BOSTON — There are plenty of uncertainties surrounding NHL expansion, but one aspect we do know is that the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets won’t move to the Western Conference.
“We’re going to have to look at (geography),” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “If, for example, you’re a fan of the Red Wings or the Blue Jackets, you should know your club, under no circumstances, is moving back to the West. So one of the factors we’re going to have to evaluate is, depending on how the owners want to do expansion — if they want to do expansion at all — how do you deal with alignment? That’s one of the things we need to talk about.”
Detroit and Columbus moved from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference for the 2013-14 season when the league decided to realign. The East now has two eight-team divisions and the West has two seven-team divisions, creating a 16-14 imbalance.
The current alignment makes it difficult to add an expansion team in an East market because then the conference would have 17 teams and even more balance issues. Moving a team to the West makes sense, to a degree, but there aren’t any strong candidates because every Eastern Conference franchise plays in the Eastern time zone.
Why is this an issue? Because one of the cities that applied for expansion, Quebec City, obviously is in the Eastern time zone. Despite reports to the contrary, Quebec City remains in the expansion picture, according to Bettman.
“Georges Laraque, the former player, made an announcement that we had made a decision to exclude (Quebec City). But that’s not true,” Bettman said. “We haven’t made any decisions. Nothing has changed. He said the players’ association said that, and the players’ association swiftly issued a denial. They don’t always do that.”
“There’s been a lot of speculation about it. We have two applications, one from Quebec City and one from Las Vegas. That’s exactly what we expected when we began the process, that those would be the two applications we’d have. And we’re doing our due diligence to evaluate what works, what doesn’t work, what’s good, what’s bad, the ownership group, the facility, the market and what makes sense for the league as a whole.”
Quebec City has a brand-new arena that opened last September, plenty of fan enthusiasm and an already-rich NHL history from the old Quebec Nordiques.
That said, there are some issues with expanding to Quebec. In addition to the conference imbalance that another East team would create, Quebec City would be the smallest market in the league, which can have negative financial implications, especially when the Canadian dollar is at 0.76 USD.
Expansion is one NHL storyline to watch over the next year or so, but it seems like the league is taking all the time it needs to determine if it makes sense to expand by two teams, one team or none at all.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Sep 9, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr appear on stage together during a press conference and media event for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports