Monday, September 12, 2005

NHL Franchise Re-Location...Bring back the Jets

With the new CBA signed, sealed, and delivered for 6 years, the NHL looks poised to have 30 solid franchises during this new world of economic equality.  However, even if the team is a winner, some places are just not hockey markets.  These markets are Carolina, Phoenix, Anaheim, Washington, Florida, and Atlanta.  Buffalo is another example, which I will talk about later.  Since not all teams can be relocated, I will focus on a couple instead.
Washington will not be moved, NHL would like to have a team in the US Capital.  Now that the Great One is behind the bench, the league will not even think about moving the Coyotes.  The league will also not be moving the Ducks anytime soon.  They have new owners who want to make it work in the O.C.  Florida and Atlanta are wild cards in this because in their cases, an improved team may result in better fan attandence.  But if the Thrashers lose Kovalchuk, look out!  Losing their dynamic duo would have a severe impact on season tickets and fan support.  Florida has a natural rivalry with Tampa, so two fast skating teams can produce excitement in the state of Florida.
Teams to relocate:
My first example is the Carolina Hurricanes.  Moving from Hartford has not been any better for this franchise.  Since the Whalers moved to Carolina, I have never heard of a sellout at there games.  Except for their fluke Stanley Cup appearance (shame on the Leafs for that one), people just do not care.  Carolina is definitely a false hockey market.  This is why I would give the franchise 1-2 years of trying to make it work and be able to compete in the new economic world of the NHL. 
My second example, which is a hockey market, but financially probably do not have deep pockets to compete even in this new world.  This would be the Buffalo Sabres.  I mention the Sabres, because, the NHL feels that the other team in the "false" hockey markets are worth fighting for, especially in terms of getting a new national television contract.  That leaves the Sabres vulnerable.  Also, they have already been bailed out before.  In my opinion, they should have been relocated then.  Just look at the work the Sabres this off-season.  They lost there best offensivce forward in Satan, and their best defenceman in Zhitnik.  They will finish dead last in the North East division, and near the bottom in the conference and league.  Like the Hurricanes, they have 1-2 years.  Bettman has fought hard for these  teams to have a fair chance to compete.  However, if they have no money how can they compete?  Even at only $39 million dollars.
So where will they go?
The NHL has always been in love with the idea of putting a franchise in Seattle.  A team in Seattle is a going to be a given.  With natural rival in Vancouver, and strengthening their west coast television markets.  Seattle would be the first place to go for the NHL, and I predict that the Canes will be moved their first, and then putting the Seattle team in the NW Division.  Minnesota will be moved to the Central, and Detroit will then be moved into the Eastern Conference in the NE division.  Then one of these teams may be moved to the SE division.
The second choice to move to is of course, Winnipeg.  Can there be two relocations, or just one?  Its hard to say, especially if you want to keep balanced conferences geographically.  It might depend on whether the league wants to take a chance on Seattle or go somewhere where they know hockey is loved and they are just waiting for the chance to bring back the Jets.  If the Sabres fail first, they should move to Winnipeg, and then shift the RedWings to take the place of the Sabres in the NE division.
2 new teams:  Seattle (NW), Winnipeg(C) - Minnesota moves to the Central from the NW division.
Move to the Eastern Conference:  Detroit(NE) , Nashville(SE)

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