Monday November 24, 2014

NHL expansion: Who deserves a team?


With the talk of NHL expansion heating up again I figured this edition of the ‘Hot Corner’ should be all about NHL expansion: analyzing the suggested areas and suggesting a couple of my own.

Most likely you’ve heard about the four most probable places by now. But if you haven’t, let me fill you in on the details. Rumour has it that the NHL is most interested in bringing a team back to Quebec City and putting another team in Toronto.

Supposedly they also want to put a franchise in Seattle, Washington, as well as Las Vegas, Nevada.

Now I agree with them on 50% of those places. Quebec City definitely deserves another team. The NHL has successfully brought the NHL back to both Minnesota and Winnipeg after previously moving teams out of those two places in the early to mid-90’s.

They also took the Nordiques away from Quebec City around the same time. The reasons made sense of course. A weak Canadian dollar, the second smallest city population wise in professional sports (behind Green Bay, Wisconsin), a high unemployment rate within the city and surrounding areas and the fact that NHL salaries were skyrocketing and ownership simply couldn’t afford to sign players. And then there were the issues with players simply not wanting to play in a city where French is basically the only language spoken (Eric ‘The Walking Concussion’ Lindros is an example).

All viable reasons for why the NHL failed in Quebec City. But now things are better. More people speak English, the Canadian dollar is stronger, and the unemployment rate is down. I say it’s time to give the Nordiques another chance. Vive les Nordiques!

Seattle is another good idea. The Northwestern area of the US loves hockey, as proven by the success of WHL teams in the area, not just league wise but financially and fan based as well.

A Seattle NHL team would have an instant rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks due to the close proximity of the two cities and a team in Seattle would, most likely, be supported much like the Seahawks are in the NFL.

The two bad ideas, however, were to add another team in Toronto (come on, they already have a wannabe NHL team!) and Las Vegas.

The Vegas idea is particularly terrible. The NHL should learn from its mistakes. Hockey in Arizona is all but dead. Atlanta couldn’t hold interest in a team twice and the Florida Panthers (and to an extent the Tampa Bay Lightning) are struggling.

Sure, Vegas has a decently supported ECHL team in the Wranglers.

By decently I mean they sell around 4,400 seats per game in an arena that holds a little under 7,800 people for hockey. There is no way an NHL team would sell out a 20,000 seat arena 41 times a season (or come anywhere close to it).

So where should the NHL seriously consider for expansion? How about here?

No, not in Yorkton. But Saskatchewan for sure.

Saskatoon, I truly believe, would be a great place for an NHL team. Yes, it’s not a very large city and the Blades don’t draw all that well.

But we’ve all seen the potential the city has when Saskatoon co-hosted the 2010 World Juniors with Regina.

Add to that the fact that, if Saskatchewan ever gets an NHL team, the fan support would be on par with the Roughriders and you have a successful financial set up already.

And then there is the rivalry with Winnipeg. A Bomber vs. Riders style rivalry in the NHL would be amazing.

Sure, the Credit Union Centre isn’t big enough right now. But you can’t tell me that a team selling out a 14,000-plus rink every game isn’t a better situation than a team selling out 80% of their arena (with discounts, terrible promotions and giveaways) and drawing just over 13,000 people.

Winnipeg does well selling out the MTS Centre at 15,004 people per game. Why can’t a team at the CUC survive? No reason. Make it happen, Bettman.

My final suggestion is, of course, a city that once had an NHL team only to lose it to a southern city.

Hartford, Connecticut.

And the reason is simple. We need this generation’s hockey fans to experience the wonderful playing of ‘Brass Bonanza’ during a Hartford Whalers hockey game!



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