We truly have reached the dog days of the NHL calendar year: with the draft completed and the high profile free agents settling in with their new teams, there is still quite a ways to go before things pick up again in the hockey world. But even during this down period there are still a few important stories that are developing with regards to items like expansion, and so with that, let’s get to this edition of Potvin’d.
1. Expansion has been the topic de jour for the past week, with the news that two cities: Quebec City and Las Vegas, applied to be the recipients of new franchises. Neither of those locations was particularly surprise for anyone who has been following this story for the past few months; Las Vegas has been investigating the viability of a team for some time now, and Quebec City has been ready for the return of NHL hockey since undergoing the construction of a brand new hockey-first arena, to be opened in September 2015.
The biggest concern from a league-wide perspective if both of these cities are accepted is the remaining conference imbalance, and how does one fix that from a geographic perspective. It wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to place Quebec City in the Western Conference, and the NHL would loathe having to consider the possibility of moving either the Red Wings or Blue Jackets back into the West. Had there been an application from a third city, this issue might have been rendered moot; and that brings us to the next topic.
2. Seattle was supposed to be one of the contenders for NHL expansion, but yet when the deadline arrived their name was nowhere to be found. Multiple groups have expressed interest in bringing a team to the city, and have put forth plans for the location and structure of a new arena but consensus (and more importantly money) has been lacking. But if we are speaking truthfully, the NHL isn’t the highest priority with regards to Seattle’s desire to have professional basketball again. With the recent news of a potential arena deal in place in Milwaukee, the possibility of an NBA team relocating to Seattle has decreased yet again, and most likely will remain that way for some time.
Seattle does seem to have great potential as a market for the NHL: a natural rivalry with Vancouver would be in play and Seattle fans are generally regarded quite positively and have experienced some recent success in some of the other sporting leagues. And as alluded to earlier, a Seattle franchise along with Las Vegas would have solved the imbalance problem. So when the deadline passed without Seattle formally placing a bid, theories arose that maybe it wasn’t a new team Seattle was looking for, but someone else’s.
3. That notion was quickly put to rest this week with the announcement the City of Glendale had come to an arrangement with the Arizona Coyotes, and renegotiated the terms of their arena lease; ensuring the Coyotes will play at least two more seasons in Glendale. While this news far from settles the question of whether or not the Coyotes will stay in Arizona, it does allow some breathing room for all the parties involved to move ahead and figure out the answer. There was a tremendous amount of vitriol directed at the Glendale City Council for their initial decision to brea the preexisting lease agreement amongst hockey fans, and there was a sizable backlash in the media. The threat of a long standing legal battle surely inspired clearer heads to prevail, and thankfully for the fans in Arizona they are able to enjoy their team for a little while longer.
4. The NHL has put a great deal of time and effort into making hockey work in the desert, but that success has just not been sustained. It really is a “chicken or the egg” type scenario: if the Coyotes had won a Stanley Cup in the twenty or so years since they were created, would this situation have happened? Success gives a team staying power, even at a level of simply being a playoff contender for several years. Fans need a reason to stay invested and keep watching: if a team can’t deliver on that then they are just helping to dig their own grave.
When the Islanders went through their dark years (many, many dark years), it was no wonder that questions of relocation were being asked of them. The names that arose then (Kansas City, Quebec City) are still being bandied about in the present. John Oliver recently did a comedic piece on arenas with regards to public financing, and there are legitimate questions as to whether or not the threat of relocation is actually realistic. I’d say the answer depends on the situation; some have pointed out the tact that Nassau County took with the Islanders, and now the team has left. Luckily for Islanders fans, that relocation was within a 30 mile radius, but the point remains that teams will indeed move if the situation is not tenable for them.
5. The Board of Governor’s recently approved changes to how the NHL will play their overtime contests starting this upcoming season, and it continues to demonstrate the progressive nature of the league when it comes to making major tweaks. Instead of the 4 vs 4 format of the past, teams will now be playing a 3 vs 3 game for five minutes upon the conclusion of regulation. The hope from the NHL’s perspective is that fewer games will be decided in the shootout, a nod to those who believe the so called “skills competition” itself is a pox upon the game.
Now there are some differences; in the AHL version of OT both teams started off with 4 vs 4 and eventually lost numbers as play went on. The NHL isn’t bothering with that and just starting off with a 3 vs 3. In the end, it comes down to what is the most preferable outcome: statistically more games ended in OT for the AHL this past season than they had previously, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like “hockey” as the 4 vs 4 did. After all, there are many instances when teams will be penalized and end up playing under the 4 on 4 scenarios; when was the last time you saw a hockey game in the NHL that featured a 3 on 3? Yet despite my minor concerns, having more games determined by utilizing the full skill set of the players is much more preferable than to the somewhat random nature of the shootout.