It’s a juicy rumor, one that’s been reported by media outlets all around North America. The NHL, looking to expand, wouldn’t mind putting a second team in Toronto.
It’s just a rumor, but it’s the kind you just want to believe: Toronto, for all of it’s teams woes, is supposed to be a good hockey town. It’d be a good way for the NHL to increase its profile in Canada.
I’m not sold on it quite yet.
For all of the pomp and pageantry surrounding the Maple Leafs, Toronto is not a good hockey town, just as how New York is not a good baseball town. A Leafs town, yes, but not a Hockey town. Big difference.
Take the Toronto Road Runners for example. A minor league brother to the Edmonton Oilers, they were to take the old Maple Leaf Gardens as their home rink upon moving to the city in 2003. Blocked by the Leafs. They ended up in the Ricoh Colliseum instead and were forced out after a dispute with management of that rink – some say so the Leafs could move their own team, the Toronto Marlies, into the rink instead. The Roadrunners moved to Edmonton the next year.
Take the city itself: where would another team play? The only arena big enough to house a team long-term would be the Gardens, a decrepit, crumbling mass that the Leafs refuse to let anybody use for anything, ever (except to make a supermarket, in a plan that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere).
Take the NHL’s state of affairs: the NHL would like to expand again, but this time into the United States: Kansas City, Las Vegas and Oklahoma City seem likely, and one can’t rule out AHL cities like Houston or Seattle.
But with the NHL running like it is now – Forbes reported that 14 of its teams had a negative operating income in 2007 - expanding would not be a wise idea. Indeed, relocation would be wiser, so the NHL can move teams from poor markets (Long Island, Nashville, Phoenix, etc) to better markets (Hamilton, for example).
But herein lies the rub: there aren’t many untapped hockey markets left. You could even argue there aren’t any. Hamilton and area could support a team, or leech fans from the Buffalo Sabres. Houston could support a team, but it’s unlikely the Dallas Stars are missing any hockey fans in Texas.
So maybe instead of dropping more teams in cities that don’t care about hockey and instead of shuffling teams around from city to city, maybe the NHL should begin to consider eliminating some teams. Buy out two or four owners, dissolve the team and disperse the players in a common draft.
The quality of play will likely rise. The debt load of the league will likely drop. In the short term, it may make the NHL look even worse, but in the long run it could seriously help the league out of the hole it seems to be buried in.
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