Thursday, May 12, 2011

Relocation or Contraction?? The Eternal Debate

DATELINE: New York City, New York: Bothered by the troubles of some teams and their inability to actually pay their bills, Gary Bettman has decided to abandon the plight to have 30 teams in the NHL. Rather than keeping fledging teams afloat, Mr. Bettman has decided to cut four teams and go ahead next season with 26 teams in the league.

That does a seem a bit of a drastic measure, but to be honest-- it would probably be a little bit better than dealing with the issues the NHL is dealing with today. We all know that Phoenix is on life support, Atlanta seems to be flat-lining, Columbus has been having issues, as Florida seems to be the next on the radar in having issues or even the Islanders if their $400M arena deal gets shot down. The amount of teams looking for ownership is amazing (Dallas, St. Louis) and while we've had success stories with teams like Buffalo and Nashville in recent years-- the fact remains that maybe the NHL can't actually sustain 30 teams.

When you look at it, there's definitely a lot of issues and legalities that would happens if they decided to contract teams, much more than if they relocated a team. But the fact remains that even if teams do move-- odds are the market they move to will embrace them for a short time, but a decade down the road; these same issues could still arise and we're back in the same boat we were before. More over than the legal issues, fighting with the other owners when it comes to revenues and the NHLPA with revenues and guys losing jobs-- it's definitely easier to relocate or keep the team in the troubled market, because then you're facing only one or two problems rather than five or six.

Yet, when you look at the ideal of contraction-- it seems like it would be a decent idea so that fans aren't going to have to deal with the off-ice issues a franchise is having and focusing on the product that's actually on the ice. It's board-play rather than boardroom antics. Of course, the fans that lose the team will always be bitter (RE: Winnipeg Jets), but at the same time-- it's almost a necessary evil for people to actually focus on hockey rather than if their team is going to be there or not. Plus, it's not toying with potential cities who could get a team, only to have local government intervene (which they would with contraction, too) and then the team is still there floundering. You take the team away, but you don't give it to anyone else-- it's gone forever.

In the end, no one is going to be happy with contraction for the time being, but the greater good will probably prevail and make the game healthier in the long-run. It's not like now because teams are having to sacrifice getting better and bringing in a new fan base because the team is winning-- only because the team is owned by the league or the team is up for sale and you don't want to put out big money for a team you're selling due to not wanting to pay the money or passing the buck to someone who may not have signed off on the deal for one reason or another. Not only that, but the trickle down of minor league affiliates being downsized due to it.

Yet, the prospects of seeing a better product on the ice could be something that may sway other hockey fans to take interest in a team outside of their market for the good reasons and not because it could be the last time you see the team in that location.

Sure, we could see another success story in many of these teams that are in limbo, but is the headache now worth the rewards that could come in the end game for this?? I don't know if you can take the risk like this with the economics being the way they are. With the Coyotes' situation-- the city government is deciding to take money that they could go to other things in the municipality that aren't sporting related to go to a team that may not be there next year. That almost seems like bad politics, but the city has pumped a lot into the arena, which the Coyotes are the only tenant-- so I guess I can understand the logic. With the Thrashers, the city doesn't want to do the same thing Glendale is doing with the Coyotes because they'll still have the Hawks there and won't take money they could put to something else for a hockey team that no one is seeing. Of course, the city sizes and appeals are different-- so it's not a good correlation, yet shows that some places aren't going to ragdoll the people of their city around with hope the team can have a White Knight come and save the team.

While I'll personally love the idea of teams actually hanging around, I always understand the reality that if they can't be profitable, they have to either move or get out completely. That's the sad reality of it all, but it seems many people don't like to think in reality a lot when it comes to sports. In the end, what will happen with these relocation rumors-- some may come true, some may be bunk, some may be strung out for five years. This does go to show that the season is winding down and there's not many games on TV-- there needs to be something to talk about. Also-- welcome to another Summer of Relocation Rumors, folks.

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