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April 28, 2008
The Bloated NHL Learns
Its Lesson (I Hope)
The 2004-2005 National Hockey League lockout had a crushing effect on
the sport of hockey. America went from having a solid three-and-a-half
major sports to just three. But in a way, hockey had it coming. It
expanded too quickly. Here’s a brief look at the new teams in the last
1991 – San Jose Sharks
1992 – Anaheim Mighty Ducks
1992 – Ottawa Senators (after a 70-year hiatus)
1992 – Tampa Bay Lightning
1994 – Florida Panthers
1998 – Nashville Predators
1999 – Atlanta Thrashers
2000 – Columbus Blue Jackets
2000 – Minnesota Wild
There were other franchises jostling for non-existent burgeoning NHL
locations, but the above amounts to nine new teams entering after 1990.
So the league went from 21 teams to 30 teams, a 42 percent increase. I
believe the only time this sort of expansion worked in America was
McDonalds, Target, Wal-Mart and Starbucks. Nine teams ago in Major
League Baseball, by comparison, would take you back to 1969. In the
National Basketball Association, you’d have to go back to 1976, and even
this expansion was a result of a merger with the American Basketball
Association. In the National Football League, you’d have to go all the
way back to 1970, which was also a merger year with the American
Football League. These are the successful American sports leagues.
what is hockey thinking, adding so many new teams so quickly? And on top
of that, take a look at the cities, and then quickly review your
geography. There’s a reason Russians and Canadians are good hockey
players. San Jose? Tampa Bay? Florida? Nashville? Atlanta? And if you’ve
got to make a Disney movie into a professional sports team (a complete
bastardization if you ask me), it’s a real shame it always has to end up
in Anaheim. The movie took place in Minnesota, which is why The
Mighty Ducks the movie made money.
Looking at the ridiculously quick expansion rates and the
mind-bogglingly illogical placement of new teams, it doesn’t take a
rocket scientist to understand why a strike completely deflated a league
full of hot air.
And what were the players thinking – that 60 goals should be worth the
same money as 60 home runs? Someone should have reminded them that money
and value rarely parallel. Or perhaps a conversation with WNBA stars
would have dissuaded them from striking for more money. Here’s to
Hockey was headed for a meltdown, and there is a reason your cable
package has to have at least 1,500 channels in order to watch the NHL
playoff game of your choice.
For me, former Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick is a sort of
microcosm for the NHL. I was a huge fan of his. He was exciting, he had
personality, a definite edge and I’ll never forget that goal he scored
in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2004 – taking the shot
instead of passing with the two on one. It is still one of my favorite
memories in Flyers history. But he was also the proud spokesperson for a
players union that would have fared considerably better keeping its
lot of hockey fans, like myself, loved watching the league gain
prominence throughout the 90s, and you’ll have to forgive me for not
knowing what was going on as I was more than a little distracted by a
team that would eventually reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997 (only to
get swept by the Detroit Red Wings). But what we didn’t realize was
that, despite being able to watch hockey on the major television
networks such as Fox, ABC and ESPN, the league just didn’t have the
depth of support that the naïve hockey mega-fans assumed it did.
when, as with Jeremy Roenick, we saw the true colors of hockey in the
U.S., it was hard not feeling duped. Simply put, it feels like the NHL
lied to us. And boy did I feel empty watching Roenick demand more money
when he probably should have earned less.
Quite frankly, the NHL is a lot less than the big three and only a
little more than Major League Soccer.
Hopefully, the NHL learned an important lesson about how and when to
expand. They’re paying for it now, trying to support a giant league with
a few, misshapen pillars. What’s that saying again? Oh yeah. Three’s
company, four’s a league with an ego problem.
the Flyers hadn’t been so consistently competitive as I was growing up,
there’s no telling if I would have spent the rest of my life with a
hockey puck-sized soft spot in my gut. But in the future, I’ll certainly
be more cautious when it appears that a particular sport is gaining
prominence. At this point, I’m grateful I can watch the Flyers at all,
even if it does require a trip to the local sports bar
and a few over-priced drafts.
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