By: Nick Lanciani
It’s mind boggling that the NHL wouldn’t want to continue being a leader in sports and entertain the notion of having more than 30 teams in a league, for once, in North American sports. Okay, the NFL has 32 teams, I get that- but there’s this fascination for some odd reason that a successful sports league can only max out around 30 teams, given how the NHL, NBA, and MLB all have 30 teams in their leagues. Quite frankly, that’s a load of bull. The National Hockey League is old enough to still be young and reinventing itself, as was the case after the 2004-2005 lockout with the addition of new rules (the trapezoid) and the removal of old ones (two line passing).
What I mean is, the NHL is not Major League Baseball, which beats the “heritage” card to extinction year after year as to lamely explain why the MLB doesn’t change. While the MLB would never consider entertaining a franchise in Las Vegas (which would be a first in professional sports), the NHL could be a front-runner for professional sports of the future in North America. At least, given the eye of the young fan base that’s been keeping track of the league for the last few years, there’s a chance to really make a splash. Major League Soccer and the NHL’s interest in Las Vegas and other markets are good for their leagues and sports in general.
While the MLS is adding a team in Atlanta in 2017, the NHL will likely stay away from Atlanta for eternity after two failed attempts at a hockey presence in Georgia. However, given the recent rate of expansion in the MLS, there’s a good chance that they too, will end up having 30 teams at some point. Soccer’s popularity in the United States is on the rise and it’s backed by the recent viewership of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, beating some traditional hockey markets, like Philadelphia, while a 2015 Stanley Cup Final game was being shown on TV at the same time. The two leagues are innovative and should work together as both sports gain popularity. As it is, hockey is becoming more mainstream by removing some of the importance once stressed on fighting, resulting in just as entertaining games as ever before.
Soccer is a sport best played with many teams and some form of relegation, like in Europe. While that model would not translate well with hockey, at some point the MLS is going to have to absorb many of the popular teams in developmental leagues, in order to make their game more exciting. The NHL should consider something similar when it comes to the minor league markets that are untapped, or have worked in the past. Expansion and relocation fees aside, both leagues should go for breaking the 30-team barrier.
The NHL as it exists right now, would be on the verge of going for it much sooner than the MLS and could act as an example of what to do and how to go about things. I’m in favor of 34 teams in 2017, the NHL’s 100th season. But first, let’s get back to Quebec (and the basics).
If the league is intent on adding franchises, a return to Quebec City, the inevitable Las Vegas team, an expansion to Seattle, and whatever else may come their way is exactly what the NHL needs. After watching the Winnipeg Jets play in their first playoff game at home since the original Winnipeg Jets left for Arizona 19 years ago, I cannot help but think that the NHL needs to return to another small market, where hockey has already worked, and everyone loves the game. There’s a place that is more readily equipped for a National Hockey League return- Quebec City.
Whereas a former member of the NHL, Hartford, doesn’t have an adequate arena to play in and potential spotty ownership, Quebec City has the 18,482 seat Videotron Centre- set to open this September. The brand new arena will have all the top-notch amenities and will be NHL move-in ready, should the league wish to expand or a team relocate, such as the Coyotes in their dreaded current state. Fear not, Arizona and Gary Bettman nay-sayers, the league’s experiment is just starting to see results in the growth of the game in the Southwestern region of the United States.
And don’t get me wrong, Connecticut, you guys love hockey and still love the Whalers to this day. It’s not realistic in Hartford’s current state, for an NHL return anytime soon. Yet, I’ll still be one of the first to help you demand a return and shout, “Bring back the Whalers!” should there be a more immediate and reasonable plan. But there’s a place that is more readily equipped for a National Hockey League return- Quebec City.
But what’s holding everyone back? Canada is able to sustain at least eight franchises, if not more, and hockey is Canada’s game after all. The league made the best of a hurtful breakup in its return to Winnipeg back in 2011, surely NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and crew can make due on Quebec’s aching heart since 1995 when the original Quebec Nordiques fled the struggling Canadian dollar and the lack of a locally interested owner and went west to become the Colorado Avalanche. Perhaps the league will find enough heart to forgive the Nordiques from almost rebranding with awful looking 90s teal on an otherwise decent looking jersey.
I mean, if the league is serious about adding a team in Las Vegas, which might not carry longevity, then why not look for a place with more staying power than whatever Vegas would become. The original Nordiques survived in the league from 1979 to 1995. Despite some down years, Quebec was on an impressive turnaround at the end of the 1994-1995 season. The team that moved wound up winning the Stanley Cup in their first season in Colorado.
Among teams that no longer exist, Quebec Nordiques merchandise ranks second to the Hartford Whalers in sales. Still not convinced about the staying power of a new Quebec Nordiques franchise? Look at the return of the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s a small hockey market, but they sell out every seat in the 15,004 seating capacity MTS Centre for every home game, despite missing the playoffs from the 2011-2012 season to last season. In their first game back to the postseason, the MTS Centre was rocking at 124 dB from time to time as reported by Sportsnet.
Imagine how loud it would be in the Videotron Centre for the Nordiques return or their first provincial rivalry regular season meet-up with the Montreal Canadiens since 1995- in any case, it’d be awesome. As an aside, Boston Bruins fans would gladly welcome another team that despises the Habs. They’ll even forgive Ron Tugnutt for his extraordinary 70 save performance on 73 shots on goal en route to the Nordiques 3-3 tie against the Bruins on March 21, 1991, even though some of their modern day fans were not even alive then.
The NHL obviously has issues with adding another team to the Eastern Conference before adding anything to the Western Conference due to its current imbalance with 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West. The easiest way to solve the original realignment problem created when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg four years ago would have been to simply swap the Jets with the Nashville Predators in their respective divisions. Winnipeg would have gone to the Central, while Nashville would have gone to the Southeast in a geographically sensible maneuver.
However, the league decided to consolidate the divisions from six to four and swapped Winnipeg for Detroit and Columbus. In the process, each conference makes geographic sense, with a focus on cutting travel expenses and reducing a carbon footprint league-wide. Yet, while the Central and Pacific Divisions are perfect, the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions are somewhat flawed. Yes, with all of the teams from the old Northeast Division, plus Detroit, somehow the Atlantic Division also has the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Division has both the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
It’d make sense to swap both New York City teams with both Florida teams, citing the exact same reasons the NHL came up with in the first place, but for whatever reason, that is frowned upon. It’s not like it wouldn’t saturate the market or anything, because as it is, New York already has three teams (four if you count the New Jersey Devils in Newark, New Jersey). While, yes, the Buffalo Sabres and both the Rangers and Islanders have a little distance between them, it’s nothing compared to Florida and Tampa.
And speaking of the Florida Panthers, it’s only a matter of time- no matter how good the product on the ice may get- before they have to relocate. The Panthers and Sunrise, Florida may find themselves at odds much like how Glendale, Arizona is in legal upheavals with the Arizona Coyotes. A hockey team in the suburbs of a non-traditional market isn’t proven to profit. But where should the Panthers end up without causing much fuss over realignment?
You guessed it- Quebec City. They’re already in the Atlantic Division, so absolutely nothing would have to be changed except for all franchise trademarks and whatnot regarding the transition from the Panthers to the, newly returned, Nordiques. In foresight, it’s not hard to fall in love with the furthest north professional sports franchise after all of the neglect it saw in one of the most southern nontraditional hockey markets.
Oh and if New Jersey had to move for whatever reason, given their recent downturn and less than stellar attendance, then Quebec is a prime destination. Realignment would still be simple, swap Quebec with one of the Florida teams and maybe then the NHL would have to realize it should kick the other Florida team to the Metropolitan Division and insert the New York Rangers (or Islanders) into the Atlantic Division. Then again, relocation of either the Panthers or the Devils could just mean that the league would send them west to Seattle or Las Vegas and call it a day, having a balanced fifteen teams in both conferences, but that wouldn’t be any fun, wouldn’t it?
Look, I’m all for a team in Seattle, so here’s what you do. Add an expansion franchise to Seattle and force Detroit back to the Western Conference; because we all know two matchups a year between longstanding rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, really aren’t enough. Then add a team in Quebec City to make it a nice thirty-two-team league with sixteen teams in each conference. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see a reincarnation of the Nordiques after the beautifully aesthetic appeal of the current Jets installment?
That’s right, I’m saying that when the NHL goes back to Quebec City, it’s not a bad idea to modernize the franchise. The igloo with a hockey stick that somewhat formed the shape of an “n” with its tricolor scheme and fleur-de-lis all over the jerseys was great- timeless even, a classic for traditionalist vintage hockey fans- but there are some great concepts on the Internet for glorious designs in the event of a rebirth of the Nordiques.
I think a darker shade of navy blue would suffice, with maybe a snowy owl and the city skyline or something that is distinctive of Quebec City, and of course sharp looking fleur-de-lis prominently featured on the bottom half of the sweater and along the pants. If you have the time, go check out some great designs on Icethetics.co, some great concept artists have really gone all out on creating the perfect symbol for what should be a return to the true north strong and free- Quebec City.
In this day and age, with the billion dollar industry that is the sports world, it shouldn’t be hard to find an owner and work with the largely French speaking fan base. Back in the days of the original Nordiques, English speaking fans flocked to the Quebec City team over the much more hardcore French speaking franchise over in Montreal. Obviously it must have been the warm and inviting fleur-de-lis calling them to the light side of The Force in the battle of Quebec. Either that or it was because of the great players that once graced the ice at Colisée Pepsi, such as the Stastny brothers, Mats Sundin, Guy Lafleur, Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg, and my favorite- Joe Sakic.
The bottom line, folks, Quebec City has an important mark on the history of hockey. It was once home to the Quebec Bulldogs who spent one season in the NHL (1919-1920) before moving to Hamilton, Ontario to become the Hamilton Tigers and it was once home to the 1977 Avco World Trophy champions as the World Hockey Association’s top team before joining the NHL in the WHA-NHL merger in 1979- the Quebec Nordiques. Isn’t it time that someone brought the game back where it belongs for all of us to enjoy? Even in the face of the uncertainty of the salary cap situation currently and the issues that are once again surrounding the Canadian dollar, I mean, hockey is for everyone, after all.