The MLB has 30 teams. The NBA, 30. The NFL, 32. The NHL, 30. Well, 31, essentially.
The number of teams in each of the four major professional sports leagues in North America hovers right around 30, but leave it to the NHL to be the only one of the major four to have a prime number of teams in total.
(No, not prime, as in the definition of the adjective, "of most importance," but rather prime as in the definition of the mathematical adjective, whereby a prime number is an integer that is greater than one and whose only two factors are the whole numbers one and itself.)
You would think, for simplicity’s sake, and for the sake of balancing out the two conferences at 16 apiece, there would be two new NHL clubs added for the 2017/18 season, but you’d be wrong.
Only one new club was added—the Vegas Golden Knights. By the way, that’s Vegas Golden Knights, not Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Vegas will begin play in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference, bringing that division’s total number of teams to eight, matching that of both divisions in the East. The one division that will still have an odd number of teams, hence the 31 total teams, is the seven-membered Central Division.
And, there you have it. 31 teams in the NHL. An odd number, some might say—and technically correct.
Even, the MLS (Major League Soccer) has an even number of teams—22.
The move to only add one new club to the league has some people baffled, but there are plenty of opportunities to add a 32nd club to the league, which, in my opinion, needs to be done within three years, and at the point, there must not be any more expansion to the NHL.
There are a variety of practical suitors for a new NHL market: Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, and Québec City, to name a few.
But, whatever happens, I implore Gary Bettman to add a 32nd team and to do it fast. The conferences and therefore the divisions need to be balanced and re-aligned, if need be.
Let’s take a quick look at why these locations could work.
The simplest reason to add a team in Seattle: location. Adding a club here would balance out the conferences at 16 apiece.
Seattle is home to the Mariners of the MLB and the Seahawks of the NFL. An NHL club would likely take on nickname that has some relation to the ocean or sea in some way, shape, or form.
Seattle originally was home to the Seattle Metropolitans of the PCHA (Pacific Coast Hockey Association), who played there in 1915. Since then, they have had no professional hockey team, although the Thunderbirds of the WHL (Western Hockey League) are located in Seattle as a junior club.
Houston would be an interesting addition to the NHL and would double the amount of NHL clubs in Texas. In addition, this move would also balance out the two conferences at 16 clubs apiece.
The greater Houston area, home to roughly 6.5 million people, is actually the largest market in terms of population in North America not home to an NHL franchise.
Houston is home to the Astros of the MLB, Texans of the NFL, and Rockets of the NBA. Why not complete the quartet?
At one point, Houston did have a professional ice hockey team—the Houston Skippers in 1946. Eventually, the Houston Apollos, of the WHA (World Hockey Association) and Houston Aeros of the AHL found homes in Texas, too.
Adding a club in Kansas City would also balance out the conferences.
Kansas City is home to the Royals of the MLB and the Chiefs of the NFL, but research has shown that there is not a lot of interest in an NHL team.
Kansas City did, at one point, host an NHL team—the Kansas City Scouts in 1974. This experiment did not last long, and this organization eventually became the Colorado Rockies—the present-day New Jersey Devils.
The only problem in adding a franchise in Quebec City to the NHL would be its location. Essentially located due north of the eastern border of New Hampshire, a franchise here would most certainly tilt the balance in favor of the Eastern Conference—17 to 15.
Quebec City was home to the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA from 1972 to 1979 before joining the NHL until 1995. At that time, the organization was moved to Denver and is now the Colorado Avalanche.
Quebec residents have been supposedly clamoring for an NHL franchise, but due to the declining value of the Canadian dollar against that of the United States, some unforeseen complications have obstructed the process.
Regardless of which city is selected to host the 32nd NHL team—which may be a pipe dream in the next few years—there needs to be some balance in the league in terms of alignment.
The city that the NHL deems most appropriate for its 32nd NHL team, should it do so, must be one that provides a significant amount of exposure to the game as well as one that is located in a percolating market. The market does not have to be huge; it just has to have the potential to grow.
As it stands now, there is an imaginary line due south of the eastern border of Indiana and the western border of Ohio. To the east of this line are Eastern Conference clubs; to the west, Western Conference clubs.
Unfortunately due to the location of present-day teams and the vast size of the United States, there are pockets of teams here and there: two in the southeast (Tampa Bay, Florida), three in the northwest (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton), five in the southwest (San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Arizona, Vegas), five in the midwest (Winnipeg, Minnesota, St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville), and thirteen in the northeast.
The remaining clubs are the Hurricanes, located in North Carolina, the Dallas Stars, and the Colorado Avalanche, located in Denver.
This setup has made alignment of the divisions difficult. The two southeastern teams are forced to fly long distances to face division rivals like the Canadiens and Senators.
There is no getting around this fact, however. The northeast clubs are not going anywhere, nor should they. But, it just makes for a very difficult and strategic process of realignment, which will likely be needed come the addition of the 32nd team—if that were to occur.
Although only four possible locations were mentioned, there are likely other locations that would love to have an NHL franchise but only at the right price.
The expansion fee that the Golden Knights paid was $500 million—a pretty penny for an NHL club. All that talk may be reduced to shambles if a group looking to bring an NHL team to their desired city is not ready to walk the walk.
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