The NHL is looking to expand just to fill the owners pockets, It is the wrong reason and the league will regret it in the long run.
As reported on TSN.ca and ESPN.com, news about Quebec City and Las Vegas having made it to the mysterious “Phase II” of the NHL expansion plan has made the headlines.
But, is it fair to question, why? How much has expansion helped the game and is it necessary?
The 1990’s saw the NHL grow from 21 teams to 28, with teams 29 and 30 being added in the early 2000’s. Some hockey people may argue that the league put its worst product on the ice during those growth years, as the dearth in talent could not adequately fill the need. This disparity finally came to an end after the 2004-2005 season was cancelled.
The NHL has been, for some time, the best hockey league in the world. When all that 90’s expansion happened so rapidly, the Russian and European players were relied on to come over and fill roster spots, which is well depicted in this graph Quanthockey.com. The chart clearly demonstrates the influx of European and Russian players right around 1989-1990, or the beginning of the decade of expansion.
Many of these players were in Russia and Europe because they could not play at the NHL level, too small, not fast enough, and/or not physical enough. Now these players were coming over and filling forward lines, which diluted the talent pool of the league. And what transpired? The game started slowing down. Clutching and grabbing came to forefront.
System based hockey became more of a staple as creativity slowly left the game. Before one thinks this is a knock against European and Russian players it is not. There was quality talent coming over from those regions as well. The problem was about the number of players now needed to fill rosters for 30 teams. This is about talent dilution. Plenty of lesser talented Canadian and America born players found themselves regulars on rosters during that era as well.
Another product of all that expansion was the emergence of the power forward. The power forward of that era were not the same as the ones in the 80s or even now. Many of these men seemed cartoonish in size and strength.
A great example was Keith Tkachuk, who was just a beast of a man. He was a heck of a hockey player too as many like him were. The majority of these power forwards possessed some skill around the goal mouth, but were not the best skaters. These players could muscle through the clutching and grabbing and cause havoc against the systems that were being put in place. Unfortunately, while these players were productive and beloved, it came at a price. Their dominance over the game was bad for hockey as the game continued to slow down.
Look, would Quebec City make a great location for an NHL team? Sure. Would Las Vegas? Maybe, maybe not. But why not move a current franchise like the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers or the New Jersey Devils?
These are established teams, with farm systems that unfortunately play in poor hockey markets. Why let these franchise sit in turmoil while placing new franchises in other cities?
The NHL is in a good place right now. It is as popular as ever. Large market teams like the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are going deep into the playoffs. NHL games get network time on NBC, has its own network and the arenas are filling up. America has interest again and for good reason.
Not only is hockey a great game, but there are more American players playing in the league than ever. Yet for some reason the NHL, led by Gary Bettman always seem to do the opposite of what the league needs.
Whether it is doubling down on outdoor games or over selling the small markets, the league decision makers always seem to make decisions that take the league back a step.
Do not let it happen. Leave the game alone. Do not dilute the talent or it may take another decade for the rosters to catchup.
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