To Avoid Death, NHL Should Refocus and Play to Its Strengths (Canada, Eh?)

David Aaron LindsayContributor IJanuary 9, 2009

The NHL has some major problems, much too numerous for one article, but I will attempt to tackle one of what I consider to be the big ones.

(Side note: I know, I know, I'm not much of an NHL fan anymore so what am I doing commenting on it? Well I used to be a huge one, but ever since I learned during the strike I can live without it, I've never had much of a reason to go back, and even prior to the strike I was becoming disenchanted with it.)

One of the first things that gets taught about business; Location, Location, Location.

The NHL drastically needs to refocus. The idea I am about to propose isn't anything completely original or unheard of, I just think it is the one that might actually rejuvenate the league the most and help the game grow eventually.

I am talking about MASSIVE relocation and realignment.

I propose the NHL poach almost all southern U.S. franchises and relocate them to Canada. Split it right down the middle with 15 Canadian teams forming the Canadian Conference and 15 forming the American Conference (Sample to follow). This works out perfectly for the eventual formation of a third Conference; the Euro or World Conference (Keeping with my regional theme/goal).

Global expansion is inevitable for any league that wishes to remain relevant in an ever-global economy if for no other reason than you risk losing your top players to teams and leagues that have grand ambitions elsewhere. (This phenomena has only just begun.) 

When you look back at the peak of NHL popularity which has to be considered the '80s and early '90s the NHL was only just starting to venture southward in a big way.

Now while that may have seemed like the prudent thing to do at the time (that being to expand further into the strongest economy in the world), how much sense does it honestly make venturing to warm climates where almost no kids play the sport and therefore do not cultivate young fans?

And there is no real "winter" to speak of? It was either a case of never should have went period, or just too much too soon.

Ever since they went heavy into the south, things have progressively gotten worse. They are a laughing stock in most southern markets and continually get lambasted by mainstream U.S. media. That never used to happen when they stuck to the old school markets and the northern U.S. in general because people up there actually enjoyed the NHL and had very few if any bad things to say.

They opened themselves up to all sorts of new criticism from media people in the south that either just didn't understand the game or just didn't want to. From there it was sort of like a snow ball effect. Negative media coverage has to have affected the marginal fans, how could it have not? If you hear that something is crappy or unpopular over and over, those thoughts are bound to creep into your head.

Either way, in my opinion, it's a fail experiment. They should stop the bleeding while they still have something left to salvage and return to classic and established hockey markets. I guarantee if the NHL retreated, that while initially there would be more laughing and snickering about he "b" level status of the NHL, that inside a couple of years later things would change dramatically.

All of a sudden all those NHL bashers of the south would return to squabbling over things like a college football playoff system or whatever else was right in front of their face at the time and forget all about the NHL.

And while maybe they'd never again garner a national U.S. television contract maybe local channels would be more likely again to pick up their local teams without the negative feedback from corporate because instead of looking at it like a failed national NHL product they would be talking about the popular regional NHL once again.

Either way, here is my relocation and realignment just for fun:

(Not saying this is definitely the way I'd go, just where I would start the discussion.)


Canadian Hockey Conference

Western Division

Saskatoon or Regina (Though I believe there is more of a corporate presence in Saskatoon)
Winnipeg (Never should have left)


Ontario Division

Toronto Leafs
Toronto (2nd team, if NY can handle almost three, the "top" hockey market should be able to handle two)
Tri-Cities (Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo Area) or a northern city like Sudbury or Barrie (Although those are both BIG reaches for me.)


Eastern Division

Quebec City
Ottawa (I know it's in Ontario, but there aren't a lot of big cities out east, or oot east)
Fredericton or Moncton (I would lean toward Moncton unless there was another city in Quebec that would fit.)


American Hockey Conference

Western Division

Los Angeles
San Jose
Portland or Salt Lake City (The Northwest has a lot of college and minor league hockey scattered throughout the region, so I'd try a team out there somewhere.)


East Division



Northeast Division

NY Islanders
NY Rangers
New Jersey


Also, I know what all you Canadians are thinking right now, we'd never be able to have an all Canadian Stanley Cup final ever again, OH the travesty! Wrong, I'd also change the playoffs to a seeded format where you would take either the top 4 or 8 teams from each conference, plop them into one large playoff pool and seed strictly based on record.

None of this division winner bullshit or anything funky where some team that won their division with a record worse than the lowest seed gets a 4th seed or however it can happen now. You'd also avoid the case where the two best teams in the league sometimes meet in the Semi-Finals due to the conference structure. Under my plan, divisions and conferences basically serve as scheduling aids.

Let me know what you think and I will try and respond to any comments as appropriate.

P.S. I'm not necessarily saying never return to the south. Just retreat fast and hard now and regroup. Next time, be a little more conservative into completely fresh hockey markets.


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