Atlanta to Winnipeg? Why NHL Contraction Is a Better Idea

Bobby Brooks@BrooksBetsAnalyst IIIMay 17, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 07:  Rob Schremp #13 of the Atlanta Thrashers celebrates his goal against the New York Rangers during their game on April 7, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Thanks to Nick Kypreos from Canada's Sportsnet, there had been rampant speculation about the so-called imminent move of the Phoenix Coyotes to Winnipeg.  Now that the good folks in Glendale have put that issue to bed, the Atlanta Thrashers are the hot commodity ready to exchange their zip code for a Canadian postal code.

Yet, lost in all this hoopla is the bigger picture—that the NHL just can't afford to have all these teams.

Why is it that people think that Winnipeg can support another NHL team long-term?  Do they have an ownership group that is going to pour money into the club year after year?  Will their shiny new arena be able to consistently attract the necessary corporate sponsors?  Will NHL free agents want to sign there?

You won't find a definitive "yes" to any of these questions.  So why are they such a slam dunk to get an NHL team?

Another dilemma in all of this is the "what if" scenario.

If Atlanta does move up north, where does Phoenix plan to go next season if the people don't feel like pouring another 25 million into a losing business?

Will another hot shot market pop up and magically save the day?

The answer is no.

The cold hard truth about this league is that there aren't many billionaires out there that are interested in owning a hockey team.

One look around the league, and you'll quickly realize that there are failing franchises left, right and center.

The Columbus Blue Jackets consistently lose millions every year. 

The Florida Panthers have lost all their fans and wouldn't be able to make the playoffs even if they bought off Gary Bettman.

The Brad Richards saga went on and on all season because there is no stability in Dallas' ownership ranks either.

The St. Louis Blues traded away Eric Brewer and Eric Johnson because of ownership problems.

Another half dozen owners don't spend to the cap and have no interest in icing a championship roster.

Over the last few years, many troubled franchises were rescued by improbable owners—Tampa Bay and Buffalo being two examples.

Yes, the new TV deal with NBC is promising, the exposure on HBO's 24/7 is great, and the direction of the league has never been better.

However, the only thing that would seal the deal and make this a spectacular league is if we dropped some teams.

Would anybody lose any sleep if Florida, Phoenix, Atlanta and Columbus closed their doors and called it a day?

Bettman has done a lot of great things for the NHL and he saved a lot of teams when he could have easily moved on.  He often points to the examples in Canada a number of years back as evidence to not give up on the current problems.

But what someone forgot to tell Mr. Bettman is that cities like Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Quebec never had problems with fan support.  The teams in trouble now don't have that luxury.  If they don't ice a consistent winner, the fans won't be there.

It may not be the most popular choice, because I'm sure the current struggling markets have a loyal core set of fans and it would be a major black eye for the league.  Yet this is what would make this league thrive.

Even if four teams is too radical, let's just start with Atlanta and Phoenix.  If more teams can't find owners, we can fold them too.   Contraction would also provide more quality depth to the other teams in the league. 

Why it isn't even being considered as an option is beyond me, but it's about time that owners, fans and players take off the rose-colored glasses so they can see the NHL for what it really is—a watered down league with too many irrelevant franchises.

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