Under The Bleachers: The NHL Expansion Dilemma

Above: Quebec City's seven-storey-high, 18,000-seat Videotron Centre opened its doors in September
Above: Quebec City's seven-storey-high, 18,000-seat Videotron Centre opened its doors in September

Not to sound all “back in my day,” but the idea of the NHL expanding again seems crazy to me because there aren’t enough quality players to fill the current 30 rosters in the league and propping up two more teams would only dilute the talent pool even further.

Earlier this week, Quebec City and Las Vegas both presented their respective bids, with the new Videotron Centre in Quebec City playing host to an exhibition game. By all accounts, both sides have strong bids and solid foundations in place and the images from the preseason game looked fantastic. But having strong groups and nice, new arenas shouldn’t be the only reason to welcome two new franchises into the league.

Let’s be honest: it’s a financial decision and if the NHL believes that the revenue the league would bring in is worth adding another team or two, you best believe Gary Bettman is going to do it.

Having said that, my sense is that while both locations seems like a great idea now, the long-term viability has to be a major concern.

Of the top eight metropolitan areas in Canada, Quebec City is the only one of the group without an NHL franchise, but with a population of just above 750,000 and none of the “they’re just completely bonkers for hockey” vibe that you get from the people in Winnipeg, would a team be able to establish roots and be successful year after year in a market that doesn’t have the same kind of market to draw from as many of its Canadian contemporaries?

The first few years would be great, sure, but once you get to Year 4 and the team is still struggling and the newness of it all has worn away, are people still going to pay top dollar to watch a mediocre team 40 nights a year?

While Las Vegas has a larger metropolitan area than Quebec City, it only ranks 30th in the US, clocking in at just over 2 million. The obvious perk of Vegas is that it’s a travel destination and there are millions of people that touch down in the desert each year, but that doesn’t necessarily help your season ticket base. It probably would help walk-ups on game night, but as far as packing the house on a nightly basis, are there really that many hockey fans living in and around Sin City?

Las Vegas has had minor league hockey in the past in the form of the IHL’s Thunder and the ECHL’s Wranglers, but the former only lasted six years and the latter folded up shop after being unable to secure an arena deal after calling the 7,700-seat Orleans Arena home.

The other part of this is that on Thursday, Boston Bruins owner and chair of the Board of Governors, Jeremy Jacobs, suggested that the league might not have the “will” to expand at this point.

When the chairman of the Board of Governors is hitting you with an “everything looks good, but do we really need to expand right now?” maybe you think long and hard about whether you want to put one team back into a market that already collapsed once before and another in the desert, especially given how colossally unsuccessful that experiment has been in Phoenix.

This is very good the way they are now, so why mess with a good thing? 

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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