NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman immediately denied the reports, and, for the most part the rumors died down, except in Sin City. Many reports surfaced that the NHL was actively looking to expand, at least into Vegas. Reports indicated the NHL selected the Maloof family, owners of the Sacramento Kings of the NBA, and billionare William P. Foley as potential owners of the rumored Las Vegas team.
Rather than tackle the source or validity of the stories, which deserves plenty of questioning itself, I’d much rather discuss why the NHL should not expand to any of the cities mentioned above, Vegas included.
The driving force behind expanding the NHL to 31, or even 34 teams, would be to generate more revenue. While I will admit that money is important in every professional sports league, the NHL also needs to consider that product that it would be placing on the ice. Adding four new teams would hardly impove that product. Taking a look at the NHL landscape right now, teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes have been at the bottom of the league’s standings more times than not over the last 10 years.
These teams struggle to remain competitive, even with a prospect pool and minor league teams that have been sustained for years. Imagine what would happen if the NHL expanded to 34 teams by 2017. It would be a nightmare. Those teams would be composed of the current free agent pool and numerous minor league players who aren’t NHL ready. Even if the NHL were able to project significant profits from expanding to 34 teams, the amount of time it would take those teams to achieve succes at the NHL level would be more detrimental to the sport in terms of viewership and competitiveness.
Speaking of the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers, they can’t even fill up their stadiums and the Coyotes have had their fair share of monetary issues in recent years. Ask Phoenix: the addition of four likely lackluster teams is a bad financial move on the part of the NHL when its current 30 teams can’t even sell out now.
When the NHL considers expansion, it should think about these factors before setting anything in stone. It shouldn’t want to be the only thing that happened in Vegas and never stayed in Vegas.
Anthony Pucik is the Assistant Sports Editor for The Fordham Ram.