By Nava Brahe / @NavaTweet
The National Hockey League used to be the ugly sister of the four major professional North American sports. Now, no one snickers at hockey fans outside of Canada or the northeast portion of the United States. Hockey fans are everywhere; and that’s how it should be.
Before the start of the 2015-16 NHL season, there was a lot of talk about potential expansion. Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, has expressed interest in expanding into two more markets – not relocating existing teams from existing markets – adding two new teams, which would bring the league total up to 32. Part of me thinks it’s overkill, and part of me wants to see it happen.
If I had the ear of the commish, here’s the list of pros and cons I’d share with him:
I’m something of a purist when it comes to the location of hockey teams. I believe you should live in a fairly cold climate in order to have one. I realize that both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers have had a fair amount of success, but I’ve never been able to completely wrap my head around hockey in Florida. Hockey in a tropical climate just doesn’t do it for me.
California has Wayne Gretzky to thank for the fact that it now has three teams. Moreover, the population of the one state is about the same as all of Canada, and that irony is not lost on me.
Hockey in the desert doesn’t thrill me, either. The Arizona (nee Phoenix) Coyotes have been a challenging franchise since they relocated from Winnipeg.
Las Vegas is a place unlike any other in the United States. That doesn’t mean a hockey franchise will be successful there. People go to Vegas on vacation. They gamble, engage in debauchery, drink, and bet on sporting events. A professional team in the midst of all that would confuse things. Plus I don’t ever want to see showgirls cleaning the ice during commercial breaks and performing between periods. Lastly, there is no hockey “culture” in that city. Sports culture begins and ends on the UNLV campus during the NCAA basketball tournament.
I remember when the Colorado Avalanche were the Quebec Nordiques. They were the bleu et blanc rivals of the Montréal Canadiens after the dissolution of the WHA in 1979, and I can only imagine what that was like (NHL Center Ice wasn’t around back then).
Fast forward 20 years, and the Nords seem to be on their way to being resurrected. There’s a new arena being built specifically for hockey, and the fans are literally drooling. The big stumbling block (or should I say, bloc?) is the Canadian economy. Things have been sliding a bit lately with the Canadian dollar no longer on par or close to par with the U.S. dollar. That could make things interesting because the $500 million U.S. dollar expansion fee translates to almost $700 million Canadian. Now that Canadians have elected themselves a new prime minister, I think going back to Quebec City is still a good idea.
Filling the building won’t be a problem, and a modern-day rivalry between the Nords and the Habs will be good for morale. Canada deserves another NHL team. Too many Canadians feel like their game has been co-opted by the U.S., and they could use a little love from south of the border that doesn’t include threats of invasion by Americans who swear they will move to Canada if Donald Trump gets elected president.
I must admit I have a bit of an ulterior motive piggy-backed on this suggestion. I live in the Greater Seattle area, and the fans here are downright fanatical. During football season, you cannot go anywhere without seeing the masses decked out head-to-toe in requisite Seahawks navy blue and lime green.
Seattle is being considered somewhat seriously for an NHL franchise, and based on the level of fandom here, I think they deserve one. The two WHL teams, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips, get great support and having an NHL team in this area would form a natural rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks.
Alas, bringing an NHL team to Seattle is not without issues. A brand new arena has not yet been built, and the parties who wish to make the NHL a reality here want local government assistance to make it happen. As a former resident of Long Island, I know all too well what can happen when you ask the local powers that be to open their coin purses. You guessed it: they snap closed tighter than the jaws of Orcas feeding on Puget Sound herring and salmon.
When you think about it, putting a team in the Great American Northwest is much better idea than sticking one in Vegas. There are many transplanted Northeasterners in this region, not to mention a steady stream of Canadians traversing the border to take advantage of the cultural and shopping opportunities Seattle has to offer. All-in-all, I consider it a win-win.
So, when can I expect my invitation to the General Managers and Board of Governors meetings that are being held in December? I’ve heard expansion will be tabled for discussion at both.
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