Lacing Up: Subtraction By Addition?
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
Matt Paul: It looks as though the proposed NHL re-alignment plan (visually displayed at Icethetic) will become official in a matter of days, which means the East (16 teams) and West (14 teams) will be divided unevenly as early as next season.
Essentially, what we’ll see is four divisions that are somewhat geographically defined. Those benefiting clearly are the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings, both of whom move east, and the Winnipeg Jets, who move West. Those who suffer clearly are borderline playoff teams in the East, as they will have a more difficult time securing a playoff spot in the crowded conference.
So, while I like the idea of re-alignment and I love the new division the Penguins will be a part of, I don’t like the direction the NHL clearly is headed in: expansion. With two uneven conferences, the next “logical” step (though NHL officials have not commented on this) is to add two teams to the West, which just doesn’t make sense on so many levels. Josh, how do you feel about this?
Joshua Neal: I’m hesitant to embrace expansion. In fact, we discussed contraction by the league over the summer. The move from Atlanta to Winnipeg justifies Winnipeg moving to the Western Conference, and the new alignments make sense geographically. However, the National Hockey League is fresh off its third lockout in less than 20 years. One of the main contributors to the lockout’s occurrence was the disparity between the big market teams and small market teams.
We heard it all throughout the lockout. Cities like Boston and New York basically were not exactly happy with the idea that they subsidize teams like Phoenix, Nashville, and others just for the sake of having hockey for the extremely small number of fans/viewership in those areas. Sure, that’s a gross oversimplification. But if the league can’t even find 30 good cities to support hockey markets, how on earth will looking for two more and maintaining what they have yield better results?
Matt: I don’t think it’s a matter of having difficulty finding 30 cities that can support hockey, but rather picking the right cities that can support hockey. In other words, when you try to force feed the NHL to people in non-traditional markets, such as Florida, Phoenix, California, etc., you’re asking for problems. Now, I’m not against having a few teams in non-traditional markets, but two teams in Florida with another Carolina (and the recently-relocated Atlanta) franchise nearby is a bit of overkill.
In theory, expansion isn’t a terrible idea market-wise — expect that the NHL hasn’t solved the current problems. To me, there are plenty of hockey-starved markets out there to expand the league to 32 teams, but let’s first cut bait with some of the dead weight franchises, moving them to strong cities before expanding.
Josh, if you were to select two franchises to relocate, which would they be, and where would you place them?
Josh: While it would be a tough decision for anyone to make, if I get to play “commissioner” of sorts in this scenario, I think that you have to look at it from a business standpoint as well as a hockey one. Look at a city like Winnipeg – a small market that absorbed a team from Atlanta. Atlanta probably has 10 times the population of Winnipeg, but the embrace of hockey has made the team’s move up north a more profitable one.
Just because a city is Canadian rather than American doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a better fit for a franchise. And just because a team is from the South doesn’t mean they can’t support hockey. However, I think that is a trend we’ve noticed. Whether it’s the warm weather mentality or just a lack of interest among the population as a whole, hockey tends to do better the closer it is to its birthplace.
So, without much more justification than that, I’d move Florida and Phoenix to Hamilton, Ontario (predictable) and Quebec City (also predictable). Call me a Purist, but give the American South their hockey teams when the league can afford that kind of investment. Matt, did you have other locations in mind for elimination/relocation
Matt: I hate to pick on the weaklings, but it’s clear that Phoenix and Florida aren’t hockey hotbeds, and both teams are having troubles. In Phoenix, they can’t seem to figure out a logical way to develop a sustainable franchise. In Florida, they can’t find a way to draw fans. So, as you said, it seems logical that, before the NHL expands, it relocates these teams.
Beyond your obvious suggestions of Hamilton — or, at the very least, Toronto — and Quebec City, I’ll throw in my own no-brainer, Hardford, and a city that’s gaining momentum, Seatle. In Hardford, you have a traditional northeast city that once was the proud home of the Whalers (and quite possibly the best sports logo ever). In Seattle, you add a much-needed Western Conference team that would become a natural rival with the isolated Vancouver Canucks.
Unfortunately, Josh, the idea of relocation seems to be a last-ditch effort, at best, which means we’re more likely to see expansion before additional relocation. And, in my humble opinion, such an idea would subtraction by addition, as I don;t see how the NHL can consider adding teams when there are a handful of nonviable teams struggling at present.