Bettman

Rumored expansion plans hint NHL is biting off more than it can chew

By now you’ve probably heard the reports stating that an NHL team in Vegas is a “done deal” and that the league is also reportedly planning to launch teams in Seattle, Toronto and Quebec City by 2017. We’ll have to wait and see if any of these reports come true, but it looks like there’s finally some evidence surrounding expansion and it appears that the league may go bold and try to add four teams over the next few years.

Expansion in the NHL is inevitable. Most fans know that and took the hint when the league purposely realigned to a 14-team West and 16-team East. The writing was on the wall that two new teams would be introduced down the road to round out and even up the Conferences. Add in expansion fees distributed to owners, more jobs for more players and other financial incentives, the case for expanding is pretty much open and shut.

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Then there comes this latest report which proposes the league is planning to go from 30 teams to 34. That’s where the NHL could be making a grave mistake and may be trying to bite off more than they can chew. We’ve stressed the need to address current issues before tackling new ones, but that has never been the NHL’s policy. As we’ve seen with the Stadium Series, the NHL always believes that you can never have too much of a good thing. Winter Classic is a hit? Let’s add a full slate of outdoor games. Let’s water things down some. Though those outdoor games have been a hit to date, the novelty will eventually wear off. This analogy works well when it comes to expansion. New teams will thrive out of the gate, but existing issues will continue to linger and the new clubs will eventually lose their initial appeal. Expansion is always a risk and that risk is only multiplied when we’re talking about adding four new teams over the next 3-4 years.

Adding two more teams to the West makes a lot of sense. Adding four more teams in a tight window does not. Just because you can expand doesn’t mean you should. Keep in mind that a 34-team NHL would be the largest of the major sports leagues in America. Consider that the NFL, the largest and most profitable beast in the United States, is content to sit at 32 teams. The NHL’s desire to jump past and have a 34-team league (that just sounds crazy even when typing it) looks like more of a pissing contest and quick cash grab than anything else.

The NHL, believe it or not, is a bright organization. They’ve miraculously kept a profitable business running even with constant lockouts. The league is currently enjoying a successful stretch, but the next work stoppage may be right around the corner. Why rush and add four teams to a league which may already be a bit too crowded? Wouldn’t it make more sense to tread cautiously and see how things go?

Again, these reports are just that – reports. Take them with a boulder of salt. At the same time, stop and think about how the NHL handles itself. Is it really that far-fetched to think this league would take a good thing and run it into the ground?

David Rogers

About David Rogers

Managing Editor of the NHL blog Puck Drunk Love, the St. Louis Blues blog Frozen Notes and Awful Advertisements, a blog on ...awful advertisements. Contributing Editor for Awful Announcing.

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