NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly appeared at the Vancouver Canuck’s annual Summer Summit recently to answer questions from the fans. He gave information on a variety of topics, including the 2014 Heritage Classic between the Canucks and the Ottawa Senators, but his comments concerning the health of the league and potential expansion may have gotten the most attention. When asked about expansion Daly replied, “what we’ve said with respect to expansion is, we’re focused right now on our 30 clubs and 30 markets.” He went on to say, in regards to the Phoenix ownership situation, “Once we have that behind us, we will probably, for the first time in a long time, have a stable framework in a 30 team league in order to continue to grow our business.” Finally he added, “It’s certainly possible”.
Though Daly clearly won’t come out and say it, it’s apparent that expansion has been on the NHL’s mind for some time, though Phoenix was putting a damper on things. The league could hardly justify adding more teams while one of the existing teams didn’t even have stable ownership. But with the situation in Pheonix hopefully (and finally) resolved soon, the NHL seems to already be preparing for the next step in growing the league.
For those of you keeping track, it’s been 14 years since the league expanded to 30 teams, the longest period without expansion since the league grew from six teams to twelve in 1967. There’s a number of compelling reasons why the NHL would be looking to add more clubs, the most obvious of which is revenue. A new team, depending on the market, could fetch the NHL more than a few hundred million dollars in expansion fees, not to mention the amount of money potential new teams could add to the entire league’s revenue pool in the form of merchandising, ticket sales and corporate partnerships.
Some would argue that adding more teams would dilute the product and quality of players in the NHL. Though that may have been valid even ten years ago, the truth is that there are at least two full team’s worth of NHL regulars still sitting on the UFA market as we approach August. Players simply can’t find a team that has room for them anymore. As a result, many players are forced to go overseas to look for work, a prospect that the NHL would surely like to avoid.
Lastly, there are still some markets in North America that could easily support an NHL franchise. The Winnipeg Jets are making about twice as much money as they were in Atlanta, and that’s taking into account the smaller building, because the fans there are just so rabid about hockey. It’s the perfect example of a market that was under-served and began to prosper once it was given an NHL team. One potential landing place for an NHL franchise that has been discussed heavily lately is Seattle. When asked about Seattle, Daly responded, “what we do know is there is significant hockey interest here in the Northwest….Seattle would be a great market for the NHL”. So clearly the NHL has done it’s research here. Other markets being bandied about include Quebec City and another team in the greater Toronto area. All three markets have, or will have, top quality buildings soon that could easily house an NHL franchise, as well as a large market base of hockey crazy fans.
Further adding to the intrigue is the NHL’s new divisional format. While the NHL’s new CBA was approved for a minimum of seven years, the new divisions have only been approved for the next three seasons (by which point, coincidentally, new arenas in Seattle and Quebec City will have been completed). With the current organization of having 16 teams in the East and only 14 in the West, it seems perfectly logical that adding two more franchises would correct that imbalance.
So, if you add it all up it seems apparent that the NHL is taking a serious look at expanding the league for the first time in over a decade. While we may not see anything happening immediately, don’t be surprised if the chatter continues through next season, and some more concrete announcements of the NHL’s intentions start to come out.
Thanks for reading, you can follow me on twitter @CanuckPuckHead. Give the rest of the hockey department a follow while you’re at it – @LastWordBigMick, @TheHockeyMitch, @ddmatthews, @lastwordBKerr, and @LastWordOnNHL, and follow the site @lastwordonsport.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.