This past summer there’s been a lot of talk about which markets do and do not deserve an NHL franchise. That got me thinking about a project and it’s one that I’d like to get you involved with as well. Here’s the deal:
Imagine you were starting the NHL from scratch and could put a team in any city you wanted. Where would you place the 30 franchises? You can put them in any North American city you want and you don’t have to worry about Divisions, Conferences or anything else – simply focus on which cities and areas you would give an NHL franchise. Please post your thoughts here for all of us to see and discuss and if you can please include a brief note explaining your reasoning and whether you were seeking growth, exposure, fan base, etc. I look forward to seeing what all of you think and hope we can get a good dialogue going.
When considering where to put the 30 NHL franchises I wanted to do three things – expose the game to as many people and regions as possible, bring the game to fans that grow up playing the game while at the same time maintaining tradition.
Let’s start with the tradition and the Original Six cities – they all get to keep their teams:
Toronto, New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and Montreal
Now let’s move on to exposing the game to as many regions and people as possible. Here’s a list of other cities that currently have NHL franchises and who deserve to keep them:
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Dallas, Buffalo, Vancouver,Â St. Louis, Ottawa, Columbus, Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Charlotte
As you can see I’ve kept the six current Canadian teams and have two teams in California. I think that’s enough for California to be honest, one in Northern California and one in Southern California. I’ve also left the Lightning in Tampa Bay because it’s Central Florida, they have a Stanley Cup Championship and I think Florida deserves one team but not two of them.
You may think I’m crazy to leave a team in Phoenix and Atlanta but here’s my reasoning. First of all I said Phoenix, not Glendale. I believe that if the team were to play in downtown Phoenix they would draw much more fans and if they were given good ownership and a competent coach/GM they could thrive. There are a LOT of people in Phoenix and the Southwest area in general (10.34 million in Arizona, New Mexico and Las Vegas which would be the broadcast range of Coyotes home games) and I want them to have a team to root for and a reason to follow the NHL.
As for Atlanta, much of the same reasoning applies. The Thrashers have a gorgeous arena that is right in the heart of Atlanta so all they need now is some good teams and some time to develop fans. Atlanta is also the “capital of the South” so it’s vital to have an NHL team in that area to give fans throughout Georgia and the South a reason to watch and follow the NHL.
Then there’s Charlotte. The Hurricanes have a Stanley Cup Championship and they have a raucous fan base so I don’t want to take away their team but I do want to move it to Charlotte which has a larger population and, being on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, allows both states to feel like the Hurricanes are their team.
That’s 24 teams total which means I still have six teams to place. That gives me plenty of opportunity to spread the game while also satisfying some new fans.
Let’s give some cities that don’t currently have an NHL team a franchise:
Seattle, Winnipeg and Memphis
Seattle is a natural to me. They were the first American city to win the Stanley Cup so they have a hockey history, they have a huge population in a gorgeous city, there’s a natural rivalry with the Canucks and the Pacific Northwest (in America) is completely unrepresented in the current NHL. Plus, now that the Sonics are in Oklahoma City there’s no competition for fans during the winter other than the Seahawks on Sundays so they will have the sports landscape and media to themselves!
Winnipeg is also a natural. They had the Jets, of course, and as you look at a map of Canada they are pretty much in the middle. There are currently teams in Western Canada and teams in Eastern Canada but no teams in the middle of Canada. Placing a team in Winnipeg fixes that and, “makes it seven”.
Memphis gets a team because, again, I am interested in exposing the game to as many regions and people as possible. Nashville is a fine city but Memphis is located near the border of both Arkansas and Mississippi so you can expose the sport to three states at once. The total population of those states is 12 million (more than 1/3rd the population of Canada) and that’s enough to warrant having a team. If you can turn on a potential 12 million fans to your sport and give them a reason to watch, follow, attend or play your sport you should do it.
I should point out that I believe the teams in Phoenix, Columbus, Dallas, Memphis, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Seattle should play a handful of home games in other cities each year. The Green Bay Packers used to always play a couple of home games in Milwaukee and I’d like to see each of these teams do something similar. Have a game in Houston, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Nashville, Little Rock, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Raleigh and Portland. Let the fans throughout your region see the team at least once a year to experience the game in person. We all know that hockey is at its best when you are at the arena so let’s take the game to those people at least once a year to show them how great this sport is. I’d also like to see the AHL teams for these franchises be located in their areas. There’s no reason the Coyotes AHL team can’t be in Albuquerque, the Stars affiliate in Oklahoma City, the Seattle affiliate in Portland, etc.
Back to the placement of the teams, though, as I still have three to place. Looking at my map of North America I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got as far as representation throughout North America so I’ve accomplished my goal of bringing the game to as many regions and people as possible. Now it’s a matter of satisfying the fans that are passionate about the sport which means I am going to place the following teams:
Hamilton, New York (Long Island), Washington D.C.
Alright, Hamilton – you’ve got your team. That gives Canada eight teams which should be plenty. We also put a team back on Long Island since an area of over 18 million people deserves two teams, and the Islanders have a nice hockey history that is just waiting to be resurrected. The final team goes in the Capital of America – Washington D.C. The Capitals have a nice history, a strong fan base and a huge potential to grow into one of the strongest NHL teams in the league.
Here, then, are my Conferences & Divisions:
Vancouver, Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix
Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Denver and Dallas
Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Minnesota
Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo
Florida, Carolina, Atlanta, Memphis and St. Louis
Boston, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.