Arena NHL Expansion (and Deflation)

Discussion in 'Archive: The Arena' started by Zaz, May 24, 2009.

  1. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    Once upon a time, back in the day, that is, prior to 1967, there were six NHL teams:

    a. The Montreal Canadians (aka Les Habs, short for Les Habitants);
    b. The Toronto Maple Leafs (aka The Leafs);
    c. The Boston Bruins (aka the Bruins);
    d. The Chicago Blackhawks (aka The Hawks);
    e. The New York Rangers; and
    f. Detroit Red Wings (aka The Wings);

    Notice something? The teams were all in the snow belt, and in very large cities. Keep that in mind.

    Now the league started in 1917 with five teams, all of whom were Canadian and only one of which exists today: The Habs. This link: NHL Team History shows that the first American team was the Boston Bruins in the 1923-4 season, the rest added during the 20's. In 1926-7 there were 10 teams. Of course you know what happened the next year: the Depression hit. The number of teams began dropping until 1937-8, when only six were left, as noted above. After that, the number was stable for nearly thirty years.

    In 1967, the league decided to expand to 12 teams, and adopted the draft (prior to that they sponsored teams). They did it in a typical NHL way, namely, stupidly. The new franchises were: the Minnesota North Stars, California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penquins, and the St. Louis Blues.

    Of these, only Minnesota and Philadelphia made a lot of sense. Why give Pennsylvania two franchises--though I agree they should have had one. Why expand to Los Angeles, a hot city with plenty of other distractions? St. Louis was the dumbest of all. Know why they got a franchise? Because the owner of Hawks owned the St. Louis arena and wanted to unload it. The city made no sense at all, and still doesn't.
  2. Jedi Gunny Yahtzee Host

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    May 20, 2008
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    According to that theory, Anaheim and San Jose also don't fit due to their climates. However, St. Louis doesn't seem like a place they'd have a hockey team.
  3. Boba_Fett_2001 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 11, 2000
    star 8
    It's not a matter of climate. If there is legitimately a strong interest in hockey in any city then it should be considered for expansion. But obviously it's no coincidence that the further south you go, the less interest there is.
  4. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    But a strong interest in hockey doesn't guarantee success, either. It did in Minnesota, but not Colorado, which had one team go under, and the current one has one of the lowest attendance rates in the NHL. Lots of junior hockey interest in Colorado, but if the NHL isn't winning, it can't draw flies.

    I forgot (and who wouldn't) the egregious California Golden Seals, of which the owner, Charlie O. Finley, once said: "I thought this team would be successful, given all the ex-Canadians that live in California. I found out why they live in California: they hate hockey."

    Anyway, two teams to California means the dreaded market development reversal had already started. That is, instead of allowing a team to a city that liked hockey, they did it backwards; place a team in a large market and hoped it would develop a taste for hockey. The Kings still survive, mainly because LA is so big, but the Seals were a disaster. And why should California have three teams?

    Anyway, the next expansion was decidedly more cautious. In 1970, two franchises were awarded: one to Vancouver, and one to Buffalo. Both these franchises survive today; Buffalo being a snow belt city with a strong interest, and Vancouver being a Canadian city with a huge interest. Neither have won the Cup, and Vancouver was awful for what seemed like centuries, and still isn't very good. But they're still standing because they were sensible choices in the first place.

    Total Franchises: 14
  5. SLR Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 20, 2002
    star 5
    Colorado is a bad example. With the exception of football, Denver is not a good sports city. The Rockies and Nuggets have the same problem as the Avs. The fans only care about these teams when they are good. A great example of this is the Rockies from a couple of years ago. The team had one of the lowest attendance in baseball all year. Then, when the team made an unexpected playoff appearance (which they made in a one game playoff with the Padres for the NL West title), the fans came out of the woodwork cheering for the team. Denver is loyal to the Broncos, come hell or high water. But it is a total bandwagon city for the three other pro sport teams.

    Edit: California can support three teams. The Kings survive in LA and still draw pretty well for a team that has been really bad over the past 10-15 years. This is mostly because of all the transplants from Boston, NYC, Philly and Chicago that still love to watch hockey. The Ducks and the Sharks have also done well. Both get good attendance and have good support in their respective areas.
  6. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    I know Colorado supports football, but I was not aware the NBA didn't draw well there, either. What I simply can't understand is placing a team in a city where the NHL has already failed once in the modern era. They did it Colorado, and also in Atlanta; and the second teams are failing, too.
  7. Boba_Fett_2001 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 11, 2000
    star 8
    Heh, that's interesting because if I'm not mistaken don't the Rockies hold the MLB record for the highest attendance in one year?

    The Avalanche are only failing because they have a bad team as SLR alluded to. From the mid 90s to early 2000s they consistently had a great team and had no problems with attendance.
  8. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    But the mark of a good hockey city is one that will support the team through the bad times. No team is good all the time, even the best ones. The Leafs are hugely profitable despite being godawful the last ten years. You may think it shows the Toronto fans to be brain dead. Not exactly; they are merely hockey fanatics.

    I once told a Colorado fan at another site that Colorado wasn't a hockey city and wouldn't support the team in the bad times. He thought I was crazy; but I was right. Because the Avs were a transfer, they were good right away. When they stopped being good, the audience stopped coming.
  9. Jedi Gunny Yahtzee Host

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    It depends on how good the teams are. If they are consistently good, the fans will come. If they are terrible, attendance suffers.
  10. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
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    You're missing the point: given the draft, no team is consistently good forever. The Vancouver Canucks have been terrible for 39 years. But people come to the games to see hockey, to see good players on other teams, and to enjoy jeering at their team. The radio is full of people with ideas to improve the team. It *matters* to them. They also support a successful junior team, the Vancouver Giants.
  11. Boba_Fett_2001 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 11, 2000
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    That's true, yet at the same time low attendance forces management to make the team better as quickly as possible. The Blues used to make the playoffs every year until a few seasons ago and then attendance went downhill quickly. Management reacted and in one year they went from being one of the worst teams in the league to making the playoffs. That's the irony of operating in a market like that.
  12. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    Clever management definitely helps (see: Detroit). But even the Wings are aging and will have to go through a reorganization some time.

    The Hawks, too, were suffering under a rotten owner for years, but they survived.
  13. rechedelphar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 29, 2004
    star 6
    The atlanta thrashers hardly draw anyone. Plenty of people go for 1 or 2 games a year just out of curiosity (like myself). But the south lacks devoted hockey fans who are willing to go to multiple games a year.
  14. s65horsey Otter-loving Former EUC Mod

    Member Since:
    Jun 24, 2006
    star 7
    I dunno, I think you could come up with stats like this for most teams in ANY sport. There are always periods of lulls. The Brewers were horrible when I was growing up. I think every year since I was in 2nd grade up til I graduated high school, if you were on honor roll you got 4 free tickets for a game because they just wanted to get people to the games. We'd spend money on concessions there and whatnot to make up for the fact that the tickets were free and then the Brewers might not look pathetic cuz the stadium was empty.

    If your theory was true, why does Wisconsin not have a team? Wisconsin is a HUGE supporter of kids hockey and doesn't have a pro hockey team, but the climate fits to what you're saying would support a team.
  15. Boba_Fett_2001 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 11, 2000
    star 8
    Lots of things can get in the way even if there is a demand (building arenas, finding an owner, etc).
  16. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    I have no clue why Wisconsin does not have a team; maybe there's no deluded millionaires there with 50 Million in their pockets. Milwaukee would seem to be a natural. But the NHL does not want declining snowbelt teams; it wants the New South.

    But also--in a place like the USA, hockey is not only competing with other professional sports, it's also competing with collegiate sports. Collegiate sports garner almost no general interest in Canada at all, and thus don't compete with the NHL. Even the Frozen Four is a dead letter. Canadians are interested in junior hockey, which isn't collegiate, but that's about it.
  17. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    Okay, moving on to 1972: two more franchises were added, both to have rocky roads:

    The New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames.

    Why would NYC get a second franchise, especially as the Rangers didn't want one? Because competition was looming: the WHA (World Hockey Association). The WHA wanted to put a franchise into Nassau Colosseum, and the only way to stop it was to put a NHL franchise in instead, despite the Ranger's protests. The blow was softened by a $4,000,000.00 transfer fee.

    The Islanders began badly; but they had a smart GM, Bill Torrey, who was the first one to build through the draft. He acquired a good coach, Al Arbour, and beginning in 1975, started to do well. They won the Stanley Cup in 1980-4, but since then it has been all downhill. The Nassau Coliseum is a dinosaur, the ownership and management have been acutely lousy for years and years and years: Mike Milbury, take a bow.

    They are in trouble and are rumoured to be moving.

    The fate of their expansion mate was even worse. Because the league has to maintain even numbers, they needed another team, and chose Atlanta. Atlanta is a football, baseball and NBA hotbed; the Flames had a good logo (based on the burning of the city by Sherman) and not much else. They lasted only eight years and were then moved.

    Total franchises: 16

  18. Shrapnel Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 20, 2005
    star 2
    Great thread!
    You could have entitled it Bettman Sucks, but it's already used.

    By the way, Al Arbour is a distant cousin of my late grandmother, but I've never met him, and surely never will.
  19. Grimby Technical Consultant

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    Apr 22, 2000
    star 7
    The Colorado Rockies franchise of the 70's and early 80's didn't go under, they were sold to John McMullen who promptly moved them to New Jersey and renamed them the Devils. The Rockies were an expansion team that had moved from Kansas City and were consistently one of the worst teams in the NHL for their entire stint in Colorado. It's hard to get excited about a team like that when the city hadn't really been exposed to hockey before.

    As for the Avalanche, I think there was plenty of interest in them the moment they moved to Colorado. I remember it being a pretty big deal, and they were consistently selling out McNichols Arena. There were no high expectations of them winning the cup that year. That didn't happen until a few weeks after they traded for Patrick Roy and the Avs suddenly had a team equipped with the right players to take them all the way to the Finals. I think interest has been waning the last couple years simply because the star players kept getting injured for extended periods of time. In the last three years, the team's best point-getters have missed significant playing time: Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny, and Marek Svatos. This of course leads to a worse record, but I think the lack of star players hurts interest more than the lack of playoff appearances.

    And to your point about the NHL competing against other sports, I think this is the primary reason for lack of interest in American sports cities. The Canadian teams always have huge interest because hockey is the country's #1 sport and they aren't competing with any other professional (or collegiate) teams. In contrast, a team like the Avalanche has to compete with the Denver Broncos, Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Rockies. The reason Colorado is a die hard Broncos town is because they're the only team that has been around since the 60's and they've been consistently good since the mid 70's. The Nuggets are a close second, but they haven't been anything special since 1985 (until now of course). I think they were one of the NBA's worst teams of the 1990's.
  20. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    Actually Toronto has a NBA team, and a pro baseball team, and a Canadian League Football team, all of which it supports while selling the Leafs (who sucketh) out each day.

    But Vancouver lost its NBA team, mainly because of very poor management and the fact that the players *hated* the city. (Rated one of the most beautiful and livable in the world, but hey, it wasn't Houston.) The fans were so enraged by the behaviour of the NBA, that I doubt Vancouver will ever try that again--the league refused to let Vancouver have a top-five draft choice for five years. Not that Stu Jackson could have made a good choice if they had one.

    And Montreal lost its baseball team, and I doubt they will ever get another, either.

    Nothing against Denver, which is a good city for junior hockey, but I don't think it's really interested in NHL hockey; it's interested in winning. As long as it did, it drew. As soon as it didn't, it didn't. That's the sign of a bad hockey city. As you say, the football team is the one that fans love. Atlanta is another city full of other choices more suited to the climate. Why *would* the fans want the NHL?

  21. JediCouncilMember Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 15, 2003
    star 4
    Both the NHL and NBA over expanded the past 20 years. As for the NHL, I think 24 teams would be awesome (4 divisions - 6 teams), but 28 teams would be a good start. They should also bring back the old Conference and Division names.

    They can get rid of/move Florida, Atlanta, Tampa, Nashville, Columbus, and Phoenix.
    There are a couple of other teams I'd consider as well just on location, like Dallas, Anaheim, or San Jose and moving them north to places like Hartford, Quebec, Winnipeg.

    I'm partial to the setup from the 80's early 90's with number of teams and locations. I think it was 22 teams at the time.

  22. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    We're going to get to which team should go soon--six need relocation, the NHL says...it's more like 10.

    Expansion continued for the 1974-5 season with the addition of the Kansas City Scouts and the Washington Capitals.

    Kansas City was an odd choice, but it was one of those cities with a fairly successful junior hockey culture and a big new arena to fill. Heard that before? Yeah, you have. Missouri already had a franchise, the St. Louis Blues, and one was more than enough. Another problem: Between the WHA and the NHL there were 30 teams in North America at this point and many fewer Europeans--the pros had just started importing them. In other words, the product was dire, and the NHL soon learned that the fans sensibly preferred junior hockey...it was both cheaper and better. KC lasted just two years in the original franchise city, and moved (and not for the last time) in 1976.

    KC's expansion partner, the Washington Capitals, proved much more durable, which is a surprise to me. Basically a Southern City that for years would not even support pro baseball, the Capitals stuck, perhaps because expectations were so low. And so were achievements:

    "The Capitals' inaugural season was dreadful, even by expansion standards. They finished 8?67?5, far and away the worst record in the league. Their 21 points were half that of their expansion brethren, the Scouts. The eight wins are the fewest for an NHL team playing at least 70 games, and the .131 winning percentage is still the worst in NHL history. They also set records for most road losses (39 out of 40), most consecutive road losses (37) (both still NHL records) and most consecutive losses (17), a mark tied by the 1992?93 San Jose Sharks. Coach Jim Anderson said, "I'd rather find out my wife was cheating on me than keep losing like this. At least I could tell my wife to cut it out." Schmidt himself had to take over the coaching reins late in the season."

    Though there were times the club was rumoured to be moving, it's still standing, and has a certified superstar in Ovechin, so things have improved. Given the times it has endured, D. C. appears to be a hockey city, who would have thunk it.

    Total franchises: 18

  23. SueAsideRide Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 5, 2000
    star 4
    Dallas, Anaheim and San Jose are pretty successful where they are, so I don't think they need to move, and Columbus finally started getting some sold-out crowds towards the end of this year. Now that they're a playoff team they'll probably survive. The Coyotes and Thrashers should probably be moved to Canada though. Winnipeg, Hamilton and Quebec City are capable of supporting teams, and Winnipeg and Hamilton already have arenas that are very nearly ready to go.

    Not to stick up for Bettman, but he did ensure that Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary kept their teams a few years back when the Canadian dollar sucked and they had a hard time making ends meet. On the other hand, keeping teams in Canada makes sense. Keeping them in Arizona or Georgia doesn't.
  24. Darth-Lando Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2002
    star 6
    If any teams move it would require restructuring of the divisions. For example, if the Coyotes move to Winnipeg (or a city even farther east) it becomes hard to justify them as a Pacific Division team. The east coast is just way to crowded. It's ridiculous enough as it is that Detroit counts as a "Western" team. I definitely wouldn't want to end up with unbalanced divisions. MLB did that in NL Central and AL West and it's been bugging me for years.
  25. MarcusP2 Games and Community Reaper

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    Jul 10, 2004
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    the league refused to let Vancouver have a top-five draft choice for five years

    Not to get in the way of your NBA bashing, but what? They had the #3 pick in 1996, #4 in 1997 and #2 in 1998.