It seems silly to talk about expansion in the NHL considering the league is enjoying its second stoppage in nine years. It seems foolish to even hint at the topic considering the recent issues that have arisen in locations like Atlanta and the continually discussed situation in Phoenix. Reports have indicated that numerous franchises are in dangerous financial territory.
Except this is the NHL. You can take logic and common sense and throw it out the window. An article from NESN.com indicates that the league might be planning to expand in the very near future and could be preparing to tackle such an issue as soon as the lockout ends.
If you ever need help placing your cart in front of your horse, ask the NHL for help. They're the undisputed champions.
To be fair, the league has denied all reports speculating that they are thinking expansion. Still, the signs indicate that various cities could be targeted for expansion including Seattle, Quebec City or Toronto. In the past we had discussed that a location like Seattle or Toronto might be home to a relocated squad but it appears, if you're to believe these reports, that the NHL may use two of the locations above for two new squads.
The idea of expansion isn't a surprise. The NHL's proposed alignment - you know, the one that got promptly rejected by the players - was one that that was quite lopsided, with two Conferences holding eight teams and the other two holding seven. The alignment didn't make much sense for a league with 30 teams. However, it was a proposal that would make plenty of sense for a league with 32 teams. (Gasp!)
Expansion is a perfectly fine idea to toss around the table. However, the timing has to be nearly perfect in order for it to be successful. At the current time expansion seems like a poor idea. It doesn't address the issues in Phoenix or even the ones in Columbus. By the time the NHL actually does expand there might be one, two or even a handful of other teams in sticky situations that we're writing about.
Perhaps the most intelligent, yet most difficult, decision would be to contract. Until the league has a proven record of having each franchise post positive, or at least sustainable numbers, there's no logic in expanding. Instead, cut the weak links and build consistent gains in the other franchises. To borrow an old expression, you're only as strong as your weakest link.
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This is part and parcel of the current situation with the CBA. If it gets worked out in such a way that all the current teams are financially sustainable, and that two new entrants would have stable footing to get off the ground, then this makes a whole lot of sense. To wit:
The owners would like it. Expansion fees expand their short-term bottom line. Placing the teams in solid markets (pick another Canadian city, for instance), would help the league's overall revenues in the mid-to-long term as well. Perhaps it even eventually creates a situation where more teams are in the category of paying into the revenue sharing pool.
The players would like it. It's 40-some-odd more jobs at the NHL level for players, with all that comes with it, including, at a minimum, two more shots at at least the cap floor to the union.
The fans, at least in the picked cities, would like it. Done well, the league has a chance to boost their revenues here - see the point about the owners. Everybody else might get around to complaining about diluting the league's talent level, but we can go 'round and 'round with that particular argument.
All of that, again, being predicated upon the current CBA being hammered into a shape that's functional long-term for all teams. If it's just short term percentage gains for small market/otherwise financially shaky clubs, without reform of the way the cap ceiling and floor work to keep the positive revenue generating teams from driving it out of reach again, and/or functional revenue sharing to let said small teams keep up with the Joneses in some manner, then, rather than expansion, looking at contraction is a very real possibility, even if one I doubt the league would want to discuss.