With the new re-alignment in the National Hockey League, there were a few glaring inadequacies. The biggest one (in my mind) was how the new paradigm placed sixteen teams in the East, and fourteen in the West. (If the Florida Panthers thought they’re playoff chances weren’t slim enough already….) This unbalance practically screamed that there was going to be an addition to the NHL family, and it was going to happen out west.
Got to hand it to Gary Bettman here. He was so convinced that there needed to be hockey in the southwest he helped engineer this whole Arizona (nee Phoenix) Coyotes disaster. You know, the slap shot melodrama that has gone on for so long that the only thing that has been agreed upon so far is that the Coyotes are staying (and city officials aren’t sure if they’ve only just delayed the inevitable.) in Arizona for the time being.
While Bettman is still shopping around for a few more homes for hockey, the message at the league isn’t entirely clear. Bill Daly, the # 2 guy at the NHL brought up the possibility of expansion. His lukewarm response sheds light on the current state of expansion plans for the league.
“There’s never been a plan to expand to thirty two teams,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com yesterday morning. “Whether we talked conceptually at some point if things are going well whether we could expand to thirty two, I’m sure we suggested we could, but we certainly never reached the point where that was appropriate when Paul Kelly was executive director of the NHLPA and I’d say we haven’t got there at this point. I’d say any sports league aspires to be in a position where expansion is a good idea. But again, it’s got to be the right circumstances.”
At one point, a group of investors were interested in purchasing the Coyotes on the premise that the team be moved to Seattle, Washington. Bettman himself nixed that plan, as he wanted to keep a foothold for hockey in the desert. (Yeah, that doesn’t make much sense to me either.) “I’m not sure we ever really addressed Seattle as a specific alternative in that process,” Daly said[in regards to the aborted plan to move the 'Yotes to the Washington State]. “But I think it’s safe to say that we’re very intrigued by the Pacific Northwest generally.”
“The Vancouver Canucks have done a fantastic job developing a fan base here, a hockey following here. And so going forward, I would expect that, to the extent expansion comes into the picture or relocation is needed, I’m sure the Pacific Northwest is going to get serious consideration.”
Sure, Vancouver is a big hockey town. The city that gave us a team to hate (the Canucks) and a player to love (Milan Lucic) has a storied hockey history. They’re also a Canadian team in a country where hockey is king.
Seattle is a bad idea. Like Phoenix Coyotes bad. It’s a potential half-billion dollar boondoggle for the city. While I’m not a fan of basketball, the NBA’s numbers are higher than that of the NHL. Seattle couldn’t keep it’s NBA franchise, the Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) happy. The team picked up and headed south five years ago. The NBA was so against the very thought of basketball coming back to the city, the NBA Board of Governors Relocation Committee unanimously recommended against relocating the Kings to Seattle.
At the last meeting, the NBA owners voted against the move to Seattle 22-8.
So, with the NHL still owning the rights to the Coyotes, and the financial troubles of the team still have no end in sight, Bettman wants to add a second team to the rolls of receivership.
If the NHL is going to be serious about expanding, expand where it makes sense. The Quebec Nordiques deserve to be back in the NHL. They’ve got the fan base, and another rival for the Montreal Canadiens is never a bad thing. Toronto picking up a second team is also a better idea. The Maple Leafs got their first playoff shot in a decade last season (and their collapse in the third period of game seven will be talked about there for a generation), and they are a billion dollar franchise, the first in NHL history.
If the league wants to thrive, they have to make sound decisions. They won’t continue their success if they make Puget Sound decisions.