Cold as Ice

Now that the NHL season is in full swing (and nearly a third of the way done already!), there has been talk again of realignment of the league’s conferences. The topic came up last year and was quickly shot down by the players’ union, but now that there is labor peace in the NHL for the foreseeable future, now’s the time to get everybody on the same page. But a byproduct of this discussion is the seemingly inevitable move towards expansion.

The NHL currently has 30 teams, and several are in dire financial straits (Phoenix, Florida, Columbus and the New York Islanders, among others). So why is the league looking to expand? Former NHL Players Association head Paul Kelly said last month that he believes the league will expand by two teams in the next two to three years, putting a second team in the Toronto area and returning a franchise to Quebec City. In addition to allowing the NHL to realign with four divisions of eight teams, the moves will bring in more revenue from actual hockey hotbeds.

Unlike the NHL’s ill-advised expansion moves into warm weather areas, at least adding teams in the Toronto area and Quebec would make some semblance of sense. But expanding to 32 teams further waters down the product, which I’d argue is already watered down. I’m old school; I’d love see the league at 24 teams, or even fewer. That’s never going to happen, of course. There’s too much money being made already.

I don’t have a problem with new teams in Toronto and Quebec, but I’d like to see a couple of the financially troubled teams move instead of adding new franchises to the mix. It already worked with the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg before last season; it could work again. The Phoenix Coyotes, who themselves were relocated from Winnipeg in 1996, have been a massive joke the last several years…off the ice, anyway. On the ice, the team has been strong the last few years, but former owner Jerry Moyes sustained huge losses before declaring bankruptcy and turning the Coyotes over to the NHL in 2009. The team has been rumored to be moving to various locales, but the NHL has resisted any such offers.

Instead of forcing the team to remain in Arizona, why not move the Coyotes to either Markham, Ontario (which is moving ahead with a plan to build a 20,000-seat arena) or Quebec City? It makes sense financially and from a fan standpoint. The good folks of Glendale, Ariz., haven’t come out in droves for the Yotes and aren’t likely to in the future. Like it finally did with the Thrashers, the NHL should just suck it up, admit it made a bunch of mistakes, and move the team.

The same should be done with one of the other aforementioned struggling teams. But it won’t happen, because the lure of additional revenue is too great. So get ready for the Original 32 in a few years time because in the NHL, cash money speaks louder than common sense any damn day.

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