“Bettman has only a marginal interest in the weaker teams. He only wants the NHL to make a bigger profit as a whole.” -- Dominik Hasek

June 30, 2007

Further NHL Expansion Is Stupid, Likely

There's really no better way to put it. Expanding the NHL to include more teams (like in Vegas) or simply moving existing teams from one lousy market to the next is a terrible way to promote the sport.

What expansion does is dilute talent. There are a limited number of truly great hockey players in this world, and their skills are best showcased by playing on teams with each other. One superstar on a lousy team doesn't stand out because he's held back by his teammates who chuck lousy passes, bobble one-timers and more or less skate around without a clue. Florida comes immediately to mind, much to Olli Jokinen's dismay.

When a team is filled with true superstars, chock-full of great talents whose skills are multiplied by playing with each other, the fans come flocking.

As Eric at the Fanhouse pointed out yesterday, the Penguins have now been forced to create a waiting list for season ticket purchases because of out-of-control demand. Why is this, you wonder? Perhaps it has something to do with three young men named Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Three true superstars whose innumerable skills are even further multiplied by playing on the same team as each other. This is not a "problem" facing teams like Phoenix, who have nobody even close to superstar status and are already at a disadvantage by playing in a non-traditional market.

In an ideal world, the NHL would contract to at most 28 teams (but ideally 24), and concentrate the limited talent pool in fewer cities. Expansion would only further diminish the on-ice product. You want to know the real reason goal-scoring has been down in the past twenty years? Because too many teams were added. Back in the 1980s, it was easy for Wayne Gretzky to score 200 points in a season (and his team over 400 goals) because the Oilers had Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson. There were only 20 teams back then, and the talent was heavily concentrated.

In 1989-90, ten teams scored more than 290 goals---out of 21 total. In 1999-2000, zero teams out of 28 scored that many. It's not because the goalies got fatter or the creases were too large. It's because there weren't enough good players on each team.

Through contraction, the NHL could easily kill multiple birds with one stone: increase ticket sales, increase goal scoring, decrease team deficits in weak markets. Why make the goals bigger when you can just stack the offense full of superstars?

Too bad it's never going to happen. The league seems dead-set on further expansion at the expense of all common sense. We're all worse off as fans because of it.

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