Relocation a Possibilty to Fix Conferences After Expansion
Only two cities applied for expansion into the NHL by the league’s deadline, leaving Gary Bettman and the NHL brass with a divisional alignment obstacle.
Las Vegas would be in the West, possibly accompanying Dallas in the Central Division. Quebec City, however, is located in the Eastern portion of Canada and is due to be in the same division as Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto in the Atlantic. This leaves the West with 15 teams and the East with 17. One idea to fix this issue would be relocation to Seattle (so they can be in the Pacific) in a few years, coming from either Carolina or Florida.
The first scenario is if Carolina relocates, but that faces its own issues. The Hurricanes were second to last in NHL attendance last year, averaging 12,594 or 67.4% (numbers via ESPN). This is a drop from 17,558 or 94.0% in the lockout shortened 2013 season. It is also known that a potential buyer was in Carolina this past month, although nothing is imminent. The issue with this idea is that Quebec City would be in the Metropolitan Division, which would take away from the potential Canadian divisional rivalries. This would leave the divisions as (a) NYI, NYR, WSH, PIT, CBJ, PHI, NJD, QBC (b) MTL, DET, TBL, FLA, BOS, OTT, BUF, TOR (c) STL, NSH, CHI, DAL, MIN, WPG, COL, LVG and (d) ANA, CGY, LAK, SJS, VAN, EDM, ARZ, SEA (assuming CAR/FLA hypothetically moves to SEA in a few years).
The second scenario is moving Florida. Florida ranked last in NHL attendance last season at 11,265 or 66.1%. This move would get Quebec City to be in the Atlantic, which is should be, but is more unlikely due to Gary Bettman’s praise for Panthers owner Vinny Viola. The Panthers are also a team on the upswing, being a cusp playoff team last year. The likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad are all getting better, and they should make the playoffs in a few years at the most, if all goes well and that’ll help ticket prices.
The fact of the matter is, the NHL will have to play with the cards it’s dealt because it’s still unlikely that any relocations will happen soon unless something drastic changes in the near future. The Seattle ownership group, like many others, may have been scared away by the two million non-refundable fee for expansion, especially running the risk of not getting a team. This gives them a few years to get everything, including an arena, in order. The NHL has also said it will continue to have open dialogue with the Seattle ownership groups, which is a good sign for the city.
Unfortunately, this is how it’s played out, and the NHL will either have to deal with uneven conferences for an extended period of time, or deal with Quebec being in the West, in a situation like Winnipeg when they first got a team back.
Only time will tell how this plays out.
Note: Any relocation ideas in this article are purely hypothetical. Carolina and Florida are in no risk of it as of now, and Seattle is not close to getting a team just yet. This is just a discussion of possible fixes to the conference balancing issues for the future.