Gary Bettman tried expansion and it hasn’t worked.
With the economic downturn, weakened Canadian dollar, and heavily indebted owners, the elimination of several teams from the 30-team league seems to be the only logical answer to avoiding a complete financial meltdown of the National Hockey League.
Teams in non-traditional markets with low revenues are drawing heavy subsidies from the NHL’s profit sharing pool, which is putting an increasing drain on the entire league. These teams, which were strewn across the southern USA, were destined to fail before the puck even dropped.
With revenues dropping as well as the salary cap projected to fall over the next couple of years, these teams will no longer be able to afford the large salaries of big name players. This in turn will decrease box office revenue and further diminish fan support.
It has been reported that the Phoenix Coyotes are already receiving financial assistance from the NHL, as owner Jerry Moyes is expected to lose more than $30 million this season. He has reportedly lost up to $200 million since he purchased the franchise for $120 million seven years ago.
Economics aside, many believe the NHL’s talent pool is already diluted and fewer teams would mean more skillful players, with an emphasis on speed and creativity, as opposed to teams who must work with less skillful third or fourth line players with an emphasis on sound defensive systems.
When MLB contracted the league in 2001, Bud Selig said, "It makes no sense for Major League Baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise.”
Maybe Bud was right about something and it is finally time for Mr. Bettman to put his stubbornness aside and face the facts that the NHL will never be able to compete with the NFL, MLB, and NBA in American markets.
But there is still no indication that the NHL commissioner has comprehended this. He seems to be oblivious to the National Hockey League’s distress, most recently blocking the sale of the Nashville Predators to Jim Balsille because he was interested in moving a team to the hockey rich area of southern Ontario.
Surely if he had been interested in moving the team to Oklahoma or Las Vegas, this transaction would have gone through without any problems.
The only rational answer to me would be to contract the league to 24 teams, while adding at least two more Canadian teams, most likely in southern Ontario and Winnipeg.
Gary needs to forget about this notion of hockey becoming a national entity in the US and focus on teams in legitimate hockey markets where they have no problems filling the arenas every night. Only then will all the NHL franchises be able to become truly profitable again.