All this talk about expansion is very interesting. Who do we protect? Who do we have to give up ? What trades should we make? Should we trade our picks or keep them because they are protected in expansion draft ?
Instead of expansion, we should be talking about contracting.
There are a number of teams in the NHL whose markets simply cannot sustain a team:
- Why do we still have a team called the Islanders in the NHL ? They have had bad attendance for years. Their numbers simply do not support them having a team, and their move to Brooklyn has only made that problem worse.
- How about Florida? Not Tampa Bay, but Miami. Tampa actually does fairly well attendance-wise; Miami, on the other hand, does not. Florida is notorious for being a tough market for all pro sports, not just those played on ice. You know the old saying “build a winner and they will come”? Well in Florida you know it’s not going to last. They built a near-winner and the moment the team slowed down, the fans stopped showing up.
- What can we say about Arizona? Nothing that hasn’t already been said about that market. How about Carolina? What about Columbus?
These teams I have mentioned are all regularly at the bottom of the league attendance averages for the last number of years.
Why do we keep them around ?
I do not know a valid reason aside from the cost to buy out these owners and perception. I think the far bigger deal is perception to the owners and commissioner. Questions surrounding contraction include: When do “Major” leagues contract teams? How will our advertisers look at us? What will Media say about us?
Most of the US doesn’t regard the NHL as a “major” league. It is commonly known as a league that has regional followings across the nation. Currently most of what I see from the US media (that isn’t exclusively hockey media) isn’t positive about the NHL anyhow. Maybe, just maybe, they would be more positive if the product was better.
Would contraction help this? Absolutely.
I decided to look into attendance numbers of the last team that relocated which was the Atlanta Thrashers.
I noticed a trend in Atlanta numbers, they actually drew a decent amount of fans for a few years and then started a downward slide. Just for a base number I added up and then averaged the attendance figures
The 3 year period before the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg was 13,901 and their 6 year average was 15,874 now this is purely my opinion but If the NHL is relocating a team to a market that currently has a Maximum capacity of 15,294 anything that exceeds that number must be acceptable. Alternatively anything below that number could be on notice. Essentially I am using Winnipeg Attendance as acceptable or unacceptable. There are 5 teams that have struggled over the last few years attendance wise.
|Last 3 year average|
|New York Islanders||14,567|
All 5 of these teams should be on notice, drawing consistently below 15, 000 should be unacceptable. Carolina now has its owner getting sued by his children, which should make the commissioner very antsy. Columbus and New York have much longer track records of having poor attendance, their last 10 years is very poor and the Islanders should have been relocated or contracted long ago, and not just relocated to Brooklyn.
Attendance figures provided by ESPN
How would I like to see contraction work?
Let’s do away with 2 teams and move one team to Quebec City. Here’s my suggestion:
New York Islanders move to Quebec.
Then we contract Arizona & Florida, but since the Commissioner seems to hell bent on making the Desert a go lets contract Carolina. The Arizona market seems to be Gary Bettmans “legacy” move.
Are the conferences still uneven? Yes, but maybe within a couple years Columbus moves to Seattle or Vegas if things don’t improve for them.
Quebec would have to buy the team and then pay a “relocation fee”. The NHL would then use this fee to buyout one of Carolina or Florida. Let’s say this would be about $200 Million, give or take a few. The NHL would have to buy out the other team for the same price, which would cost each remaining owner roughly $7.4 Million. This would really hurt a few teams in the short term but it would be for long term gain.
Now we would have a draft from the contracted players. Between Florida and Carolina, there’s quite the collection of talent potentially available in a contraction draft: Ekblad, Barkov, Faulk, Lindholm, Trochek, Hanifin, Huberdeau, Staal…. the list goes on.
The depth of every other organization would be at least 2 players better. Could the Oilers add a 2nd line player for just money? Absolutely. Running through the list of draft picks and players these organizations have, the idea of contraction becomes even more enticing. All of a sudden our 2nd D pair is that much better.
League-wide, the hockey would be more exciting because the level of play would be better. The fans would benefit and enjoy the game more, and would be more likely to spend more money on a better product. The advertisers would still be interested, maybe even to a greater degree because the game is actually better.
Will it happen?
Honestly, I don’t see it actually happening. The players (specifically the NHLPA) don’t want to lose all those jobs so they would fight it. The Owners are too blinded by $500 million expansion fees and fears of perception that it probably never even enters their minds.
I cannot see it happening at all but expansion also doesn’t make sense to me. I want better hockey played in fewer markets that actually love and appreciate the game.