February 7, 2013 4:00 PM | By Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

NHL should consider relocation or contraction before expansion

Expansion and relocation are buzzing once again in the National Hockey League. And things are about to heat up.

Artist's concept of new Markham arena complex.

Artist's concept of new Markham arena complex.

Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

It didn’t take long for the NHL to squash the expansion talk that emerged last week.

In the wake of council in Markham, Ont., approving the funds to build a $235-million NHL-sized arena last week -- without the guarantee of an NHL team -- Paul Kelly, the former executive director of the NHL Players’ Association from 2007 to 2009, said while he held that job the NHL had a plan to add two more teams and that they would land in Toronto and Quebec City. That would make for a 32-team league, a ridiculous notion in a shrinking economy.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly quickly raced up that hill to declare the league has no expansion plans “at this point” and described the previous talks as conceptual only.

The NHL has made this grab for cash before, most recently adding Minnesota and Columbus as expansion teams in 2000 for a fee of $80 million (US) each. The fees for the next round of expansion are projected to be in the hundreds of millions, a tidy windfall indeed. Expect that compensation to be paid with nary a blink if the team is destined for a Canadian location.

The league would prefer to do this on its own timetable, though. That means scotching expansion talk right now and possibly using prospective arenas in Markham, Quebec City and Seattle as leverage for a struggling team, like, say, the Phoenix Coyotes. The league seems hellbent on fighting for the Coyotes until the last cactus has wilted but eventually the battle will become futile even for the NHL. The league will need ready destinations if it has to move the Coyotes or any other team hearing crickets at the ticket office. 

Relocation or even contraction should be the NHL’s preferred options, especially since Forbes magazine reported 13 teams lost money last season. But rare is the pro sports league that gives up on an existing market. That is a mistake laid bare, whereas expansion, however misguided, comes with the patina of financial health. And all that cash.


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