Given the recent controversies surrounding the futures of the Phoenix Coyotes (Jim Balsillie and the NHL dueling over a bid to buy the team) and the New York Islanders (owner Charles Wang fighting for a new arena on Long Island, or else), we wondered what was the best plan for the NHL moving forward.
Should Phoenix and New York stay in their respective cities? Should other franchises move? More teams? Less teams? European expansion? We put the question to some of our NHL experts and asked them how the league should look. We list their plans in alphabetical order, and we want to know which plan you like the best.
So, be sure to vote for your favorite plan and we'll update you, Puck Nation, with the results on Friday.
I imagine I am one of the few people on Earth who actually thinks we should have more, not less, NHL teams. More teams, like 40, with smaller arenas in some of the new markets (12,000-15,000), with an aggressive shared-revenue system, could create more total revenue than there is now and produce more customers, which is the biggest challenge the NHL faces. I have always maintained more NHL teams create more NHL fans and, more importantly, more hockey fans. Youth hockey has taken off in places where the NHL has newly arrived (Dallas, Columbus, even Florida).
The NHL is an amazingly strong brand. It should be aggressive in expanding that brand, not shrinking it. The league should open more "restaurants." USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, as well as Europe, have done superb jobs in producing plenty of hockey talent. There are plenty of places to buy coffee, but there is only one NHL.
In my NHL, I would have more teams and two jumbo conferences. Ontario should definitely have another team and there should be two teams in Minnesota. (These are hockey hotbeds; they can field more teams.)
I would have 20 teams in each conference. We don't need divisions. I would have the Top 11 teams in each conference make the playoffs. Teams 10 and 11 would face off in a "play-in" game for the 10th seed. There would be a doubleheader two days after the regular season, one "play-in" game for each conference.
A European Division with the NHL brand is something I would not discount, but I think it would be difficult to implement with travel concerns and the imbalance of the number of teams. I just don't see how it would work, especially come playoff time. (How do you have a best-of-seven series between Anaheim and Modo that is fair and balanced?)
So, I will keep my NHL a North American league. Here's my plan:
JOHN BUCCIGROSS' PLAN: THE MORE, THE BETTER
It's nice to have power. Heck, it's great. That's why we were so excited to take a run at restructuring the league as I saw fit.
A lot of people will assume that as an ex-pat Canadian, I'll just take a big scythe to the league and trim it back to, what, four or five places where it's always cold and dreary. Come on. That's so Canuck. And you can be sure there'll be no Euro teams in my league. Who thinks that's a good idea?
We're not going to automatically dump the Phoenix Coyotes, either. Since no one really wants to buy the team, at least not yet, I think we should just loan the team out. It's clear making Phoenix fans come out 41 times a year is too onerous. So, have a few games there. The Vagabonds, as we'll call them, will play in any city that can guarantee to sell out at least two home dates and further guarantee to give back $100,000 per home date to grassroots hockey programs in that city. For the home dates in Phoenix, we're going to borrow the NHL's outdoor ice-making machine and play either in downtown or Scottsdale near those nice resorts.
We're going to move Nashville to the Eastern Conference just because we can. The Thrashers get to stay because otherwise I'd probably have to move to another NHL city. Plus, there is no reason that a team shouldn't work in Atlanta. Tons of transplanted Northeasterners, tons of Fortune 500 companies.
Florida Panthers? Out. Sorry. Bad place for an arena. No one cares. But the main reason they're out is we recall being at a board of governors meeting in Dallas at the 2007 All-Star Game and listening to team president and COO Michael Yormark telling a small group of writers the Panthers' problems were really the fault of negative reporting from the Canadian hockey media. He was serious.
But where to? Winnipeg. Just kidding! But we are going to move the Panthers to Vaughan, Ontario. It's going to be the only place in our league where the arena won't be in a true downtown area, but it's metro Toronto, so people will come from miles and miles. To make room, we'll ship Boston to the West. Makes as much sense as having the Red Wings play in the West now, no?
So, here it is. You'll notice I've given, um, corporate names to my divisions. It's a new world, revenue sharing and all that, so why not pull in as much revenue as possible.
BURNSIDE'S PLAN: DOWNTOWN OR BUST!
The NHL would be such a better place if I ran things. Like a dictator. With no board of governors. This is the closest I'll ever come. Asked to come up with my desired realignment for the NHL, I will not hold back.
Apologies to friends and colleagues in the following cities, but you no longer have NHL teams as of 2010-11: Tampa Bay, Carolina, Florida, Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville, Long Island and, yes, even New Jersey. Sorry, Lou.
Instead, I've transferred five of those eight franchises across the pond where hockey isn't a tough sell, where people love the game and don't need to be told what an offside is. Oh, it's also where a sizeable part of our sport's player pool comes from. I've also put two more teams in Canada -- you know, where they invented the game and live it 24/7.
A second team in Toronto comes courtesy of John Tavares and the Islanders. Go get 'em, John. The Coyotes? I moved them back to Winnipeg where they should have never left. Long live the Queen! Oh, and I took the liberty of adding a team in Seattle in the vacant rink left behind by the NBA's SuperSonics. Hey Pete DeBoer, ever been to Seattle?
I kept the three California teams (that might surprise some of you), and also Columbus. There's just something about Columbus that I like as a sports town. You may also notice the division and conference names being soothing to read again. I truly miss the '80s.
Well, there it is, the new NHL according to me. You don't like it? Too bad.
LEBRUN'S PLAN: EUROPEAN VACATION
I love our game and I don't think our current lineup of teams needs too much tinkering.
I would take Phoenix out and put them in Toronto, keeping the Coyotes in the West. Take the Red Wings and move them into the East. Take the Atlanta Thrashers and move them to Saskatoon. Next, move the Florida Panthers to Portland, Ore., and switch Nashville to the East. That should work.
Here's how a few simple changes look under the Mullet Realignment Plan: