Thursday, November 18, 2010

Riffing With Expansion and Relocation

The whole relocation/expansion gimmick has been at the forefront of many discussions in the off-season, and even during the season when people see the "non-traditional" market arenas more than half-empty for games. Especially with Winnipeg and Quebec banging their drum when it comes to getting a team in their town; I often wondered what would have happened if the past expansion teams hadn't become or if one city got replaced for another candidate.

The 1967 Expansion brought us the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, and the Oakland Seals. However, there was plenty of interest, including five ownership groups from LA, two from Pittsburgh, the teams that were picked, as well as ownership groups from Baltimore, Buffalo, and Vancouver-- with the last two getting teams in the next round. Cleveland and Louisville kicked tires, but never formally included into it. While I'll delved into the Baltimore hockey issues; there's not many teams who wanted to get into the league that didn't get into the league-- Cleveland getting a team via relocation from Oakland. You have to wonder if Louisville would have had the sticking power, or if they would have been like Oakland and relocate; especially considering the history of their minor league teams haven't been stellar.

While Vancouver and Buffalo were included in the 1970 Expansion, there doesn't seem to be an official expansion process with other cities being included into the wide array of expansion. Two years after that, 1972 Expansion was mostly due to the WHA's presence in the hockey lexicon, so the NHL put a team in Atlanta (Flames) and Uniondale (NY Islanders) because they had new buildings and the NHL wanted to keep the WHA out of them. The 1974 Expansion of the Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals also seemed like it was to be without much competition, or at least what the internet yields. It also ended the eight year span NHL president Clarence Campbell had in place for the leagues viability.

However, during that year was the first relocation rumors that popped up. Apparently, in early 1975, newspapers were saying that the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to relocate to Seattle and the California Golden Seals were heading to Denver; two cities who Campbell had awarded conditional franchises to for the 1976-77 season. The Penguins were due to the creditors wanting their debt repaid, but thanks to North Stars' coach Wren Blair and his intervention; the team stayed in Pittsburgh. The Golden Seals' deal to Denver fell through and were ran by a San Francisco hotel magnate and would have been moved to San Fran, but that's another deal that didn't happen to plan. The Seals would then move to Cleveland for the 1976-77 season.

Relocation was an interesting deal, as the Seals moving to Cleveland-- then they would merge with the Minnesota North Stars two seasons later. The Kansas City Scouts would relocate to Colorado and become the Rockies from 1976 until 1982, when they would relocate to New Jersey and become the present day Devils. In addition, with the relocation-- the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Winnipeg Jets, and Quebec Nordiques all joined the NHL from the WHA, which had merged in 1979. The Atlanta Flames would move to Calgary, which complimented the Edmonton team properly.

It wasn't until 1991 when the San Jose Sharks came into the league as a result of the previous Minnesota North Stars selling the team to other investors after a failed move of the North Stars to the Bay Area. It would kick start the next wave of expansion, that was supposed to start in the 1992-93 season. The candidates for the second wave included San Jose, Seattle, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Tampa, Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego, Anaheim, Hamilton, and Ottawa. With the 1992-93 season, both Tampa and Ottawa were inducted into NHL membership, while Anaheim and the unmentioned Miami (Florida Panthers) were brought into the league.

In the mid-90s, many teams had relocated from their destination. The Minnesota North Stars started the movement by moving to Dallas. Oddly enough, most of them came from the WHA era, as the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina, Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix, and the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver.

Oddly enough, the second-wave had all the candidate cities have a team after it was all said and done, with Milwaukee, Hamilton, and San Diego being left out in the cold; though they had a great legacy of minor league hockey to show for it. In the grand scheme, it's probably for the best of it all for those cities to have the minor league version, though Hamilton would beg to differ.

The last small wave of the expansion started in 1997 with Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, and Columbus being the prime candidates. As we know by now, Nashville came in for 1998, Atlanta in 1999, while Minnesota and Columbus finished out the expansion in least for now.

I don't know if there's been as much as an uproar over relocation in the history of the NHL. Sure, there has been some issues in markets, but it seems more prevalent in this day in age and people are freaking out more and more about teams relocating to survive. Oddly enough, the debate about contraction doesn't seem to come up all that often, though it should. I don't know what this is all about....probably just filler-- but I feel that with all the stuff happening around the league with some teams-- it's a good time to have a history lesson.

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