Just a brain twister to think and discuss: rather than poaching other cities’ teams and fans turning against fans, why not add two expansion teams in Canada, and simultaneously provide a long term plan to eventually expand the NHL to a 40-team league with 5 playoff rounds? This would return the league to “playoff profitability” levels retained when there were only 21 teams. Rationale with some interesting numbers below:
Now before the knee-jerking responses about thinning out the league’s talent, etc., let's assume that is common knowledge that is already known by everyone. Expansion has to be at a pace that the current available talent allows, without jeopardizing the current quality on the ice. That said, I’d argue there are enough goalies and checkers but a shortage of top 6 forwards and defensemen to permit significant expansion. Also, I don’t think there are 40 North American cities that can at present support an NHL team; however, I do believe there is enough talent to expand to 32 teams, and there are more than 30 cities in North America that can support an NHL team. Hockey is also a growing sport in several countries, including Germany, and surprisingly China to name a few.
Rather than sparking animosity between hockey fans on opposite sides of the border much like it was in the economic times when the Canadian dollar was around 60 cents American and the NHL seemed determined to leave Canada for greater financial opportunity south, why not add a few expansion teams?
The NHL can continue its desire to see the game expand in southern markets; however, it needs to be recognized that the Canadian dollar and its economy is in a very different place than it was twenty years ago. The high dollar has certainly hurt Ontario’s manufacturing section, but in terms of mineral and natural resource wealth, Canada is in the same position it was after World War II. I’ll be brief so we can get back to hockey. Canada is filthy rich in natural resources. To compare, Aboriginal peoples in Ontario have retained about 1.1 percent of the province’s land...the mineral wealth on the Eastern Ontario Aboriginal reserves alone is estimated at 6 Billion. Though the players have changed, just like after WWII, the fastest emerging economies of the world, India and China, need Canada’s resources. It is resource revenue that is fueling the Canadian economy.
A combination of Canada/United States parity in the almighty dollar, a rising affluent Canadian population in a number of cities and a real desire, call it civic pride if you will, to have an NHL team. The NHL needs to recognize this “new” Canadian market, at least as equally as it sought to expand into untapped southern markets. The obvious difference being, there’s no need to nurture and grow the game here but rather it’s a matter of when the population is large enough and financial able to sustain a team.
I think it obvious the Toronto hockey market is too large for the current supply to meet demand. As a result, far too much money is lost by the NHL. Toronto needs an expansion team. Markham (North Toronto) will have a building by 2015 that rivals all others. It’s a no brainer. A second expansion team would go to either Hamilton or Quebec City, whichever is the most ready. That still leaves one of these two, plus the province of Saskatchewan as realistic options down the road. If Halifax Nova Scotia were to triple their population in 30 years, they may be a destination at that time. Of course, there are also several American cities, Seattle (nearby Victoria B.C.’s population is 300,000), Kansas City, Houston among others. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Atlanta again if they had decent ownership (ticket sales weren’t that bad for a team that lost for so long).
The long-term strategy is to eventually expand the NHL to 40 teams with two Conferences; 20 teams in the Eastern Conference, 20 teams in the Western Conference. There would be 8 Divisions, 4 Divisions in each Conference. Each Division would have 5 teams.
Each team would play each of the 20 teams in the opposite conference once per year. 10 of those 20 games would be played at home, 10 on the road, rotating the home and road games every other year. In other words, half of the 20 games you play against the other conference will be at home and half on the road, then the following season, the 10 teams you played on the road, you would then play at home, and the 10 teams you played at home the previous season, you’d play on the road. Annual League Games = 20. Each team would play each of the other 4 teams in their Division 8 times per year: 4 games on the road and 4 at home. These are the games that should be sold-out due to rivalry and the ability of fans to attend their favorite teams’ road games. Annual Divisional Games = 32. Each team would play the other 15 non-Division Conference teams 2 times per season: 1 game on the road, 1 at home. Annual Non-Division Conference Games = 30. That is a total of 82 games per season, with a schedule that is fair and simple to put together each year.
In the old 21 team league where 16 teams made the playoffs and 5 teams did not, 76% of the league’s teams made the playoffs every year. Under the current 30-team league, 16 teams still make the playoffs each year, but 14 teams do not. That equates to 53% of the NHL’s teams making the playoffs annually each year.
If there were 40 NHL teams and 32 made the playoffs each year, 80% of the league’s teams would then be in the playoffs. That’s back to a slightly higher percentage (4%) than the old 21 team league days (when only 5 teams missed the playoffs), with twice as many teams in the market. Why is this so important? NHL teams make a significant portion of their profits from playoffs. And the sooner it is clear a team has no shot at the playoffs during the regular season, regular season ticket sales drop. The more teams that have a realistic shot at the playoffs, the higher sales revenue and hence greater league stability.