A report that came out yesterday said that the National Hockey League plans to expand the league by four teams by 2017. The report was tweeted by Howard Bloom of SportsBusinessNews (Follow @SportsBizNews). According to the report, the NHL envisions teams in Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec City, and Toronto. If this does happen, the league would expand to 34 teams, making the NHL the biggest of the four major sports leagues in terms of number of teams.
A second team in Toronto could financially make sense, as the current Toronto team, the Maple Leafs, is the most valuable franchise in the league. Quebec City could follow in the path of the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers (who brought back the Winnipeg Jets) and revive an old franchise and become the Nordiques. There is also a new arena opening in Quebec City next year. The city of Seattle etched its spot in hockey history when the Metropolitans became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup, winning it in 1917 when the NHL wasn’t founded yet. The most interesting case of an expansion team is the proposed team in Las Vegas. There has never been a professional sports team (in the Big 4 leagues) in Sin City and with good reason. Sports gambling has made league commissioners and owners wary of the idea of having a franchise in the city.
What would this potentially mean for the league? First, the league would have to figure out division alignment, which was changed only last year when the league moved from 6 divisions to 4 divisions. Secondly, there would have to be an expansion draft for four teams. Finally, would 34 teams in the league be “too much of a good thing?” There are several teams in the league that have struggled with attendance, like the New York Islanders and the Arizona Coyotes. There would also be the concern about watering down the talent pool, adding four more teams and more than 75 players at the NHL level.
The NHL saw an increase league-wide in television ratings and popularity, so it makes sense that commissioner Gary Bettman is trying to cash in on the opportunity. This year’s Stanley Cup final again drew big ratings and continued the momentum from the 2013 finals, when the Blackhawks beat the Bruins. The league has also had more marketable players recently, as players like Patrick Kane, Patrice Bergeron, and Henrik Lundqvist are known to even the most casual of hockey fans. It’s safe to say that the league has recovered from the lockout that took out half of the 2012-13 season.