Expansion in the NHL continues to be discussed. Though it seems more than likely that the NHL will expand by at least one team (Las Vegas) in the not too distant future, the league is taking things slowly and they’re exercising caution.
Why is the league being so deliberate? The answer may be obvious (there’s a lot of risk), but St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong had a rather blunt answer which brought up some sore memories.
Armstrong’s comments, via the Toronto Sun:
“I think what the league doesn’t want — and I say this as an employee of the league — is a situation like Atlanta where you give them an expansion franchise, they put a horse(bleep) product on the ice for a decade, then say it’s not a hockey market. How do you know it’s not a hockey market if you’ve never really had a competitive hockey team?”
Pretty interesting and accurate comments from the GM. Regardless of which market the NHL expands to, success depends heavily on the product the new owners put out on the ice. There were a lot of reasons why the Thrashes didn’t work out, but the team’s overall competitiveness – or lack of competitiveness – certainly didn’t help. Winning fuels big attendance figures and ratings.
The NHL is wise to take their time before expanding. The best strategy would be to make sure all of the current franchises are in at least decent shape before tackling a new city and team. The league still has some troubling franchises, but some are showing some strong signs of life (Florida Panthers) which might allow the talk of expansion to take serious root. Then, and only then, the league needs to evaluate the prospective owners and make sure they’re committed to the team beyond the initial launch. No one wants to see a repeat of the Atlanta Thrashers.