As far as on-ice product goes, the NHL is in pretty good shape right now.
In drastic contrast to the clutch and grab 90’s, the best teams in today’s NHL often happen to be the most fun to watch. Teams like San Jose, Chicago, Washington, Pittsburgh and L.A. are young, fast teams with terrific offenses that play with an up-tempo style. They also happen to be five of the top seven teams in the league.
In fact, of the teams with the top 10 NHL offenses (Washington, Vancouver, Chicago, San Jose, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Colorado and Dallas) eight are firmly entrenched in playoff positions and nine (I’m excluding Atlanta) play what many would consider a fan-friendly, yet still technically sound, brand of hockey.
Indeed, the state of the league has improved drastically in the last five seasons, but there are still many ills that plague the NHL. It’s lagging woefully behind the NFL, NBA and MLB in terms of popularity south of the border, has a pathetic American TV contract, and has more franchises in dire financial straits than any league but the NBA (which is rapidly heading for a lockout of its own).
With all due respect to the ideas put forth by The Onion, I present for you my own series in how to improve the NHL. I plan to publish one of these every week or so, and to start things off, here is my first suggestion: contraction.
How To Improve The NHL, Part 1: Contraction
Would I feel bad for the hockey fans of Nashville if their beloved Predators were abolished this summer? Sure, but the NHL could probably smooth things over by sending them both gift certificates to Chili’s.
Ba dum ching.
Seriously though, it’s hard to argue that the NHL’s southern expansion has had a positive impact on the sport. There have been about a million words dedicated to this topic over the years, so I won’t go into detail about the trials and tribulations of the sunshine teams, but suffice to say that the Predators, Coyotes and Lightnings of the world aren’t exactly on sound financial footing. Would I like to see the Coyotes moved to Hamilton, the Lightning to Winnipeg and the Predators to Quebec City? Sure.
But I’ll save that option for a future column.
With six fewer franchises the talent level of the league would be better (no more Zack Stortinis or Brian McGrattons on NHL rosters) and one has to assume that goal-scoring would increase.
My proposal calls for elimination of the Nashville, Phoenix and Tampa Bay franchises plus the Thrashers, Hurricanes and Panthers. The California teams would stay because they draw better attendance numbers than their Eastern brethren, but should the Islanders fail to get their building situation rectified, they would be a candidate for abolition as well. If the Islanders get the boot the Hurricanes would be spared. At least the fans in Carolina come out in droves and cheer like maniacs in the playoffs.
The remaining 24 franchises would be placed into four divisions, which would assume the old pre-Bettman names.
The Campbell Conference’s Norris Division would consist of Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas and Colorado.
The Smythe Division would house Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim.
Over in the Wales Conference, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, the Rangers, New Jersey and the Islanders would form the Patrick Division.
The Adams Divison would see Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Columbus do battle.
Now, this isn’t the most novel idea, I know. In fact, it’s akin to hitting the rewind button back to 1993 with a handful of new cities in the mix. But it's an improvement that would allow the league to recapture some of the uniqueness it had before Bettman NBA-ized it, and it would improve the quality of play. It would also help each team out financially because league-wide revenues would be split 24 ways instead of 30.
Clearly the NHLPA would fight hard against a proposal like this considering all the jobs they would lose, so it is very unlikely contraction will ever happen.
That's too bad, because when it comes to the NHL, less is more.