NHL: Fate of Six Teams Will Be Decided at Owners Meeting in December
When the NHL Board of Governors holds its main meeting in December, significant changes to the form of the NHL could result.
Two issues are said to be on the agenda, and if both are addressed, they will affect six teams.
One that is for certain is the switch of Winnipeg from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference.
This issue will involve four teams, the Winnipeg Jets, the Detroit Red Wings, the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
That Winnipeg will be affected is a foregone conclusion. It will simply move from the Southeast division into the Central division with the Chicago Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues and the two failed suitors of the above group.
The other three teams are bidding to move east to have easier flying times and expenses, and to have better rivals with closer cities.
Based on clout and prestige within the league, bet on Detroit to be the lucky team. Besides the obvious flying time/expenses savings, it wants to move east where it can rekindle its traditional rivalries with four of its "original six" partners, the Bruins, the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens and the Rangers, especially Toronto.
It will lose its rivalry with Chicago, but Detroit is willing to make this sacrifice.
The new Central division is pretty obvious to describe, but how will the East look?
Most likely the entire Eastern Conference will be revamped with the divisions looking something like this:
Detroit, Toronto, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Buffalo
New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Boston, Montreal
Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida
The other issue is the possible revision of the entire league to an NFL format of two conferences with four divisions in each one of them.
If such a revision is approved, it can only mean one thing: NHL expansion.
Currently the NHL is two teams short of a symmetrical 32, so rather than suffer two divisions with only three teams in them, it will go the expansion route which makes the most sense.
So the two cities who are hungriest to get in the NHL will bid for the new expansion franchises.
There will be one catch; at least one of the teams MUST be from the west.
From the East, the leading candidate is Quebec which recently passed a controversial arena bill and already has a first-class potential owner, Quebecor, a previous unsuccessful buyer of the Montreal Canadiens, lined up to front a formal bid.
Hartford would be contender but it has gone nowhere near as far Quebec to resolve its arena problem.
There is also the reconciled Jim Balsillie still aching to get a team into Hamilton.
The West is far more open to speculation.
The choice that would probably be the most successful would be Seattle, which is in fact the first American city to win the Stanley Cup.
In late May, the NHL held talks with an unidentified Seattle investment group about getting a franchise for the city.
Seattle would have no problems with rivalries with the two Alberta teams, San Jose and the other California teams, and especially Vancouver.
The biggest stumbling block is that Seattle lacks a proper NHL size arena, but if that could be overcome, a Seattle franchise is probably a sure winner.
Kansas City put itself back in the picture by recently hosting a successful exhibition game between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles in its NHL size arena.
Kansas City once had an NHL team back in the 1970s and would have a natural rivalry with St. Louis and perhaps Colorado.
But Kansas City's experience with hockey is flirty at best, and there may be some wariness by investors before someone commits themselves. Certainly no one has stepped forward to seek a franchise like there has been in Quebec.
Milwaukee and Portland would probably be good franchises, but there are no reports of any movements to get an NHL team.
Other cities would be Southern ones with little familiarity with hockey. But there has been so much money-losing by similar type teams that has been embarrassing for the NHL, that will the league risk going that route again, no matter how tempting the market?
The leading cities from this kind of scenario are the two rejected cities from the last expansion, Houston and Oklahoma City, and Las Vegas.
Houston once had a WHA team that featured Gordie Howe and his sons, but they weren't enough to save the franchise.
It has the largest non-hockey American market and a natural rivalry with Dallas, but the fact that Dallas will be declaring bankruptcy and will be sold to a Canadian owner, doesn't brood well for putting another team in Texas.
Oklahoma City and Las Vegas are speculation.
A horrible possibility for Quebec hopes if the new league format is approved, would be for the NHL to announce expansion, appease Nashville or Columbus by shifting one of them East, and then demand two new western cities instead of one.
The new look league would also would make one unofficial change obvious: If the Phoenix Coyotes are finally to leave Arizona, they will be shifted to a western city, with no thought of moving east unless the NHL is faced with contraction.
But a change will definitely occur at the owner meetings in December. It remains to be determined how big it will be.
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