Politics, credit downgrading, and hockey; or how NHL contraction could end up on the table

With the United States credit downgrade, you can expect a certain faction of NHL fans voicing angrily how the Canadian teams are keeping the league afloat. This is going to lead to arguments contraction and who ought to be contracted. And this talk will also focus almost entirely upon teams in warm climates.

Of course, no one knows exactly how this credit downgrade thing will affect everything. For all we know, nothing will change. However, considering how the global stock markets have fallen so far since the announcement, that doesn't seem very likely.

So, be prepared for the worst-case hockey scenario: that the Canadian dollar rises sharply over the US dollar in worth in the next year. Why does this matter to hockey? Because it mattered a lot to hockey 10+ years ago, when the roles were reversed.

When I was still living in my home state of Washington, I resided in a town that was 20 miles from the Canadian border. Bellingham is about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, distance-wise. Time-wise, Vancouver was a bit farther away than Seattle due to the border crossing.

Ten years ago or so, when I was living there, the Canadian dollar was about 56 cents to the US dollar, at its lowest that I can remember. That is, when a Canadian came to the United States to go shopping and converted their money to American money - which happens very often - they got $0.56 US for every $1 Canadian. Once, I heard one Canadian ask another Canadian jokingly if he wanted to see the new US 50-cent piece, and he then handed his friend a Canadian dollar coin. That's how bad it was.

Since all NHL contracts are done in US money, which started in the 1990s due to the currency value disparity, Canadian teams were paying almost twice as much in their money for players. This led to some serious financial difficulties for teams. At one point, both Edmonton and Calgary were considering moving to US cities for economic relief. Winnipeg and Québec City did. American teams were supporting Canadian teams through that mess - which no one was complaining about that at all at the time.

So now flip that scenario around, and you could see how this could get ugly - especially considering how there are only seven teams in Canada and there are 23 in the United States.

Add to that is the fact that there are at least six American-based NHL teams that are obviously having ownership/financial issues. And there are rumors that there are more than those six that aren't being made public. Those six are the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Dallas Stars, the Florida Panthers, the New York Islanders, the Phoenix Coyotes, and the St. Louis Blues.

Obviously, no matter what they say and how well their dollar is doing, Canada cannot take in six more NHL teams. They just don't have the people or the money. Which is why talk may turn into contraction more so than relocation.

And who will the targets be? Who else? Sun Belt teams.

It'll be the same stuff we've all been hearing for years about how Sun Belt teams aren't worthy because it doesn't snow there. But now they could have a legitimate financial reason to back up those arguments. And, naturally, they'll ignore those teams having difficult times in colder climates - as this group of people typically do.

And we'll all get a front row seat due to Winnipeg being a part of the Southeast Division this coming season, too. Remember, the Lightning will be on Hockey Night in Canada quite a bit more because of Winnipeg. Which most likely means that if you want to watch those games, you'll have to get NHL GameCenter or NHL Center Ice to do so. Then you'll get to hear all about it from the Canadians themselves.

So what does this mean to you? Probably nothing if you don't pay much attention to hockey news outside of the Tampa market. If you're a fan of the Southeast Division generally, however, it means that there's going to be a lot of talk surrounding the Florida Panthers and contraction. If you're a fan of hockey in the American South, it also means that there's going to be a lot of talk about the Nashville Predators being contracted as well.

What it boils down to is there could be this tug-of-war between Canadians and Americans over the NHL. And the talk could get very ugly and very nationalist - particularly on the Canadian side. This bitterness over the Atlanta Thrashers moving to become the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets will be a very minor dispute in comparison.

If the value of the American dollar continues to sink, then Canadians will not want to support 23 NHL teams. Not that all 23 teams will need it, of course. A few of which many of them feel don't deserve to be in the warm places that they are. And right now, the Phoenix Coyotes and the Florida Panthers are public enemies #1 and #2 as it is. Just imagine how much worse it could get if the Canadian dollar ends up worth twice as much as the American dollar.

Sort of puts front-loaded contracts and rising salary caps into a whole different perspective, doesn't it.

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