By: Sydney Fann
Ever since the NHL re-organized the conferences, making them now uneven, there has been talk about potentially expanding the league. The Western Conference only has 14 teams while the Eastern Conference has 16 teams, so it only seems logical to even up the conferences. The unevenness has obvious implications for the playoff picture, as it is much easier to get into the playoffs in the West than in the East. So, logically, the Conferences should be evened up, if only to make getting into the playoffs fair for both conferences.
So far though, the NHL has been dragging their feet at the prospect of expanding the league to more markets. The current structure of the league has been in place since the start of the 2013-2014 season, and the league has exhibited very little effort in trying to even out the conferences. The league commissioner, Gary Bettman, seems extremely reluctant to start making concrete plans to establish expansion teams. Only within the past year has Bettman made any comments regarding expansion, and he has been vague and disinterested at best.
While I do understand that expanding the league is a very important and calculated decision, Bettman could at least be trying a little harder. Many markets, especially the one in Quebec City, Quebec, are anxiously awaiting any news about the status of possibly getting a team. Quebec lost their team to the Colorado market about 10 years ago, and it seems that ever since then Quebec has been advocating for another team. And it’s not the first time that a city that lost their team got another; Minnesota lost its North Stars to the Dallas market in 1993 only to get the Wild in 2000. Quebec City is also in the country that basically invented hockey, so if there were ever a more deserving market you’d be hard-pressed to find one.
In regards to the other potential market, I find Las Vegas a bit of an oddball. There are no major sports teams in the state of Nevada, so this is an entirely new venture. Las Vegas used to have the minor league hockey team, the Las Vegas Wranglers, who played in the ECHL. The team was around from 2003 to 2014, when they had to suspend operations in order to find a new arena to play in (which unfortunately never happened). Despite being unable to find a new home arena, the Wranglers were actually one of the better teams in the ECHL, setting seven overall records for the ECHL. I think if the NHL seriously considered expanding into Las Vegas, they would find a fan base ready to support their new team.
Overall, I think the NHL should take greater strides in their efforts to secure locations for expansion teams. Having uneven conferences is kind of ridiculous and expansion should have been considered first before re-organizing the conferences. Adding at least two more teams to the league would even up the conferences and would give some love to the Western Conference, who seems to have gotten the short end of the stick with the change in conference structure. The West lost two of their teams, both from the same division, and the East was largely untouched. Giving the West two more teams in place of those that it lost only seems fair. I also think that giving a team back to a market that so desperately wants one back would be a very smart move on the part of the NHL. The return of the Winnipeg Jets to Manitoba has saw countless sellouts from perhaps the league’s loudest and most energetic fans, so it only makes sense that the return of NHL hockey to Quebec would result in a similar result. And adding a team to a completely new area that has no major league sports would probably also result in success. Adding a hockey team to the bustle and excitement of the Las Vegas scene would provide another activity for the thousands of visitors of the city, which in turn would provide an immense amount of revenue to the NHL. Expanding into Las Vegas is a huge risk, but it should come with huge success. I really think the NHL should get the ball rolling and make some progress in founding these two teams.