NHL Expansion a Must to Fix Imbalance of Premature Realignment
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Expansion may be right around the corner in the NHL.
It certainly seems that is the case. KJR radio host Mitch Levy tweeted that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is interested in putting an expansion team in Seattle, perhaps in time for the 2014-15 season.
Seattle was mentioned prominently as a potential relocation site for the Phoenix Coyotes had they left the desert this summer. While the Coyotes were saved from having to move out of their arena in Glendale, Az., the NHL knows that expansion is needed on several fronts.
The mathematics of the league is unwieldy in it's current form. Columbus and Detroit have moved from the Western Conference to the East, while ill-placed Winnipeg has shifted from the Eastern Conference to the West.
The upshot of the realignment is that there will be 16 teams in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, while only 14 teams will call the Western Conference home. That will make life significantly more of a challenge for the 16 Eastern Conference teams. They will compete for eight playoff spots, as will the 14 Western Conference teams.
It's quite likely that a couple of very strong Eastern Conference teams won't make the playoffs, while one or two substandard Western Conference teams will play postseason hockey.
An expansion team in Seattle will help make the numbers a bit fairer, but having an odd number of teams in the league will not work well. In a perfect world, the NHL would add two expansion teams at the same time to give the league the ideal number of 32 competitive franchises.
An expansion team in Seattle would likely play in Key Arena until a modern facility was built, but it seems that it would be difficult for the Seattle authorities to approve a new building unless an NBA team also returned to the Northwest. Seattle has been without a professional basketball team since the SuperSonics left town following the 2007-08 season
If one of the NHL's expansion franchises went to Seattle—and there's obviously no guarantee—another team in the West would still be needed to make it two conferences with 16 teams each.
The Edmonton Journal reported last fall that expansion was likely as soon as the lockout ended. While that did not happen, most of the expansion speculation involves Canadian cities like Quebec City and Toronto.
Neither of those cities are in the West. If one of those cities were to be given an expansion franchise, a team that is now in the East would have to go to the West to make it two even conferences.
Should the NHL expand to 31 or 32 teams?
That would seem to make this year's realignment that saw the Blue Jackets, Red Wings and Jets change conferences seem a bit premature.
Here's why: While having Winnipeg in the East was not advantageous after the Thrashers relocated to the Western Canadian city following the 2010-11 season, moving Detroit and Columbus created the current 16-14 imbalance.
It seems likely that one of those two teams is going to have to move back to the West when a 32nd team comes into the league, and it's clearly not going to be Detroit.
The Red Wings had been campaigning for the move to the Eastern Conference for years, according to Ansar Khan of MLive. The Red Wings disliked the travel and the plethora of West Coast games that played havoc with their television audience numbers. Columbus also had the same issues, but the Blue Jackets don't have the same weight as the Original Six Red Wings.
Unless the NHL adds two western-based expansion teams, a franchise that is currently located in the East will have to move to the Western Conference.
The NHL would have been better served by switching Detroit's and Winnipeg's conference affiliations and holding off on full realignment until two expansion teams were added.
It seems almost certain that Columbus will have to return to the Western Conference when the NHL ultimately expands to 32 teams.
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