(… Part 1)

How did Plan A sit with you Gary? If it made you feel uneasy and a bit wobbly at the knees, with just those subtle changes, you might want to stop reading now. Plan B is a bit more serious. But I trust that you’re a curious young man, Gary. I think you’ll want to continue reading.

Plan B, or,
the status quo is crumbling and we need to shift some major blocks:

Gary, I know you won’t admit it, but there is something troubling about the way the league is sitting right now. I don’t think we’re set up to last. Something’s going to change.

I’ll be honest with you, Gary, I’ve got no reason not to be; I don’t think the league will survive with exactly the same 30 franchises we have right now. Why, you wonder, would I say that? Well, something isn’t really working when a team like Phoenix (I know, I know, I am picking on the ‘yotes) can be battling for 5th place in the West and bleeding reportedly $30 million a year.

The status quo cannot hold, Gary. We’re going to see relocation, contraction, or, knowing your wily mind, expansion.

I’m going to tackle these in reverse order.

Expansion? Don’t even think about it, Gary. It’s bad news. It’s a poor, poor decision. You’ll try and “save” the league and “expand the game of hockey” by starting up a franchise in some ridiculous place. You’re thinking Vegas, Gary. Don’t. Please.

When you have teams on the brink of collapsing, the last thing you need to do is expand the number of teams. I know the NFL and MLB have 32 teams. Forget about them. Let’s talk quality.

Contraction is a possibility. This isn’t the popular decision. I know it isn’t. But you’ve never been a popular guy, so perhaps this is the part you were born to play. Two teams is all it would take. It doesn’t have to be Phoenix, but they are sure in the running. Excluding suffering older teams like St. Louis or the Islanders, natural choices for contraction are in Florida. The Panthers and Lightning (Lightnings? Come on, they aren’t even plural) are geographically misfortunate. Heck, even Atlanta seems obscure. But I want them to succeed. They are a natural rival for Nashville. Even if they play in separate conferences (you might want to look at a map, Gary).

I must confess that I have a soft spot for Nashville. They’ve managed to remain somewhat relevant on the ice and are slowly doing it off the ice.

Columbus must remain. You got that one right, Gary. Ohio is pretty far North. They understand hockey there. Did you know that Columbus has two NHL size hockey arenas? I bet you knew that, Gary, you sly one, you. Now that Rick Nash, Steve Mason, and the crew (not the Crew, that’s Columbus’ MLS team) have got themselves together and are fighting for their first playoff birth it makes it all worthwhile. As far as expansion teams go, they’ve been a bit on the slow side. Kinda like that son that moves out when he is 37. You can’t help but cheer for them.

Tampa Bay is a whole other son. He’s the hotshot that moved out when he was 21, made a ton of money on the stock market and blew it all on Pez dispensers and the “Big Three” (Lecavalier, St. Louis… Halpern?). Winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 was the worst thing to happen to TB. They thought they had it all. And they’ve been unraveling ever since.

Florida is weird and unnatural. But if you insist on having a team there, I guess we’ll keep the Panthers. The farther South a team we keep, the weirder it is, and the wider the smile on your face.

So, Gary, if you must cut two teams I suggest Tampa (and their ridiculous ownership) and Phoenix (that Gretzky kid will land on his feet, I assure you).

Benefits? Salaries go down slightly as there is a surplus of NHL players (or excess goons just fade away). The quality of play will go up as there is more competition.

But you won’t do that, will you, Gary? No.

How about relocation, you used to like that.

If you won’t let Tampa and Phoenix disappear let’s talk about moving them. But let’s not get on the moving a team bandwagon until we figure something out: is it viable?

That’s right. I want to know where you intend to put a team and why it will work. You never had the right answers when you were moving teams South and expanding left and right. So, here’s a combination of my own suggestions, rumours I’ve overheard, and some observations.

Las Vegas. Eww. No. I get that there are almost two million people that live there. I get that there isn’t a single major professional sports team there. Do you ever ask why? Could it be that the city is a total trap for adolescent adults. Do you really want to be the Commissioner who has to deal with player discipline related to an increase in prostitution, drugs, alcohol, Cirque du Soleil, and gambling incidences? If you thought that Sean Avery calling Elisha Cuthbert “sloppy seconds” was offensive, just wait until His Badness is playing for the Las Vegas Bellagios. Oh, and you need an arena first, Gary.

Oklahoma City. I’d give this a maybe. I think moving a struggling franchise from a place like Phoenix or Tampa to OK is a bit of a lateral move. They have a nice, new arena and a poached NBA team. The big question is does anyone there care about NHL calibre hockey?

I’ll just dismiss Winnipeg and Quebec City right now. I know you don’t genuinely want to move anyone there (imagine the Coyotes/Jets moving back to Winnipeg). As much as it pains me to say as a Canadian: I agree with you. Those cities don’t have the population, disposable income (the median household income in Quebec City is roughly the equivalent of the Arkansas average, 49th in the US) or corporate sponsorship to support a successful franchise. Let’s not pull anyone’s heartstrings.

Toronto could support another NHL team. They have money, population and interest. The only issue is the lack of an arena to use. I don’t buy that the new team could share the Air Canada Centre. If you don’t already know, the Leafs and Raptors already use that. Oh, and they have lots of concerts on the off-nights. I think “squeezing-in” 41 home games would be dicey at best. So, when that arena happens, and the Leafs waive the territorial rights to a competitor, we’ll talk.

Give Jim Balsillie a team. He puts them in the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. He pays for it with massive amounts of Research In Motion money. People from around the Greater Golden Horseshoe flock to games. The Hamilton-Burlington-Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge Tiger-Berries finish a respectable ninth place every year, narrowly missing the playoffs, and pissing off the displaced Toronto Maple Leafs, who have to narrowly miss the playoffs and finish in tenth. The game doesn’t grow one inch in the United States.

Portland or Seattle or both.

Seattle (metro population: 3.3 million) needs to refurbish the KeyArena but would rock as a hockey city. It has above average family incomes (somebody has to pay for those tickets), loads of locally-based corporations to push for support (Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Boeing, etc.) and best of all: it has a hockey culture!

Portland (metro population: 2.2 million) has almost exactly the U.S. median household income. It gets hockey (along with Seattle it has teams in the Canadian major junior Western Hockey League). It has an NHL capacity arena. Imagine a realligned Pacific Conference with only teams on the Pacific Ocean. Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose and the double-headed LA/Anaheim teams make natural rivals.

Gary, if you won’t contract the league size, consider Plan B. Seattle and Portland make natural places for a hockey team. They’re in the United States. They would be natural rivals both in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the Pacific coastline.

If this scares you, I can’t wait for you to read Plan Z on Friday. You will hate it.

( … Part 3 )