Surely NHL Expansion Heads West?
“We haven’t embarked on a formal expansion process, but when people want to talk to us, we listen.” – Gary Bettman, 10th December 2013.
Pretty much every NHL fan has heard these words over the past couple of days, and it’s not exactly a great surprise to see talk of expansion. Nor is it surprising to see Gary Bettman acting coy.
There are several potential locations an NHL franchise could pop up; but expansion in the Western Conference seems the only logical step.
This isn’t a slight against Quebec City, or several other potential destination in the East – it’s more to do with simple maths.
The East has sixteen teams, the West fourteen. I don’t see a way in which the NHL expands the Eastern Conference further. It’s already a slightly odd situation anyway, having lopsided Conferences. To further compound that would be some form of madness.
Of course, Bettman’s comments ensure two things at present. The first is that people don’t get too amped up just yet. No need to over excite potential fan bases or annoy existing ones so soon after realignment.
The second is that the product remains ‘valuable’. By openly admitting you’re looking at expansion, any new franchise suddenly becomes a little less valuable; as potential owners know you’re open to offers.
But by hinting that an informal chat could take place, well then you know the door is slightly a jar – but equally it’d probably take a sack full of cash to really open it.
It’d be foolish to believe the NHL is not interested in sacks full of cash. The league did not grow from a $500m league to a $3bn one under Bettman for no reason. It did not sign a $5.2bn deal with Rogers for no reason.
Bettman’s business acumen may not have made him overly popular with fans and players, having had a hand in three lockouts, but it has made him popular with owners….and players – because despite losing a chunk of their careers because of those lockouts, Bettman has also helped make them very rich.
That same acumen will almost certainly come in to play when potential suitors come to the door. Despite the shambles in Phoenix, show the Board of Governors new locations that will boost hockey related revenues and their ears will almost certainly prick up.
Personally, I’d trumpet two potential locations – Seattle and Markham.
I’ve written about the idea of a team in Seattle before, and whilst the Coyotes seem safe in Phoenix now, the idea of an NHL team in Washington seems to be gathering momentum all the time.
The area around the city is home to some pretty sizeable corporations (Microsoft, Starbucks), something you could not say about some of the NHL’s previous homes – Atlanta for example. Plus of course, that rivalry with Vancouver I referred too could easily become reality; with Seattle perfectly placed to join the Pacific Division.
Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy has often joked about the Seattle Easter Eggs, to the point where it has become one of the Marek vs Wyshynski Podcast’s great ‘in-jokes’. But, as they say, there is no smoke without fire and Seattle is one heck of a candidate for expansion in my eyes.
Throwing out Markham’s name on the other hand, in a conversation about teams in the West, may seem somewhat more ‘out there’. But is not perhaps as crazy as it first seems.
A second franchise in the Greater Toronto Area has been touted for some time now. Whilst Markham has had something of a set back as the Council voted to turn down financial guarantees and other incentives on a new arena, it is not entirely dead and buried. Just ‘unlikely’ at this stage.
Kind of like how the NHL isn’t actively looking at expansion…
The interest in, and for, a second GTA franchise is there – the financial support would likely be strong as a result. In the biggest hockey market in the world, fan and sponsor interest is high – two core components to any successful franchise.
Plus, lets be honest, the TV rights would be worth a pretty penny as well.
A Markham team in the West also helps raise the profile of the West, whilst avoiding a direct conflict with the biggest franchise in the NHL – which is a potential stumbling block for any new GTA team.
It’s also not entirely unrealistic to imagine a Markham team in the Central Division – given the years Detroit and Columbus spent trekking around the West. The Wings proved it ‘can be done’, while a GTA franchise is unlikely to have the same concerns the Jackets did such as late road games in LA hurting fan interest.
Expansion won’t happen for a few years – both Markham and Seattle would need a suitable home for an NHL team for starters – but the under current is that it will come at some point.
Seattle and Markham would be my picks. Where are yours?