Why NHL Contraction Should Be Considered in the Future

Andre Khatchaturian@AndreKhatchCorrespondent IIIFebruary 4, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to attendees during 'Sports Teams for Social Change,' hosted by Beyond Sport United on September 27, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Expansion in sports leagues sounds like an awesome way to grow the game. It means tapping into markets which haven't been introduced to the sport. It means exorbitant expansion fees into the pockets of rich owners.

However, that's pretty much all expansion does to grow the league, save for the rare occasion when a market actually appreciates the team for a prolonged period of time. 

If the NHL were to expand, even into a hockey crazed market like Quebec City or Hamilton, Ontario, it would be highly detrimental to the growth of the league.

NHL expansion is hands down the best way for Gary Bettman to kill a rapidly growing league. We've had enough of it. In fact, even relocating teams from markets like Florida, Anaheim, Phoenix and Columbus—which fail to generate much interest—does not help too much. 

What the NHL needs to do is contract at least four teams, if not more.

Before you scroll down to the comments section and decide to crush me about how insensitive I am toward the large, rabid Phoenix Coyotes fanbase, consider this.

There are 20 players on each team (not counting healthy scratches). This means there are 600 players in the NHL. Assuming four teams are contracted, this sends 80 of the league's worst players back to the AHL. 

What does this mean?

The quality of play in the league improves. With four teams gone, a dispersal draft would occur and the best players from the four defunct teams would join other teams, making them all stronger.

Secondly, some markets just don't need teams. Does Southern California really need the Anaheim Ducks? They've won more Stanley Cups than the Los Angeles Kings, but other than Orange County, nobody cares about the Ducks.

As a business decision, it makes sense to get rid of them.

The same goes for the team in Long Island. The NHL's success is not determined by how well the New York Islanders are playing. In fact, the NHL doesn't really need the team. The New York Rangers are enough in the Big Apple.

There are also teams who haven't had much success and generated interest in their locales like the Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Phoenix Coyotes.

Getting rid of these teams only helps the NHL. And if the fans of the markets alienate the sport, who cares? It may sound elitist, but it's the truth. The NHL relies on the success of markets like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Montreal, Washington and Detroit. 

How many times have the Florida Panthers played the New York Islanders in the last 10 years and how many times have you watched them play against each other? 

The answer to this question is "many and zero," respectively. 

The elimination of four teams also means that the big-time markets above play each other more often. Plus, we get less duds in the playoffs. You won't see Phoenix or Anaheim clogging up playoff spots.

Those will belong to hockey markets that matter.

Consequently, the television ratings will increase, thus driving ad rates for NHL broadcasts skyward. Financial success in the NHL and in other sports leagues is driven by television ratings, not just ticket sales. 

Fact of the matter is, infomercials were more watched than the Florida Panthers last season (via Larry Brown Sports). Blame it on the product, blame it on the region. The NHL can't afford to have those kinds of embarrassing headlines hinder its growth, especially when national TV ratings for the Winter Classic and the Stanley Cup Finals have been up in recent years, according to ESPN and Yahoo Sports.

We like watching Los Angeles vs. Vancouver, Boston vs. New York, St. Louis vs. Detroit and Toronto vs. Montreal. More of these matches—instead of the sixth matchup of the year between the Dallas Stars and the Phoenix Coyotes—will ensure more success and growth for the league.

There are many reasons why contraction won't happen.

For one, the players' association will be strongly against it. As mentioned above, contraction means there will be fewer players in the league. The NHLPA won't be too happy about that unless they're compensated. 

Secondly, the owners of the teams being contracted would have to be heavily compensated financially. 

The bottom line is: Bottom-feeders don't produce any sort of positive vibes for the league. The league would actually be better off without them. 

Contracting teams means that the quality of the league improves and the television ratings spike because of the increased quality of play and the fact that teams in bigger markets which care about hockey face each other more often.

You also get rid of the possibility of having a team like the Anaheim Ducks ending up in the Stanley Cup Finals, because that just means the TV ratings are going to crash like they did back in 2007 (via TV by the Numbers).

The reason why ratings have been up has been because of the quality of players and teams being featured in the league's marquee event. Vancouver, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia have all played in the Finals in the last four years. 

It's no coincidence why the ratings went up. And it's also not a coincidence why the ratings were so low when Anaheim and Ottawa played in 2007.

It makes sense for not just the NHL, but every sports league other than the NFL—which is a behemoth of a sports league—to contract. It makes it more exciting for a majority of the fans and it improves the league for the most part.


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