, though, would be adding more problems to the pool of the current state of refereeing in the league. (Though, I suppose the flip-side of this is, the current refs are already so bad, would anybody notice if they were replaced, as long as their replacements could still skate?) So, perhaps not a huge headache in the grand scheme of things, but one more pain to notice when talking about things the league needs to get straightened out... somehow.
I hate to keep harping on the whole CBA thing now that they're resolved it for the short term, but expansion wouldn't help that in the least, either. I can easily see it as just one more reason that the owners would opt out of the current deal at the earliest opportunity (the eight year mark) because of the additional aggravations that the expansion could cause them, at least, if the players didn't beat them to the punch on it. After all, it's just another pot of money to be divvied up, and everybody will want a bite at it, if they can get it.
Fifty minutes to game time, and here I am annoyed at the league again. I hope the refs are invisible tonight, at least.
@miendiem I'm fine with relocation. Personally, I truly hope they end up in Seattle. That city absolutely deserves a franchise. However, for there to be whispers of expansion while there are franchises that are financially struggling is pathetic.