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I can't say I'm too broken up about Atlanta losing their hockey team. I hate seeing a city lose any sports team as a rule, but it just seemed that hockey never took to the A-T-L. I think Atlanta gets a worse rap than they deserve as a sports city, but let's face facts here. They had one of the most consistently good if not dominant baseball teams in America for 14 years, and yet it was hit or miss whether they'd sell out, even in the playoffs. PLAYOFFS. If the city isn't going to support baseball like they should, then what makes anyone think that they'd have the patience involved in allowing hockey to take root there? Especially when the Thrash were never properly developed by their internal management? It was a fool's endeavor from start. The only places south of the Mason-Dixon that have turned out to be great hockey markets were either giant markets (Los Angeles), places with a ton of expats from hockey markets (Tampa Bay) or places that have great institutional makeup and put winners on the ice that people gravitated to (Carolina, Dallas). That brings me to the point I raised in the subject line.
Why do the Florida Panthers exist? I mean, really, after years and years of mediocrity, low attendance and only one Stanley Cup Final run to show for it, why aren't they the subject of relocation or contraction rumors? I mean, it's not like Miami's a great sports town either. It makes Atlanta look like Philly or Boston. There really needs to be discussion about moving them. And action on moving the Phoenix Coyotes. And decision on which LA team needs to hit the bricks (because I'm sorry, but does there really need to be two teams in ANY market, even if it's LA? Or even NY?). Seriously, the NHL, as good as it is now, isn't as good as it can be. I think it needs a bit of a shakeup.
Now, in a perfect world, there'd be some contraction going on, because hey, isn't it better to have more good players on each team rather than diluting the talent pool? That won't fly today though, because there's no way Gary Bettman is going to lop off potential revenue streams. Sad but true. So, I propose radical shuffling of teams and realignment. Why? Well, because there are cities right now that either have more than one team or that have a team period that don't need them. The NHL isn't really a league that strikes me as having demand for more than one team in an American market, let alone three. Sorry New York, not even you really have to have the Rangers, Islanders and Devils in your general vicinity. So, here's what I propose:
- The following teams are safe from being moved: Flyers, Rangers, Penguins, Bruins, Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Capitals, Lightning, Hurricanes, currently unnamed Winnipeg franchise, Red Wings, Blues, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Predators, Avalanche, Flames, Oilers, Wild, Canucks, Sharks, Ducks, Stars
I teetered on some of those franchises. The Predators have been subject to relocation rumors (DAMN YOU JIM BALSILLIE), but at the same time, they've built up a solid franchise that has been in the playoffs for the last couple of seasons. The Blue Jackets are in a state that should take to hockey, although I wouldn't cry if they did get moved/chopped. As for the debate between the Ducks and Kings? Well, I flipped a coin, but I also looked at the fact that the Ducks have a Cup to their name and the Kings don't.
- Goodbye New Jersey Devils, say hello to the Hamilton Devils. This will definitely sadden a few people, like Seth Everett, but c'mon now, despite having the tradition of success the Devils have had in the last 20 years, they've also got one of the weakest fanbases in all the league despite being in New York's gravity. Hamilton as a market is in a precarious spot though. On one side, there's Toronto, and on the other, there's Detroit. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs both have rabid fanbases, and it might be hard for a new team there to develop. However, unlike in the US, I think there's more wiggle room for a multiple-team metro area in Canada because Canadians love them some hockey, amirite? Even if you don't want to do Hamilton, maybe Halifax is a destination. Despite it's low population for the metro area, it is the hub for the Maritime provinces, and if you count the entirety of Nova Scotia, as well as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Eastern Quebec and possibly the northern parts of Maine, New Hampshire and even Vermont, well, that's a hefty base to draw fans from. For now though, let's go with Hamilton.
- Au revoir, New York Islanders, bienvenue Quebec Nordiques, v. 2.0. If the Devils are unpopular, then the Islanders are outcasts. Their salad days are even further removed, and really, are they even popular on Long Island anymore? I don't think so.
- Farewell, Florida Panthers, hey hey, Kansas City Panthers. KC has been courting a team for a good while now, even coming close to luring the Penguins out of Pittsburgh. Instead of taking a team from the 'Burgh, a good hockey town that had been plagued by bad ownership in the past, why not take from a city where people barely care about the basketball team with two superstars and Chris Bosh?
- Peace out, Los Angeles Kings, whazzup Utah Grizzlies. Salt Lake City is a growing metro area, and the popularity of the Jazz there is a good sign that they might be amenable to a hockey team. Plus, there's a lot of white people there, and the Kings are already a good team. They'd take to the city pretty well, I think.
- So long, Phoenix Coyotes, welcome aboard, Portland Orcas. I have to wonder if Americans in the Pacific Northwest really feel at home rooting for a Canadian team like the Canucks. I'm sure some do, but I'm also sure that some of them want a hockey team of their own to pull for. So, it's a coin-flip between Seattle and Portland. I'd go Portland, if only because they have a better arena and hey, why not tread new territory? Again, they love them the Trailblazers, so why not try a hockey team too?
With that much team movement, there'd have to be a good amount of realignment as well. You could stick with the two-conference, six-division model, but really, why is it that important to stay with that model? The All-Star Game has become a pick-up contest. Advances in travel have made road trips less strenuous. I say the NHL ditches the conference model and has a playoff tournament that seeds overall, 1-16 rather than 1-8 E and 1-8 W. Plus, while I'd still propose that divisions make geographic sense, I also think that the old way the NHL named its divisions, named after figures in the game, was rad. So, with that in mind, here you go with a five-division new NHL:
New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning
Columbus Blue Jackets
Detroit Red Wings
Toronto Maple Leafs
Kansas City Panthers
St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks
Basically, you play the teams in your division 6 times, the teams in every other division twice and then the four remainder games are chosen as "marquee" match ups by the league that would give extra playoff rematches/rivalry games to put on the TV schedule. That sounds like a good plan, right? At least I do.
Truth be told, while I doubt that the Thrashers leaving Atlanta to go north is the last move that will be made, I also doubt that my plan is going to happen either. I'm a fan of the game, but I also don't really have a nose for business sense of what markets would take to a hockey team the way that would keep them there and keep them successful. However, I do know that coming up this winter, the NHL may end up being the only game in town with a football lockout in effect and another lockout in the NBA looming large, so maybe that's all that's needed for more people to appreciate hockey like I, and millions of other people in Philly and around the continent of North America, do.
Still though, it sticks in my craw that teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and especially the Florida Panthers exist. Sorry, it just does.
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