Yes hockey fans, it is definitely August. As we impatiently wait for the hockey-shaped void in our lives to be filled this coming October, we eagerly jump on any piece of hockey-related news or gossip we can find. Overnight last night, the restless hockey media exploded with news about the expansion of the NHL into previously rumored markets such as Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec City, and Toronto. Words like “done-deal” were liberally thrown around in news reports and twitter comments.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in looking at a map and trying to redraw the conferences and divisions and come up with new playoff formats to fit the teams. I was not the only one to ask why now? And why does Kansas City get the shaft?
The problem is that nothing is official, the reporters cite sources close to the expansion markets, but until the NHL announces it, anything can happen. And as much as we would like to see an NHL team in Toronto, until it is officially announced, even if the sources are reliable, the NHL can back out. This could very well be just a case of NHL summer sensationalism.
But since it is the off-season and we already know based on the events of this summer that the Dallas Stars have won this years Stanley cup, we have nothing better to do than discuss what this new 34 team NHL would look like.
Why Expansion Would Happen
This season the NHL saw a change in the conference and divisional alignment due to complaints of teams in the eastern time zone like Detroit and Columbus playing in a conference with teams on pacific time, as well as teams like Dallas who had to travel across 2 time zones to play against teams in their own division. The new alignment however is lopsided, the eastern conference has two more teams than the west and one can easily see why the NHL would like to expand to fill that void. Adding a Seattle and Las Vegas could solve this problem.
Further more, Quebec City and Toronto could each easily support an NHL expansion team. Toronto has one, but NYC and LA both have two teams and the leafs have been awful for years and still sell out their arena months in advance. Quebec would welcome the return of NHL hockey just as Minnesota did (and hopefully not like Atlanta did). More markets means more money for the NHL, so everyone would be happy.
Why Expansion Wouldn’t Happen
Las Vegas and Seattle are relatively unknown markets for hockey, so a team in these places could be a risk. Adding another team in Toronto and a Quebec City team out east would give us the same conference alignment problems since it is unlikely that the league could come to an agreement to move Detroit and Columbus back out west. Would the second Toronto team have to play in the WC, leading to more time-zone and travel issues, or would the Leastern Conference continue to have 2 more teams fighting for the same amount of playoff spots?
Most likely, the NHL will move ahead with the plan to expand into Seattle and Las Vegas as they have seemed highly interested in for years, and the other two destinations will get green-lit for an NHL team as soon as an existing team is in need of a change of scenery (Hello Quebec Panthers). Whether this will happen in 2016-17 is up in the air, but if I’m a betting man, my money is on Vegas getting a team by 2019.