NHL Lockout: Is Contraction of Teams an Option to Be Explored?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2012

The Coyotes have had a difficult time establishing themselves in Phoenix.
The Coyotes have had a difficult time establishing themselves in Phoenix.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NHL continues to play hardball with the players' association and that means there will be no hockey for the foreseeable future.

Just a few months ago, the NHL announced that its revenues were up significantly from the last lockout in 2004-05 (source: sportsnet.ca), yet the primary reason the league has given for wanting to change much of the financial structure of the game is that too many teams are losing money.

That's certainly plausible. Teams at the high end of the financial spectrum are turning a profit, while the teams at the low end are losing money.

At this point, putting the burden on the owners by increasing revenue sharing has not been the answer to getting rid of this debacle. Apparently, the owners who are making money don't want to help out their brethren. However, news reports from New York Newsday and other media outlets suggest that revenue sharing would be discussed when the two sides get together this week.

Perhaps that will help break the logjam.

If it doesn't, players may not want to give in any time soon just to get back to work. Many of them appear to have a solid alternative because they can play in European leagues and at least make a percentage of their salary even if their primary employers are locking them out.

So how to stop the money-losing franchises from draining more cash from the league's coffers. Could contraction be an answer?

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times suggested this could help the bottom line, but it is not the kind of answer that the teams want to consider.

Nothing screams minor league than the idea of contraction. Major League Baseball floated this idea approximately a decade ago with the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos. The Twins became a consistent contender shortly thereafter and built a new stadium.

The Expos moved out of Montreal and have become successful in Washington as the Nationals.

Contraction would rid the NHL of jobs and send the message that it can't handle its own business.

The only way contraction would make sense is if there was no alternative for the current franchises.

Teams like the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders are having financial issues. The Coyotes may have the biggest long-term problems, but Greg Jamison has been trying to close a deal that would allow him to purchase the team for months.

The Devils' ownership has financial difficulties and the Islanders have not been able to get a new arena built.

Moving franchises is never the ideal situation, but it is far better than cutting the teams from the league's roster of teams.

By the way, Quebec City has wanted the NHL to return since it lost its beloved Nordiques to Colorado in 1995. Hamilton also wants a team, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. That newspaper also reports that Seattle is in the mix for a franchise as billionaire Chris Hansen puts together a $500 million arena deal in that city.

The National Hockey League wants to be considered as a major sport and stand shoulder to shoulder with the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. If it thinks seriously about contracting and then takes that action, the league's status would drop considerably.