By now you’ve seen the report from Tony Gallagher in The Province about NHL expansion to Vegas being “a done deal” and that by 2017 Seattle, Quebec, and a second Toronto team will have joined the league.
Let’s pull this rig over to the soft shoulder. As Wyshynski pointed out on Puck Daddy (and everything he writes from now on I’m calling “Mooney avoidance”), one of the reasons this is getting such play is it’s the end of August. We couldn’t be farther from the free agent signing extravaganza, and training camp is still a blip on the ever stretching horizon. We need something to talk about… or at least something that isn’t Baez or Soler-related (sorry Sox fans, I just can’t contain it).
There’s too many factors here I can’t accept. The first and foremost is that Vegas would work at all. There was a time, not all that long ago, when Vegas was one of the fastest growing cities in America. That time is not now. So is there enough locals to consistently fill this new building at the MGM? Also, the impression I get, and I don’t know this for sure, is that the locals, whether they work on the strip or not, don’t exactly love heading to the Strip for their entertainment. They may think that heading there to see hockey is just too big of a pain in the ass.
Look, I get it. Every fanbase around would be circling the date their team goes to Vegas as an excuse to go and gamble, eat at really nice steakhouses, and pretend to have illicit sex but chicken out. But how many fanbases will bring enough to sell that building out? Wasn’t this part of the plan in Florida and Arizona? How’s that working out? Sure, Kings and Sharks fans could probably fill it three times a year. And Hawks fans, Leafs, fans, Canucks, and most of the Eastern seaboard and Eastern Canadian teams could. But what happens when the Stars, Wild, Avs, Ducks, Coyotes, and others show up? Ducks fans can’t even fill their building with their fans for a second round series against their bitterest rival.
And if the NHL is counting on just random tourists filling the hockey rink on a nightly basis, maybe they should take a good look at the tourists that actually fill that city on weekends. Not hockey fans, I’m going to guess.
I get it there’s some prestige in being the only professional sports franchise in the area. That has worked on some level in Carolina. But it hasn’t in other areas, or one’s where the hockey team mostly has the floor to themselves for the winter. Nashville, St. Louis, Tampa, Columbus, Buffalo all don’t share their market’s winter with an NBA team. Most of them have had attendance issues lately, and it wasn’t all that long ago that there was a real question if Pittsburgh or Buffalo would even survive, as silly as that seems now. Exclusivity is no guarantee of success.
That said, the exclusivity factor is one reason they should be bending over backwards to get into Seattle before an NBA team does. Seattle is a big and growing market, has already demonstrated a fervent passion for sports, and a hockey team would have a window between October and March (with the Seahawks on Sundays) before the Sounders start up to establish a following (yes, considering the Sounders draw 40K per game you do have to consider them a factor). Seattle is much bigger than Vegas and not dependent on tourists to support a team.
Quebec and a second Toronto team make too much sense too. Especially the second Toronto team. This is a city as big as Chicago that only thinks about hockey (sorry, Argos and Raptors). If Chicago can support two baseball teams, Toronto can support two hockey teams in a breeze.
That said, and this is just my Euro-snob, footy loving ways, but at what point does a league become simply too big? I think the NHL could probably handle expansion to 32, barely. But 34? No league should aim to be bigger than the NFL. And it’ll be long after I’m dead, but the call of expansion fees will always be a siren song to owners. When is it too much? 34? 36? 40? At some point, wouldn’t you have to have two divisions? Promotion and relegation? It sounds completely ridiculous, but maybe not.
32 teams actually breaks down perfectly into a 76-game schedule, where you play everyone in your division four times and everyone else twice, not that the NHL would ever shrink the schedule. But the math gets harder the bigger you get.
Anyway a fun August discussion.