Expansion Blues

Oh, goody.

It’s pretty depressing to write about hockey during a lockout. It’s even more depressing to read about it. Day after day goes by and there’s nothing but shrill posturing or stoney silence, and every meeting they walk into with hope they seem to walk out of with hate. So it’s not surprising that the hockey media is desperately fishing around for happy-sounding stories. Lockout reporting is composed of one part financial data, one part despair, and one part pictures of kittens and babies.

And, now, one part dreams of expansion. Earlier this week, Jason Kay reported that there was ‘strong speculation’ that the NHL would, once the labor dispute was resolved, announce two new expansion franchises: one in Markham (just north of Toronto, for you unenlightened heathens) and another in Quebec City.

It seems probable. As our most perceptive colleague Cam Charron pointed out earlier today, the NHL loves expansion fees. As I intend to point out later, an arena in Markham gives somebody a hell of a lot of leverage against the League, so much that it would be problematic for Bettman to leave its owners out in the cold. Both teams are likely to be very popular, both markets are likely to be very profitable. I don’t know for certain that expansion will happen, but there are plenty of reasons why it would.

As probable as it is, though, it’s also unfortunate, because while expansion might be a great thing for NHL owners, it’s not a good thing for NHL hockey.

Don’t misunderstand: I love the idea of NHL franchises in Markham and Quebec City. Toronto deserves more NHL hockey. Quebec deserves more NHL hockey. These are places with deep historical and cultural links to the game, and moreover they have the economic and social capital to support it in the style to which it is accustomed. They absolutely deserve teams. Hell, if it were up to me, I would give them teams right now, lockout or no. Oh, you say, Markham’s arena isn’t ready yet? I don’t care, they can have a team right now anyway and play out of Jeff Marek’s barn. That is how ready I am to give the GTA another team.

But I wouldn’t give it, or Quebec City, an expansion team. I’d give them teams that already exist and are wasting away in some undersupported, ungrowing market. Which teams, specifically, would I move? That’s another post for another time, but for now just pretend they’re not yours. For the duration of this essay, pull the veil of ignorance across your mind and pretend you do not know what team you are a fan of. In fact, go further: pretend you are a fan of no team in particular but simply of watching hockey games.

The argument in favor of expansion rests on the assumption that it is a virtuous and desirable thing to “bring NHL hockey” to more cities and, therefore, more hypothetical fans. It sounds like a very generous impulse, as if the League had no thought but to magnanimously sprinkle its infinite wealth of hockey across the whole world. We’re not trying to make money, kittens, no no no. We’re trying to grow the game. No, scratch that… share the game.

But what is the value of “NHL hockey”? What is the meaning of the NHL, other than a shield and Gary Bettman’s smilin’ face? Ostensibly, the entire point of the League is elite play. That’s why it has the big TV deals, that’s why it has the Stanley Cup: because of it’s claim to put on a version of the game so sophisticated and rarefied that it cannot possibly be replicated under any other brand. If “NHL hockey” doesn’t mean “consistently, recognizably awesome hockey”, then it means nothing at all.

This elite hockey is a real thing. I’ve argued in this space before for the value of other levels of hockey, and I do believe in it, but there is no doubt that there are certain kinds of magic with stick and puck that only an infinitesimal fraction of the population can perform, and whatever league claims the most of those people is going to have a particular appeal that no other can match.

However, the supply of these special players- the ones who can do the kind of things that separate NHL hockey from AHL- is both finite and miniscule. In fact, I’d argue there aren’t enough such players to supply the 30 teams we currently have, much less the 32 proposed or the 40 some say Bettman dreams of. NHL hockey is already riven through with AHL hockey as it is. Far from increasing scoring or spreading skill around, two more teams would only widen those rifts.

To see how much AHL hockey is in your NHL hockey, consider line-matching. It is a well-known fact that some coaches prefer best-on-best match-ups, while others try to match a checking line against the their opponent’s top threesome. What is less discussed, though, is how many coaches favor worst-on-worst matchups. With a few exceptions- the Canucks with their zonestart orientation, the Oilers with their precious sheltered children- most NHL coaches prefer to put their fourth line out against other fourth lines.

Go to Behind the Net and scroll down to the very bottom of the ice time lists, and look, if you will, at the quality of competition. Look all the way across the stats- look at Corsi, look at shooting percentage. There is a whole raft of players in the NHL, across a swath of teams, who play less than ten minutes a night against easy competition and still do pretty much nothing with that time. Good guys they might be, tough guys, energy guys (some are goons, but not nearly all), but if the standard for NHL hockey players is being able to play capably against elite competition, these men are not NHL players. These are not the heirs of the tough guys of the 70s and 80s, who skated wing with the scorers. They’re a different breed, one who can only hope to keep up with each other.

These players, by which I mean every fourth liner who takes a few soft minutes against easy competition, who shoots well below League average year after year, who gets benched whenever the hockey becomes important, whose team does far, far better when he’s on the bench than when he’s off it… they dilute the quality of the game. I’m sorry to say it, it sounds cruel, but occasional fight aside the minutes they play are dead time, a dull exchange of dump-ins or rote defense, blandly focused on the lofty goal of going forty seconds without getting burned. If NHL hockey is about watching the best players in the world play with the utmost intensity, it is just not NHL hockey.

That coaches, so endlessly, ruthlessly, deviously focussed on pressing their own advantage, mutually consent to play worst-on-worst hockey is itself perfect evidence of talent dilution. By the sheer size of the League, by the sheer size of rosters, they are compelled to carry players they have no particular use for. It is not as if, were there fewer teams or fewer players per team, the bottom rungs of the roster would always receive such treatment. If you contracted the League by four teams and a hundred players, the then-worst players would be current third liners, and think for a moment about how much more defensive ability and scoring potential your third line has over your fourth. The worst players in the NHL, then, would be the sort of players NHL coaches could make good and frequent use of, the kind of players who could, in a pinch, be trusted to slow down Sidney Crosby, or even skate next to him.

The fifty new players who would come into the NHL to make Markham and Quebec possible would be almost entirely fourth-line quality players, of ability similar to those already occupying the roles or perhaps a little less. In the last rounds of expansion, dilution was ameliorated by the influx of high-level European players, but nowadays the best European players already come to the NHL. There is no great reserve of untapped hockey talent left in the world. Moreover, now there is the KHL, and with the NHL trying to do all it can to increase contract restrictions and decrease salaries, it is a very attractive alternative for a mid-range player from the region with no particular desire to leave his home continent. What high-end Russian player is going to be seduced to North America for the promise of a top-six role in Markham or Quebec who could not be seduced by the offer of such on any one of the many existing teams with gaps in their top lines? I do not see where you would get 50 new warm bodies for the NHL, except out of the AHL.

Surely, then, more low-level players would increase scoring? Give Stamkos and Malkin some more delicious dead meat to feast upon? I doubt it. As I said before, we already know that most coaches prefer to keep their worst players well out of the line of fire of the top guns, which means expansion or no the elites will mostly continue to play against either other elites or dedicated defensive specialists. If anything, two new franchises needing to be filled seems likely to decrease scoring. It means two more bidders on UFA day, two more hungry mouths needing to be filled up with first round draft picks. In conjunction with the salary cap, it further alienates great players from each other, making it that much harder for any one team to amass two whole lines of good scoring talent. It encourages coaches, finding themselves with more minutes to be filled up with worse players, to rely further on conservative, defensive systems like the New York slot-clog and the Tampa 1-3-1.

Expansion means more minutes of AHL hockey in the middle of NHL games. I, personally, like AHL hockey fine, but I also like it where it is- i.e. not in the NHL. Someone told me once that good AHL hockey is like heavy metal, but good NHL hockey is like a symphony, and it seems like an apt analogy. I would prefer to see AHL players playing at a level where their style and abilities are useful, part of the working strategy of the game. Having them filling dead minutes in the NHL, spending their entire careers just trying not to fuck up shift after shift and night after night is a waste of their abilities as much as of our time (although obviously they’d prefer to have the NHL salary, talent or no; sadly, we do not all of us get NHL careers).

***

A week ago or so, as a lockout diversion, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail had a fantasy draft with some of his colleagues. It was a fantasy draft like any other, dudes going around and around a list picking names, just an imaginal recreation of the NHL. Except, unlike the real NHL, rather than 30 teams, Mirtle capped the League at 12. Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty boring, but as the hypothetical GMs tweeted out their hypothetical picks, I realized, fuck man, I wish I could actually see these games. These teams were all top-six forwards, all top-four defensemen, all players who could easily bring you to your feet and earn their place on the highlight reels. This is the hockey I want to see.

That’s the insidious thing about talent dilution: it erodes your expectations by inches, so slowly that you don’t even realize what you’ve lost until something- a lockout, the Olympics- dares you to imagine what could be.

Imagine yourself behind that veil of ignorance. Imagine it may or may not be your team we are considering contracting or relocating. What kind of hockey do you want to see? What does it mean to you, to have “NHL hockey” in your city? Is it enough if the shield is slapped on any old thing, providing the arena is luxe and the concessions flow freely? Is it better to have occasional, tangential access to a live version of a lesser game than to have television-mediated access to a far better product? There is NHL hockey in my city, but most of the games I consume are beamed through space from an arena three hundred miles yonder, and in truth it would cost me very little more to go all that way to see a game than it would to go to one right here. I would get far more pleasure out of being able to see a higher level on the TV than I do from a lesser level that has geographic proximity to me. I know what I would choose.

But if you wouldn’t, if you’re in one of those fortunate places where tickets are cheap and plentiful and you can’t imagine life without going to NHL games multiple times a week, if you believe that NHL hockey should be brought to more people even if the product is barely worthy of the name, then riddle me this: where does it end? If two more teams is good, would not four more teams be better? If we want to keep the NHL in Phoenix and Nashville and Sunrise and Columbus, and have it also in Markham and Quebec, why not Hamilton and Seattle and Kansas City? Why not Tulsa? Hell, think big my friends,why not Honolulu? Why not just absorb the AHL in its entirety and have NHL hockey everywhere? If talent dilution is not a problem at 30 teams, and not at 32 teams, then when does it become one?

Comments (30)

  1. I don’t know if I buy this argument entirely – I think NHL coaches prefer 4th liners to be 4th liners. If they didn’t exist, it’d be necessary to invent them. There are skilled players who don’t get a fair shot at the NHL because of perceived talent deficiencies while the 4th line grinders can eke out 300 game careers – these players would get a chance with expansion teams. I’m not concerned with talent dilution – I think there’s plenty of skilled players out there for a 30 team NHL – I’m concerned with talent diffusion. It’s a shame that there are great players who don’t really get a chance to play with other great players, and that this can happen over the greater part of a career – well, it diminishes their star a bit. Throw in the guys who are destined to have HOF-level careers without winning a round in the playoffs (you might think it impossible, but I bet it will happen in the next 20 years) – we should get to see the NHL’s best and brightest more often than we do in this 30 team league.

    • I had very similar thoughts while reading this. And while it would be nice to see all star level hockey at every game, it would also be nice to be able to attend a game rather than have to watch them all from cities up north and on the east coast on my television. I have also been witness to a number of guys toiling away in the NHL that got call ups under a new coach and have suddenly seen dramatic differences in their game than when they were called up prior. There is talent in the AHL. Not every guy is a 4th liner. And some guys just take longer to develop than others. With 12 teams, there are quite a few guys i would expect capable of playing on 3rd and 2nd lines (and surprising many by becoming a 1st line player) that would never ever see a shot.

      I dont think we need to expand. And I think it might be worth shuffling a couple teams to better markets, but i’d be upset if we cut the league in half.

    • I think you’re correct about *some* coaches preferring fourth liners to be fourth liners, although I think even those type of coaches would rather have ‘big, tough, and able to score occasionally’ rather than ‘big, tough, and totally unable to score’.

      I agree, also, that fourth-line talent identification is far from optimal, and that there are some guys stuck in the AHL who are likely better than some guys in the NHL. The problem is that expansion won’t necessarily make talent identification any better or more rational, and I have no reason to think that the players they’ll choose to bring up into the new slots will be any better than the ones they already choose to fill existing slots with. And anyway, although there are probably some players who get passed over for a chance who might do something with it, I still think most of them are fundamentally low-end by NHL standards, meaning they might be better than Eric Boulton, but they’re still not that good. So far, there’s been nothing in hockey equivalent to the Moneyball discoveries- nothing that reveals previously untapped abilities in totally overlooked players. Scouting is irrational but it’s nevertheless pretty good at identifying top-six talent. If there’s major untapped reserves of skill in the minors, I’d love to see someone show their work on how to discover it.

      For the record, I don’t advocate cutting the league in half. I’m still working on a theory of optimal size, but I’m thinking something between 24 and 28.

      • Brian Rafalski and John Madden were undrafted players. I’d say that given the number of cups between them, they were overlooked. In his prime, Madden was one of the better defensive forwards in the NHL and Rafalski was one of the better offensive D-men…That’s just a couple examples of players that were overlooked for a time that might not have been if there were a few extra player slots. Not to mention that we’ve seen guys like Zetterberg come out of the 7th round of the draft. How many guys just a few slots lower (where there are no slots because there is no 8th round) aren’t getting noticed?

        • In a league of 24 or 28, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to expand the draft back out to eight rounds or nine rounds.

          Losing 50 NHL skater slots may cost one or two skill players, but it will definitely cost 45 or more schlubs. I think a less-schlubbery league is worth hoping for.

      • I wasn’t saying that adding 2 teams will suddenly allow for the influx of NHL ready talent that have been flying under the radar, but more that cutting the league in half would drastically reduce the chances of seeing guys that aren’t immediately viewed as stars from ever playing.

        I agree with you that we don’t need more teams, at least not right now. I think a strong look at the bottom 3-4 teams (in terms of profitability) might be in order for consideration of relocation though.

  2. I’m not sure you can solve the talent issue completely in a world with a cap. Even if the talent were available, the market forces would mean that teams could not afford it.

    I must admit though, having 2 more or fewer teams would make realignment a lot easier.

    • A salary cap plus fewer buyers would necessarily drive the price of talent down at some level, no?

      • More likely, the GMs would push themselves way up to the cap and then cry about how they can’t compete, find loopholes, or change rules to make sure that they can get the high bid on the next FA that is available.

  3. Great article! I have certainly felt this way watching games too. Seeing teams struggle even keeping 6 forwards that are of the elite level. Give the league another twenty years to expand the sport and then, maybe, the league will have enough talent to spread evenly across 32 teams.

  4. Thanks, Ellen, for putting in words what I’ve wanted to link to the lockout. I say link, because I believe that the NHL could stand to lose a few teams without the proportionate amount of monetary income. NHL fans will spend money on NHL merch even if they’re not from NHL cities, so not all that HRR comes from tickets.

    And what you said resonates completely with what would happen if the league were to play around with the numbers of teams. More teams, less average talent per team; less teams, more average talent per team. And to be honest, if all the fan threats of never coming back to the “same old NHL” once the lockout ends, reducing the number of teams to ramp up the level of skill per game may be the best thing for the league to do to keep the fans from leaving.

    I know it would work on me!

  5. “I realized, fuck man, I wish I could actually see these games.”

    You see at least one of those games a year, it’s called the all-star game. I hear nothing but complaints about it.

    I think you’d see more young prospects playing in games. Guys that would eventually make the NHL, but needed a year or two a seasoning before they move up. I don’t think it’d be all bad, though admittedly, it would be a minor step back in quality (50 players in a 32 team league). The real reason not to do expansion is that ultimately Quebec is a questionable market.

    • The complaint about the All-Star Game is that it means nothing and therefore the effort put forth is sub-par, not that the hockey is bad.

      As to younger players cracking the team faster, I’m not convinced A) that it would happen, and B) that it would be good for player development. Firstly, NHL teams are already pretty quick to accelerate the guys they have hopes for to the Show. The ones who they keep down longer tend to be the sort who will make the NHL as third- and fourth- line guys, meaning that it amounts to the same thing: more low-end players in the League. Secondly, in general, for both purposes of cap management and player development, I’m of the school of thought that it’d actually be better if more high-end young guys spent a year or two more in the development levels. Although, granted, in a contracted league where sheltering could be widely used to coddle awesome prospects rather than to coddle bad players, it might not be so much of an issue.

      • I don’t deny that longer time periods in the minors/college tends to be very good for most prospects, but the point is that most guys who are drafted (even in the first round) don’t play in the NHL the year that they get drafted. Say this happened last year: players like Huberdeau, Scheifele, Hamilton, Bartschi, etc. could have been in the NHL as regulars. Remember, we’re only talking about one or two guys’ difference per NHL team….Ideal for their development? Maybe not…but it wouldn’t break my heart to see them on the ice – and I doubt I’d see much talent difference. Even if it weren’t the top or near top prospects being called up, how much difference do you think there really is between the best AHL player on a team vs the worst NHL player on his team? Not much, and often the difference isn’t much more than the preference of the NHL coach.

        • Of course there’s not much difference between the best AHL player and the worst NHL one, but that’s kind of my point: I don’t really want to see 1-2 more guys per team equivalent in skill level to the ones who are already bad enough to be healthy-scratched.

          • I just don’t think that “suffering” through 5 minutes a game of seeing these one or two players play is that big of a deal. The top forwards/d-men will still play big minutes. For the record, there would necessarily be four more backup goalies, so the 50 players that we’re talking about quickly becomes 46.

  6. Putting 3rd liners on 4th lines just means you have guys with respectable hockey abilities playing 10 minutes a game. Unless you’re gonna use your top 2 lines less and it’s unlikely that would happen to any great extent.
    Within a few years you have these former-3rd-turned-4th-liners realizing this and very likely looking at alternative options to the NHL…
    I would probably agree that you could cut out 2 teams from the league though. Smell ya columbus and phoenix, move nashville and anaheim probably to canada.

    • I think what you’d see in the long run is more complex line matching strategies and, therefore, more balanced ice time. The reason fourth lines get so little isn’t just because the first line needs to get more, it’s because coaches don’t trust them in important situations, when a game is very close or very important. I doubt coaches would sit a whole line for an entire third period if they thought that line was really good at either getting goals or preventing them.

  7. If you look at the NHL’s latest proposal to the NHLPA, the numbers show that without a salary rollback, there’s no way to fit all current contracts under the new cap and AHL salary rules. They’re giving teams a 1 year amnesty this season, but if you assumed every team spent to the new $59.9 cap (which they won’t), you still couldn’t fit all current contracts under the cap of all 30 teams. When you deduct the new cap hit of AHL contracts in excess of $105K and the one-way contracts no longer allowed to be buried in farm teams, you come up with a league-wide deficit of over $25m. The only way these numbers even make sense is if you assume a league expansion in 2013-14. It looks to me like it’s less of a possibility and more of an (unfortunate) inevitability.

  8. I agree that expansion sounds like a bad idea given that finding 50 new NHL players would be tough to do. That being said, I think the problem with 4th line talent has more to do with the current (though changing) NHL mindset. If the idea was to create 4 lines with the best talent currently available to a team at any given time I believe that would happen. Unfortunately, while teams often claim to put their best product on the ice, few rarely do. As a Hawks fan I had to endure John Scott for far too long. Every time he was in the lineup he played less than 6min and usually did nothing but take bad penalties. I’d say that half of the league’s 4th line players tend to fall into the “John Scott” category where they are placed in the lineup to discourage things like the Lucic-Miller fiasco (if only the Sabres had been willing to waste a spot in the lineup). Ultimately I think that the only way you would get an NHL where only the best players play, you’d need to remove fighting completely or punish infractions to the point where fighting is no longer worth a roster spot. If that were the case, more young guys would get call ups sooner and the quality of the game as a whole would improve. I don’t personally think fighting should be banned but if there were a way to get the John Scott’s of the world out of the NHL we’d all be better off.

    • Yep, there are plenty of talented 3rd/4th line quality players in the AHL, but NHL coaches want grinders on those lines, so we never get to see them. It’s a problematic mindset, frankly. I’d rather see Vladimir Zharkov than Cam Janssen playing for the Devils, for example. The Devils called up Stephen Gionta for the playoffs (he’d pretty much been a career AHLer at that point), and his line was a big part of their playoff success.

      It also seems like if you’re in the AHL for two years or more and aren’t a top prospect, you never get another shot at the NHL (unless they lose like 589 man games to injuries)…some guys don’t really develop very early in their careers. I’d like to see NHL teams giving some of these 24+ year old guys a shot..some might surprise.

  9. Hmmm…”the entire point of the League is elite play.”? You make some good points, but I think you’re on the wrong track.

    My opinion is the entire point of the League is “…to make more money”. More teams equals increased opportunities for players, more expansion fees for ownership, possibly additional games for building owners, and probably more items I can’t think of right now.

    The Leagues’ move towards more teams in more cities in more varied climates (I’m talking southern US exposure here) in lieu of increasing the talent level, are a couple of ways they are trying to make more money. The approximately $1 billion dollar revenue increase in the last few years, and the larger TV contracts, point to those moves being effective. Moreover, the fact that 2 of the last 5 Stanley Cup Champions are from Southern California (…wait…what?) are evidence that parity brings the opportunity for more and varied teams to achieve success and reap the benefits.

    Obviously, more on-ice talent would only serve to increase the saleability of the product, but I don’t believe it’s currently a major concern of the owners. Neither is the need for more Northern-based teams. Not to say those things might not happen (Atlanta did move to Winnipeg), but my point is, if the NHL thinks something will make them more money they will do it as soon as possible and it will have nothing to do with the desires of the fan-base.

    While I understand this doesn’t sit well with Northern-based / original six nostalgia, unfortunately the fans are not part of the equation when it comes to the NHL making more money. The NHL is a business first, and while I know it usually make good business sense to endear your product to your customers, not all businesses adhere to that way of thinking. It’s nothing personal, it’s a profit thing.

    • Sure, I understand the cynical view. I just don’t think that we, as spectators and consumers, need to give into it. NHL owners are free to think of their own product exclusively in terms of money, but quality of play is important to me (and perhaps to other fans as well), so I’m going to talk about it. Hockey would be pretty boring if everyone had to think and talk like Ed Snider’s id all the time.

    • How does Phoenix fit into this theory? They steadfastly hold on to a team that loses skads of money with admirable consistency. Clearly, the bottom line is not the top priority. If it were, they would have been the Winnipeg Coyotes in 2009. (Something many would have considered the absolute height of justice and irony.) Yet there they sit, leeching profits from the rest of the league while having the audacity to challenge for the cup with disturbing regularity.

  10. Hi, Ellen:

    Your argument that there is not enough talent to support a thirty team league is somewhat moot. Let’s look at the 1979-80 season and a list of players from that era: Gretzky, Bourque, Messier, Lafleur, Dionne, Coffey, Robinson, Trottier, Bossy, Simmer, Taylor, Perreault, Sittler, Lanny MacDonald, Clarke, Leach, Potvin, Goulet, Mark Howe, Glen Anderson, Kent Nilsson, Joe Mullen, Mike Rogers, Hartsburg, Larouche, Middleton, Esposito, Shutt … It was also the last seasons for Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. Granted, some of these players were making their debuts while others were on their way out. But what’s missing?

    European players! Swedes, Finns, Russians, Czechs … This provided the NHL with an incredible addition to the talent pool (remember the Stastny’s?)

    I think you are mistaking talent for a league that has become so brutally over-coached no one can even breathe on the ice anymore. Secondly, if goalie equipment hadn’t gotten so ridiculously big where a guy like Roberto Luongo covers 70% of the net without even having to move, those who would find the back of the net more often (making them substantially more noticeable and hence, “elite,” as you put it) have to watch a puck get swallowed up in the equipment of goalies whose only talents seem to be that they are BIG SOB’s.

    There is plenty of elite talent in the NHL, far more than there was back in the 70′s, and probably the 80′s also. In fact, I would suggest the top ten junior teams in Canada today would give the Montreal Canadiens of the 70′s all they could handle if we had the ability to go back in time. Today’s players are light years ahead of their predecessors, and you need only watch some games from the 60′s and 70′s to realize how ploddingly slow some of the players were, not to mention very few of them could shoot and pass like today’s players.

    If you wish to counter my argument, you should know I grew up in the 70′s worshipping the Montreal Canadiens. I loved hockey back then, the same as I do today; however, only those with blinders on would suggest hockey players were “better” back in those days. It’s not even close. There are all kinds of elite players out there.

  11. Expansion to 32 teams – without significantly diluting the talent level – can work, but it’s going to take a few more years to grow the talent pool. How, you ask? By continuing to support teams in non-traditional markets. We’re just now beginning to see an influx of talent from Texas, California and Florida – Tyler Myers, Emerson Etem, Chris Brown, Stefan Noesen, et al – and with successful NHL franchises in those areas, that trickle will become a flood.

    As for the argument that a diluted talent pool will decrease scoring…during World War II, the NHL was forced to use many minor league-caliber players, and scoring actually increased (it was during WWII that “Rocket” Richard scored 50 in 50). After the war ended and NHLers returned to the ice, scoring dropped (from 7.35 goals/gm in 1944-45 to 6.69 g/gm in 1945-46).

    Personally, I’m on board with expansion teams in Markham and Quebec City, but I’d also like to see the NHL in Houston and Seattle. If the Coyotes have to be moved (and I’m afraid they will), I’d like to see them go into another non-traditional market. Grow the talent pool by growing the game.

    • I couldn’t agree more, give it a few more years till the expansion and the talent will be there. There are huge untapped pools of potential players out there, they just need hockey in the area enough that mom and dad are fans, and get them into a youth league. If you wait long enough, I’m of the opinion every expansion pays back the talent it consumes.

      • I’m not sure the talent pool is expanding. Yes, more wealthy American families are getting into the game, but at the same time, fewer Canadian families are putting their kids in hockey than ever before. Rising costs and the physical (especially concussion) risks turn off more and more parents. At this point, I think the population of minor hockey players will shift, but not necessarily grow much unless ways can be found to make the game more affordable.

        • Have to agree with you there. The average family cannot afford to put their kids in “cheap” sports like soccer. If the NHL wants to look at expansion, they should be talking about ways to fund expanding the talent pool by developing the unrealized talent in less privileged areas. Somebody has to fund amateur sport. Why shouldn’t it be the pros?

  12. I think expansion to 32 teams is very logical from the perspective that suggests having 4 divisions of 8 teams, where they play within divisions in the playoffs to make for stronger rivalries, would be a very good addition. I much prefer the 4 division idea to the current 6 division one, and feel like having 32 teams would make it happen.

    I do not think that this should lead to a dilution of talent though, and there’s a very easy fix. Let’s have fewer players dressed per team. How about a max of 18, likely 10 forwards and 6 defensemen, or 17 to drop to exactly 9 forwards.

    According to NHL.com, there were 894 players who skated for at least 1 game, and 89 goalies. This works out to almost 33 players per team.

    Losing 2 spots per team would add up to 60 players, and the two new teams would gain about 60 players, based on the idea that they would likely use ~30 in a season. Thus the jobs cut would be made up for by expansion. This is something that could potentially please both the owners and the union – no jobs lost, lower total wages for owners but probably higher individual wages for players (minus two players earning close to the minimum saves owners some 600k per year in total wages, and thus they’d have 600k more money to distribute to the remaining players). The only thing is it means an increase in icetime for players, but it should only increase the average by around 1min each for forwards, likely no change for defensemen unless a team decides to go 11 F + 5 D, or 9 F + 7 D (or, if cut to 17 total dressed, depends on whether they go with 10F 5D, 9F 6D or 8F 7D).

    It also means more icetime for skilled players.

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