We’ve all been hearing about the impending expansion plans the NHL has in store. For those not informed, plans appear to be in the works to found an expansion franchise in Las Vegas, Nevada. This would mark the first time that a major sports league has set up shop in Nevada (with the exception of the CFL Las Vegas Posse in the failed American expansion of the mid-90′s). Speculation is that Seattle, Washington will get the other franchise, which would even out the two conferences at 16 teams per. Beyond that, it is expected that the Florida Panthers will get moved to Quebec City, who are well in to construction of a NHL calibre arena.
Until some snags are fixed, though, expansion is somewhat on hold. Pierre Lebrun with NBC says that the arena situation in Seattle is the key factor holding back faster action on this game plan. There is the Key Arena in Seattle but it is an aging facility with low seating numbers and is not NHL calibre—think Nassau in Long Island. The NHL can basically walk in to Vegas without too much struggle, due to the sheer number of corporate seat holders and tourists–sell outs would be virtually guaranteed, but building a fan base on a shifting population could be challenging. Does Vegas know hockey? Love hockey? Want hockey? It won’t matter. It will be another spectacle to behold and likely won’t amount to much more. It will add to the western American rivalries though.
There are multiple implications for the Edmonton Oilers. While none are immediate, a couple come to mind. Firstly, it would be the new age of the bottom feeder. NHL expansion teams are famously bad out of the gate most of the time as they find themselves as a team and as an organization. Edmonton would have a couple teams to leapfrog that would most probably be a walk in the park to beat. If Seattle and Las Vegas are included in the expansion, the Oilers ought to find themselves division mates with one and playing the other an awful lot. Like the dispersal draft in the CFL has made the REDBLACKS a team in progress, the new NHL teams would take time to gel, giving teams a few “freebie” wins for a time.
Other factors will draw in. It will have teams like Edmonton drafting lower; travel will be different with added routes that could complicate or ease road trips; and, worst of all, these cities will become magnets for free agents.What player wouldn’t love to play in Vegas with its desert climes, or in the mild coastal areas in Washington? This will create problems attracting players, mark my words.
In the end, it is exciting to think more teams are on the way. Quebec City would be a delight to have back, and it is a wonder Seattle didn’t have a team years ago. I’m looking forward to the Seattle/Vancouver rivalry that is almost sure to develop. All in all, its a sign of great health for the league, despite any challenges it might foster here at home as a result.