With yesterday’s announcement that the New York Islanders will be moving to Brooklyn to play at the Barclays Center starting in 2015-16, the folks in the Pacific Northwest who long for the NHL to come to Seattle had one relocation option removed from their radar. Others options still remain, be they likely ones (Phoenix Coyotes) or unlikely (Edmonton Oilers), but the Islanders news does make you stop and wonder what route the NHL will take to get into Seattle if that city is able to get an arena built there. Will it be via expansion or relocation?
Much has been made about the proposed league realignment idea that was scuttled this past season. The uneven conference sizes fueled speculation that two expansion teams could or soon would be added, and with all the hubbub that has been going on in Seattle, Quebec City and Markham this past year, the focus has been on those three locations being the frontrunners. Conventional wisdom has had it that two of these cities will get expansion teams while one will be given a team via relocation. So if that ends up being the case, which city will get the relocated team, and which cities will receive expansion teams?
If the league wants to right itself financially, as well as take a solid step into a new market, then the plan should be for Seattle to receive a team via relocation, while Quebec City and Markham get expansion teams. Why? Because Quebec City and Markham are going to be slam dunks for the NHL. No one doubts for a moment that those hockey-mad areas won’t support their teams from Day One. They will be financially successful from the get-go because hockey is part of the Canadian culture and these folks will embrace their new team regardless of how they get it. The only thing the NHL will have to worry about is trying to predict when Canadian currency is going to start losing value against the almighty US dollar again, and how these areas will respond to that crisis when it hits.
Do Quebec City and Markham want teams tomorrow? You bet. Will they ticked if an American city is put at the top of the list instead of them? Absolutely. Should the NHL care though? No, and here is why: This situation has nothing to do with Bettman & Company’s perceived anti-Canadian bias, and they are not in the business of placating the Canadian populace. It’s simply a matter of economics. Expansion fees from clubs in Quebec City and Markham would be an enormous boon to the NHL and the league could likely fetch higher fees from those cities than they could from Seattle, so this plan would be best for the NHL in both the short and long term. The NHL knows this and will try to play their cards accordingly to make this happen.
Pockets of the Canadian population will disagree with me and decry that I am yet another American who wants to keep the game out of their country because I don’t have Quebec City or Markham at the top of the relocation list. This could not be further from the truth. As we are seeing now with this ridiculous lockout, the NHL still doesn’t have its head on straight with regard to its financial situation and they need to fix things fast. Any hockey fan who truly wants the NHL to succeed and grow over the long term should want Seattle to get a team via relocation because if the NHL is hellbent on going there anyway, giving them an established team—even if it’s not a great one—is the way to go.
I lived just south of Seattle for ten years and was there long enough to know that the sports culture there can be finicky, and the support for clubs lukewarm, especially if they are not doing well. But they also love the hell out of their teams when they are run well and flourishing, especially in sports that are “niche” sports in America—which hockey is. Just look at how they have embraced the Seattle Sounders of the MLS. Between the Everett Silvertips, Seattle Thunderbirds and the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, however—to say nothing of the Tri City Americans and Spokane Chiefs in Eastern Washington—there is plenty of support for hockey in the Pacific Northwest to suggest that fans would jump at the chance to see NHL hockey in Seattle, especially since there are no other options in that gigantic swatch of land south of Vancouver, north of San Jose and east of Denver.
The lockout is raising the ire of fans everywhere, and for good reason, but whenever it finally gets resolved, I would expect to see a few bits of positive news come out of it. Quebec City and Markham will quickly be awarded expansion franchises—a move which will help facilitate getting the Winnipeg Jets out of the Eastern Conference and back to the Western, by the way—and the NHL will finally admit defeat in the desert and move the Coyotes to Seattle. And everyone will rejoice (except for the 23 Coyotes fans who still exist).