Today as I was browsing ESPN.com's NHL rumors, I stumbled upon a shocker. The NHL is considering adding another franchise in Canada.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at a Reuter's forum, "The fact is we're not seeking to relocate any franchises and as a result expansion would be the way to satisfy that interest. But in this economic climate, I'm not exactly comfortable that this is the right time to be expanding."
Bettman acknowledged Winnipeg, Quebec City and Southern Ontario as possible locations, but no more details are known at this time about the league's expansion plans.
I'm all in favor of adding a couple more teams in Canada, but that's exactly the problem with expansion. You can't just add one more team to the mix. The way the NHL schedule is right now it would be almost impossible to expand without lengthening the season.
Right now each team plays 24 games against division opponants (six per team), 40 against the rest of their conference (four per team), and at least one against each of the 15 teams in the other conference (18 total).
Let's add Quebec City to the Northeast Division. Now everyone in that divison plays 30 games against their division, still 40 against the rest of the East, with only 12 games left against the West.
As for the rest of the Eastern Conference, the still have 24 divison games, but now they have 44 against the rest of the East, leaving only 14 games against the West.
So how will the Western Conference adapt? The easy way is to add another team, but how will Detroit and Columbus feel about having to add MORE time-jumping to their schedule. Except for the six games they play each other and the 18 games they play against the East, the Wings and Jackets have to cross at least one time zone for every road game.
I'm all for the idea of more teams in Canada, but it's not as simple as everyone thinks to just add or move a team. The league would likely have to realign the divisions so that they remain regional like they are right now. It just wouldn't make sense to add another team in, say, British Columbia, only to have them play in the Central divison with Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis. But simply adding that team to the Pacific would place more stress on Dallas, who already has to visit California for almost every division road game (three games at Phoenix being the exception).
Not saying it would happen, but a new team in BC would go in either the Northwest or Pacific division. Either Dallas or Minnesota would likely move to the Central to help reduce their travel.
Relocation and scheduling aren't the only problem. It's no secret that Canada is home to most of the NHL's players. Adding more teams opens more jobs that will likely be filled by Canadians. Now Canada's seemingly limitless supply of hockey players starts to dwindle and they struggle to dominate the World Juniors because they don't have enough amateur players that are old enough to compete.
If the owners get their way in the next bargaining agreement, those numbers also translate to another 50-year draught in the Olympics, where Russia probably resumes it's dominance thanks to the KHL. How many Canadians out there want a watered down NHL team at the expense of their insane national pride?
That's the unfortunate trade-off. Rabid fans get what they want in another Canadian NHL franchise, but they suffer a long drought at two of the tournaments that mean the most to them. I won't make the argument in this blog, but it's easy for someone to support the claim that Olympic Gold means more to Canadians than the Stanley Cup. You don't see the Canadian Parliament calling in the GMs of Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal when they don't win the cup. But that happens when the GM of their Olympic team comes home without a Gold Medal.
EDIT: To clear some things up, A-Mar is correct about the Olympics. Read his comment because he states exactly what I was trying to say much better than I do. As for the WJC, if the league expands how many eligible players will still be around at 19 or 20? Teams are going to be snatching them up to replace the talent they lose in an expansion draft.
As for the schedule, there are really only three options that I can see: A) Keep the current 82-game format, the problems of which I have already listed above, B) Lengthen the schedule, pushing the Stanley Cup back until the second half of June rather than the first. Training camps still start at the same time, so the summer is reduced. And C) re-write the current 82 game format. I don't know what the result would be, but I'm sure we see games outside the division reduced.
SECOND EDIT: 2Slick made a comment about how easy it would be for a professional hockey team in Canada to sell out every game. Not saying another Canadian team would never work, but it's not as simple either. Here's a list of Canadian Professional Hockey Teams (WHA and NHL) that are now defunct or have been relocated:
Calgary Broncos (WHA, didn't even start their first season)
Ottawa Civics (WHA, 1976)
Ottawa Nationals (WHA, 1972-73)
Toronto Toros (WHA, 1973-76)
Vancouver Blazers (WHA, 1973-75)
Calgary Cowboys (WHA, 1975-1977)
Quebec Nordiques (WHA/NHL, 1972-1995) - now Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets (WHA/NHL, 1972-1996) - now Phoenix Coyotes
Montreal Wanderers (NHL, 1917-1918)
Ottawa Senators (NHL, 1917-1934) - Returned with 1992 Expansion
Quebec Bulldogs/Hamilton Tigers (NHL, 1919-1925)
Montreal Maroons (NHL, 1924-1938)
These teams folded for a myriad of reasons from lack of attendance to poor ownership/financial management or even arena disputes. This list doesn't mean that the NHL cannot succeed, just that it is more difficult than putting a team in a city and saying go. The Senators won four Stanley Cup titles in their first era, but still folded in 1934. The same fate fell on the two-time Cup winning Montreal Maroons in 1938.
Also this list does not include teams from the NHA, which proceeded the NHL, or any other professional or amateur league that competed for the Stanley Cup.
On a final note, I realize the list of US franchises that have folded is just as long if not longer, but the issue at hand is a new Canadian team. Even as an American, I do not want another team in the US. We have enough.