During the summer, we stirred the pot a little bit by discussing how now would be the time for expansion in the NHL. With a glut of talented and available free agents we thought it would be a good idea. Of course, with disappointing attendance numbers in Atlanta, Columbus, and Phoenix talk is being made of going the other way when it comes to solving problems in the NHL. Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times pens a thought-provoking piece discussing the labor issues going on in the NBA and talks about how they compare to the NHL. Elliott discusses contraction as a means to solve the NHL’s problems with attendance and money. Of course, such suggestions usually lead to more questions than they do answers.
But there’s enough of an argument here for Bettman to put contraction on the table. Owners of prosperous teams would love it: they wouldn’t have to subsidize small-market teams and could keep greater shares of TV and advertising dollars. It would also put Donald Fehr, the incoming executive director of the NHL Players Assn., in a tough spot. Should he fight to keep jobs or for overall stability? Or can both exist?
Let’s get this out of the way, the NHL isn’t looking to kill off markets and the NHLPA isn’t about to go looking to cut jobs for its members, especially with Donald Fehr calling the shots. I get where the idea comes from and I get why it might seem like a smart idea. Teams that stay in the league get better by default with the dispersal of talent from the teams that would be contracted and better hockey means more excitement and potentially more fans.
Giving up on one, two, or however many markets a league might want to for contraction means giving the finger to fans in those cities for life. Winning those fans back after taking away their team almost never works. Only special circumstances allow for success to be had, but the difference there is that any reclamation projects that happened in other sports (most notably in the NFL) occurred thanks to expansion, not contraction. Contraction almost certainly means creating an instant wasteland filled with spite and bitter feelings as far as a market goes. What might make sense for business in one way, completely works against it in other ways.