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NHL ripe for expansion to 32 teams

Artist's rendition of the proposed

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Artist's rendition of the proposed "GTA Centre" in Markham, Ont. (BBB Architects)

After spending enough money in the first days of free agency to make an amorous and thirsty sailor on shore leave blush, NHL teams have been eerily quiet these days, haven't they?

There are a number of reasons for that, not the least of which is it's the dog days of the summer and GMs are using the time to get away from the business of hockey before it drives them crazy. But there are a host of others, too. There are still a lot of serviceable NHL players looking for work these days, finding themselves without any available chairs now that the music has stopped.

One reason is the cap is going down to $64.3 million next season. But more than that, it represents an interesting study in how hockey works these days. Veteran players are hanging on longer than ever before, largely because they've taken such good care of themselves. But they're competing for jobs against a fresh cohort every season of young players who are stronger, more skilled, faster and more ready to compete at the NHL level than ever before.

Let's put it this way. Each year, every team in the league drafts between seven and 10 players. Let's say they ultimately sign five of those guys from each draft. That, theoretically, will give each team an average of five players who can challenge for spots on the NHL roster, but there are not five players going out on the other end. And because those young players are usually cheaper and have more upside potential, the older guys get frozen out.

It's quite interesting, really. If you look at the players who are still available, you could put together a pretty decent NHL team. In fact, you could actually cobble together two of them that could at least compete at the NHL level and not embarrass themselves. So let's say the NHL all of a sudden decided to expand by two teams and grant franchises to Toronto and Quebec City this afternoon with a mandate to begin play next season. (We're saving Seattle for when the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes fail in their latest incarnation.) Just using the players who are available in free agency, here are the rosters you'd be able to assemble:

TORONTO TOWERS

GOALIES
Tim Thomas
Ilya Bryzgalov    
Chris Mason

DEFENSEMEN
Ron Hainsey            Hal Gill
Carlo Colaiacovo     Steve Montador
Ian White                 Greg Zanon
Tomas Kaberle        Tom Poti

FORWARDS
       LW                                 C                              RW
Brenden Morrow       Mikhail Grabovski        Chad LaRose
Dan Cleary                Matthew Lombardi       Peter Mueller
Vaclav Prospal          Scott Gomez                Chuck Kobasew
Alex Ponikarovsky    Jeff Halpern                 Anthony Stewart

QUEBEC NORDIQUES

GOALIES
Jose Theodore           
Mathieu Garon        
Johan Hedberg

DEFENSEMEN
Filip Kuba            Wade Redden
Toni Lydman        Mark Fistric
Ryan O'Byrne      Ryan Whitney
Douglas Murray   Tom Gilbert

FORWARDS
      LW                                        C                            RW
Simon Gagne                     Kyle Wellwood        Damien Brunner
Mason Raymond                Nik Antropov           Brad Boyes
Steve Sullivan                    David Steckel          Colby Armstrong
Guillaume Latendresse      Eric Belanger           Tim Wallace

They're obviously not rosters around which you'd want to start planning a Stanley Cup parade route – unless Tim Leiweke were the team president – but you get the idea. And that gives us an idea.

Isn't it about time the league expanded to 32 teams? Clearly, having enough talent would not pose a major problem, as evidenced by the two rosters made up only of available unrestricted free agents. The product would not suffer significantly and the league would make about 18 gazillion dollars in expansion fees, money it would not have to share with the players.

After this coming season, it will have been 14 years since the league last expanded, which will represent the longest period between expansions since the league went from six to 12 teams in 1967.

Toronto and Quebec City each have new NHL arenas on the way, rabid fan bases and markets where they would succeed. With few worries about diluting the talent and competitive balance, perhaps it's time the league finally decided to give these two deserving markets the teams they deserve.

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THIS AND THAT

Was speaking to an agent over the phone the other day when he excused himself because he had to pay for something. I joked with him that if he were Bryan Little's agent, I'd be willing to bet he were paying for compromising photos of Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff because $23.5 million over five years is crazy money and term for a guy who had seven goals last season…

• The contract extension to Toronto Maple Leafs GM David Nonis is viewed by many as everything that is wrong in that organization. The guy has one good truncated season and he gets rewarded richly for it. But let's look at it this way. Nonis is a bright young executive with lots of potential to do great things. Whether or not he actually will do great things, we don't know. But when you have a guy like that, you do everything you can to lock him up long-term. And really, the length of the contract is kind of a moot point, isn't it? Nonis will have a job as the Maple Leafs GM as long as he is producing positive results. The day that stops is the day he will be fired, whether he has one year or 100 years remaining on his contract…

• Roberto Luongo raised a number of eyebrows when he dropped Gilles Lupien as his agent and recruited the services of J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson from the omnipotent CAA agency. Lupien will continue to get his three percent from whatever Luongo makes per year on this contract, so many are wondering why CAA would take on a player with such an onerous deal. Probably for one of two reasons. No. 1: they think they can get Luongo out of Vancouver via the trade route. No. 2: they're counting on Luongo being miserable this season and it becoming an untenable situation with the Canucks. That would lead to the Canucks buying Luongo out, which would make him an unrestricted free agent and in need of a new deal for 2014-15. And make no mistake; Luongo still has a lot of control here. If he makes it clear he's unhappy and wants out of Vancouver, it would be impossible for the Canucks to keep him. And if he ever threatened to retire early - say after the 2017-18 season - if the Canucks don't trade him, he could stick them with a massive cap hit in the NHL's recapture system, which could prompt them to buy him out next summer.

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