On Friday, another step was made in the effort to expand the National Hockey League to 32 teams. Josh Cooper at Puck Daddy rounded up the Tweets and information that confirmed that both the Las Vegas group led by Bill Foley and the Quebec City group led by Quebecor have entered Phase III of the expansion process. Cooper notes from David Pagnotta that the expansion process will end by September 4. That they're this far makes it appear likely that both ownership groups will be granted teams, and the NHL will expand in the future.
This is certainly closer to an inevitability than, say, ads on jerseys. I'm not personally opposed to a team in Las Vegas given that Bill Foley and his group could be paying at least $500 million and it's in a brand new market. Las Vegas doesn't have any major professional sports teams, so they'd get a head start on taking hold there. The arena being built apparently seats 20,000, so they're not going to be stuck with a smaller building like Winnipeg or the Islanders. I'm less enthused about another team in Quebec City. The NHL already faltered there once, the city and general metropolitan area doesn't exceed seven figures, and while it's an area that enjoys its hockey, it's an area that has been enjoying its hockey. There's room to grow in Las Vegas; not as much in Quebec City. Most of all, it's in Canada and therefore their revenue will be driven in part by it's exchange rate. The NHL requires all payment to be in American dollars. With a current exchange rate that's favorable to the American dollar, even a splashy debut of the new QC team could yield less than favorable revenue for the league. The exchange rate won't stay as it is forever, but if this currency chart by XE is any indication, I'm not holding my breath on the Canadian dollar matching the American dollar anytime soon. That said, Quebecor is loaded too and they're building a good sized arena at 18,100 capacity. They'll likely keep the team on solid ground for a while. Either way, what I feel about it doesn't matter. Both groups are so in deep in the process, it'd be a bigger story if either one of them didn't get awarded an expansion team in the next few weeks.
While expansion won't really come into form until the 2017-18 season at a minimum, it's something that will affect all thirty current teams, including our beloved New Jersey Devils, in some way or form. Now is a good time as any to discuss the ramifications for the other teams.
First off, the league will likely re-align itself with 32 teams. This is good because I'm not a fan of the current alignment of fourteen teams in the West, sixteen in the East, and a glorious five-team Atlantic Division of Pure Rivalry diluted into the eight-team Metropolitan we have now. I'm not expecting to have a reduction in divisions, but I would expect the conferences to be evened out. Four divisions of eight teams each makes logical sense. The question is who goes West? Quebec City should be in the same division as Montreal for the potential rivalry implications, and they would be one of the most Northeastern teams in the NHL. Given that the last alignment was done in part to move Detroit to the Eastern Conference, I would not expect them to go back to the West so soon. The most "western" team after the Red Wings are the Columbus Blue Jackets. Should they go, then that leaves a spot in New Jersey's division. I would absolutely not want it to be Detroit for competitive purposes, but that may be one of the realistic options for re-alignment.
Alternatively, the league could scrap the four division format and go with six, with an even six in each one. I would almost prefer a division of, say, New Jersey, Our Hated Rivals, the Islanders, the Second Rate Rivals, Washington, and Pittsburgh. They could radically re-align other divisions, possibly moving Nashville to the East to join Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Columbus, and Detroit. This leaves Quebec City to join Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, Toronto, and Boston. I don't know if they're willing to consider that. But it's another option if they're willing to get away from four divisions. Sorry, I made a mistake: six divisions of six would mean 36 teams, not 32. My bad.
Second, the two teams will need players and so there will be an expansion draft. I don't think the overall talent of the league will be too diluted with the expansion. Even with two teams joining at once, it'll be sixteen years since the last expansion effort, which ended with Minnesota and Columbus being added a year after Atlanta was added and a year after Nashville came into existence. The 1990s brought in nine new teams; that hurt the talent pool. It's been plenty of time since then. I'd also like to think that the supply of players have improved since then. Canadian junior leagues continue to be strong developers of talent, and the growth of the USHL, the USNTDP, and college hockey have only added to that. The KHL has plenty of "tweener" talents that could fit into the NHL; expansion may see a few of those players possibly jumping back over the Atlantic. Should the rise of analytics in hockey drill down to lower levels and improved drills, then we could see better talents coming out in time. Between all of this, I think there will be enough bodies to support 32 competitive hockey teams.
Assuming both teams will join the league in 2017-18, there will be plenty of time for the other 30 teams to prepare. the Devils will - hopefully - be on their re-building ways and looking a little bit more forward to the postseason. The Devils do have a handful of players currently signed through 2017-18 and beyond; these drafts may provide them an "out" should some of those players decline or if other players rise up to take their spot. According to General Fanager, those players are: Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, Ryane Clowe, Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, and Cory Schneider. Some of those names will likely be key parts of the team in two seasons, others less so. As tempting as it may be to want to see the Devils dump Zajac and his big deal; the eventual expansion draft may be better suited for others. Cammalleri will be close to 35 and may not be the scorer he was last season again. Henrique may not turn out to be ; as he's younger, he may be a more attractive option to be picked in an expansion draft. Should Greene start wearing down by then, he could be set free as well. A lot can change in two years. While the expansion draft rules haven't even been thought of, the Devils would be wise to keep a potential draft in mind to drop some players on significant deals to gain some space.
Third, the Devils would do well to try to hit big in the next two drafts. Well, they would do well to do that regardless of the expansion teams. The point is that with two expansion teams, that means two more teams that likely aren't going to be very good. With two more teams not likely to be very good, that's two more teams to "compete" for high picks. There will likely be a lottery process in 2017-18 for the top draft picks; but I can't imagine two new teams joining the league won't get some kind of protected pick to ensure they get a top prospect early. That's what happened when Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Columbus joined the league. Should the Devils still be in the middle of their re-build, looking for another (or an) "ace" player to form a squad around, this would be two more proverbial obstacles in their plans. Therefore, cross your fingers for good luck in the lottery and cross them harder for Castron and his crew to hit big on their high picks in the next two seasons.
Expansion won't be coming as soon as 2017-18 and it could happen later than that. However, with both ownership groups touting their progress in the process, I think it will happen in the next few years. It will lead to further changes to the NHL that will affect how the Devils and other teams do business from multiple standpoints. These three areas were the big ones that came to my mind. There are surely others, such as the rest of the league now having two more teams with deep-pocketed owners to compete with for free agents, another team to threaten players to trade to (Quebec, not Las Vegas), and a bunch more travel. What else do you think expansion would mean for the Devils and the other 29 teams in the NHL? Do you agree these two teams will soon be announced as the next entrants into the NHL? How do you think the Devils and others will deal with it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about expansion in the comments. Thank you for reading.