Render of proposed Las Vegas arena (MGM Resorts International)
Expansion isn’t a bad idea – the talent pool is deep enough to sustain a couple more teams – but filling out those rosters relatively equitably is a thorny proposition.There are three things dominating NHL expansion chatter: location, location and, yes, location. We get it. The notion of where to place the league’s next team(s) is sexy and emotional. But the concept of growing the business by selling more franchises isn’t all shifts and giggles. There are multiple considerations and potential ramifications. Success in any given market comes with as much certainty as an Alex Ovechkin guaranteed win. The league’s most recent forays paint a checkered picture. From 1998 to 2000, the NHL added four teams: Nashville, Atlanta (who high-tailed it to Winnipeg when things failed in Georgia), Minnesota and Columbus. In 59 combined seasons, the quartet has had 18 playoff appearances, about a 30 percent success rate. Overall, with other factors being equal, NHL teams today have a 53 percent chance of making it to mid-April. In those 18 appearances, the clubs have won a total of six rounds, four by the Wild and two by the Preds. None has won a Cup or made it to the final. Heck, the Thrashers/Jets have yet to win as much as a post-season game.
In terms of the bottom line, all four are in the bottom half of Forbes’ most recent franchise value report. The Wild are 17th, the Jets 20th, Nashville 24th and Columbus 29th.This isn’t to say expansion isn’t a good idea or won’t work. The talent pool is deep enough to sustain a couple more teams, but filling out those rosters relatively equitably is a thorny proposition. Nothing breeds financial success more than winning. The league needs to figure out how to structure the expansion draft so the new teams have a fighting chance. If it’s deemed they have to reach the salary floor immediately, the NHL will have to be more liberal in its expansion draft protection guidelines, which means the established clubs will have to make greater sacrifices. And what of the amateur draft and lottery? Where will the new kids slot in order to give them the best chance at quick growth, while not upsetting the old guard? It’s in the best interest of league business that any new franchises not become a drag on the bottom line. While the fees will be a nice bonus for the Original 30, revenue sharing and the slicing of TV monies are the flip side of the coin. And we know, more than anything else, this is about the coin. Oh, and location. This column appeared in the August 17 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.