28 August 2014

Is the NHL poised for some major expansion?

Expansion and relocation is always a fun topic regarding any of the major sports even as much of the time rumors are little more than, you know, rumors. That said, a pair of reports on Tuesday regarding that very topic and the NHL got a number of folks talking and pondering such an action. Could it actually happen?

First, it was Tony Gallagher of The Province out in Vancouver that reported Las Vegas will be getting a franchise:
Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determind being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City.
As if that were not enough, Howard Bloom of Sports Business News dropped the hammer in saying that a team in Vegas was not all:
Boom goes the proverbial dynamite.

For their part, the NHL swiftly denied the reports with deputy commissioner Bill Daly telling TVA Sports that expansion is "not in our plans, there is absolutely nothing new in that," adding that "we have no move in sight."

While I am not that big of a fan of expansion for the NHL, or in this case "overexpansion," it does appear that the NHL appears headed for some sort of expansion. As the league stands right now, there are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference. Considering there aren't any logical candidates to move switch conferences (the most western club is Detroit, who was moved to the Eastern Conference with the realignment after they had long advocated for it), the easiest solution is to add two more clubs to the Western Conference.

On some aspects, Vegas makes sense. First, MGM and AEG are in the process of building a new arena on the Strip that would be ideal for a new NHL franchise. Second, the city and Southern Nevada at large are continually increasing population-wise. There are no other professional franchises to compete with it but it would have a handful of natural geographic rivals in the Coyotes, Ducks and Kings.

On the other hand, a Vegas franchise carries a lot of risk. First off, all sports leagues have been hesitant to penetrate Sin City considering its position as the "Gambling Capital of the World." Also, it is a city that is centered around tourism and entertainment, meaning a franchise would have a lot of competition in the entertainment capacity and thus could struggle to draw a consistent fanbase.

However, the appeal of a Vegas franchise as well as the necessities for another franchise out west but here's the biggest thing that makes it not that close of an occurrence: there is no ownership group in place. That alone means that we are still a ways away from having an NHL franchise in place.

As for the other cities mentioned for expansion by the aforementioned Bloom tweet, which the great Greg Wyshinski delves into further, Seattle has been predominantly focused on getting the NBA back while Quebec City and Toronto would not solve the conference imbalance. Quebec City does have a new arena on the way and is a town where there should be an NHL team after the Nordiques left in 1995 for Denver, but some of the concerns that led to the Nordiques leaving (market size as it would be one of the smallest markets in the NHL, and it's a primarily-francophone city) still remain and while I have no doubt that Toronto can support a second NHL franchise, there are still a lot of questions to be answered before that becomes actuality.

So I think it is rather safe to say that expansion is not happening that soon. Down the road, it seems like a certainty but will a league that is raking in cash now but is still struggling in certain markets (whether it be due to front office ineptitude, which is a common cause, hockey indifference or otherwise), so would it necessarily be best to stretch out the league even further?

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