There's 30 teams in the NHL already and the league is looking into adding 2 teams in 2017-18. This comes up as a topic now because of the GM's Meetings where the Expansion Draft is being looked at. Forget the draft in this piece, let's look at the pressing question: does the NHL REALLY need 2 more teams? I say no. Now, I'm not saying that Vegas and Quebec don't deserve teams, I'm saying is there an option to move 2 teams from their current locations to the proposed cities? And are those the absolute best places to put a team?
Let's start with Las Vegas. Vegas is a 24 hour, vacation destination city, but is it a hockey city? My fear with a Las Vegas team is that it would flourish at the start, but in time, once the luster wears off, it's another Atlanta or Arizona. There is so much to do in Las Vegas that competition for your entertainment dollar is fierce as it is. According to Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "5,000 season ticket deposits were made and that number tripled." So, yes, there is interest in a Las Vegas hockey team. There's a 17,500 seat arena (MGM-AEG Arena) being constructed to house the potential NHL team. Vegas has a constant flow of people coming in and out on a daily basis, so there is foot traffic and the numbers of people coming in looking to spend money could make for a successful franchise. The problem then becomes the team itself. Is a South Western US city going to watch a team of 4's, 5's and 6's, mixed with unknown young talent on a nightly basis? One thing Las Vegas does have going for it is it's a relatively cheap place to fly into. Cheap airfare and available tickets could lead to fans from other markets coming in to see their team and enjoy all the other entertainment Las Vegas has to offer. The problem with that is you end up with more out of town fans than you do your own fans (ask the Tampa Bay Rays).
How about Quebec? This makes more sense. Quebec City should get it's hockey team back. Yes, the city fell on hard times and attendance went though the floor in the early 90's causing the Nordiques to skip town and head to Denver, but they are due. The city has a new, state of the art arena, Centre Videotron, that holds 18,259 fans for hockey games. I don't claim to know Quebec's monitary situation and what there is for other entertainment on a nightly basis, but if the city is ready, it's time for the Nordiques to come back to the NHL. Winnipeg's comeback has been successful. They rank 24th in attendance, but that is a function of the size of their arena and the Jets' numbers are very solid for a smaller market (smallest in the league). You'd have to think between the newness of a Quebec franchise, plus the nostalgia factor, it's a win/win for the league and city.
So, now comes the all important question: is it worth it to add 2 new teams to the 30 team league? Would it make more sense to move 2 teams to another city? Logic says move the Coyotes to Las Vegas, but that doesn't appear to be an option. And it doesn't appear any other NHL teams are ready to move either. If I were making the decision I'd move 2 of these teams: Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes or the Columbus Blue Jackets. Based soley on attendance and quality of play, these 4 are prime candidates. Look at the attendance numbers:
|Team||Rank||Avg Attendance||Arena Capacity||Standings|
|Florida Panthers||25th||15,042||BB&T Center: 19,250||2nd East (87 pts)|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||27th||13,957||Nationwide Arena: 18,144||13th East (64 pts)|
|Arizona Coyotes||29th||13,259||Gila River Arena: 17,125||9th West (67 pts)|
|Carolina Hurricanes||30th||12,007||PNC Arena: 18,680||8th East (75 pts)|
The worst offenders in the entire bunch are the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are in 2nd place in the East and for a while were in 1st place. The fact that the Panthers, by the stats, have an average of 4,000 empty seats a night is crazy. And if you've seen a Panthers game on TV it appears that there's a lot more than 4,000 people not showing up. Bad seasons will lead to a drop in attendance. That's common sense, but when you have a team storming towards the playoffs and no one is showing up, you have a problem.
On the flip side look at the Flames. Calgary is down this season, but it's a hockey market and the city loves it's team. Check out the Calgary's numbers for this season:
|Team||Rank||Avg Attendance||Arena Capacity||Standings|
|Calgary Flames||6th||19,159||Scotiabank Saddledome: 19,289||11th West (65 pts)|
Is moving a franchise from one city to another the best answer? To keep the league as is, yes. But then you saddle a new city with an under performing team that isn't their's to begin with. Should Quebec and Las Vegas get a franchise each, is it fair to send the Panthers to Quebec and slap a new logo on them and sell them as the Quebec Nordiques? From a fan stand point, probably not. But Winnipeg's move to Colorado worked. Hartford's move to Carolina worked. Atlanta's move to Calgary worked. So yes, the formula has worked before and there's a chance it could work again.
Personally, I think 30 teams is enough. You want to move Arizona to Las Vegas, fine. Want to move one of the other 3 suggested teams to Quebec? Fine. Will that happen? Doubt it. It appears the league wants to start fresh and add new franchises to those cities and grow the league to 32 teams. I think this waters the product down and it would take some time for these franchises to get up on their feet. They'd be stocked with bottom 6 players, aging vets and young, unproven talent. Remember, while Carolina and Colorado had immediate success, there's always an Atlanta Thrashers, California Golden Seals or Cleveland Barons that don't make it.
The best solution? Give Quebec the Nordiques and just do the right thing: give Hartford the Whalers back.
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