It’s hard not to be nostalgic for other eras. And to be honest, the events don’t even need to be that far in the past for people to get that way; sometimes I look back wistfully at the days of Jaromir Jagr’s mullet or Charles Barkley taking the NBA by storm with the Phoenix Suns.
But the problem with those memories is that they’re often seen through rose-colored (and factually questionable) glasses.
If money wasn’t an object, it would be absolutely fantastic to see the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques play in the NHL again. Heck, while we’re at it, why not bring back the Hartford Whalers and coerce the Anaheim Ducks to change their names to the California Golden Seals for good measure?
Derek Zona of SB Nation crunches the numbers and comes to the cold reality of the situation: Winnipeg and Quebec markets are simply not very likely to support NHL teams over the long haul.
Not only would either city immediately become the smallest market in the league, it would be by an enormous margin. Quebec City is 60 percent and Winnipeg only 53 percent of the size of Ottawa, the current smallest market in the NHL. On a per capita basis, Quebec would be the fifth-poorest market and Winnipeg would be the poorest market in the league.
Proponents of teams in Quebec City and Winnipeg like to point to the cost-certainty of the salary cap as prescribed by the CBA, an agreement signed after both the Nordiques and Jets left for good. But even though salaries are now capped, they’ve still grown at a staggering rate. In 1996, the average NHL salary was $984,000. In 2009, the average NHL salary was $2,283,000. That’s growth of 132 percent. If salaries tracked to inflation, the average player salary would have been $1,331,000. For a comparison, Winnipeg’s GDP has grown 53 percent since 1996. In other words, player salaries are outpacing GDP growth in a market that couldn’t afford player salaries in the first place.
Prior to the fall of the U.S. dollar relative to the Canadian dollar, teams now considered to be financially stable struggled mightily to compete. Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver were all taking in Canadian dollars of less relative worth and paying out U.S. dollars. And while the short-term market outlook doesn’t lend itself to the recovery of the U.S. dollar, the possibility exists that a recovery can and may happen. If that were to happen, the already hamstrung markets of Quebec City and Winnipeg would find themselves facing the exact situation they faced in the early 1990s.
It’s fun to think about the possibilities of the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets skating once again. Giving those fans a chance to root for their teams is a noble sentiment. But sending teams into markets that cannot support a franchise is what got Gary Bettman into this mess in the first place. Relocation should be considered in the framework of what is best for the long-term fiscal health of the league and future growth of the game, not governed by nostalgia for what once was untenable.
I know it’s a bummer for many of you, but Zona provides black-and-white numbers that are pretty hard to refute. Click here to read more about it.