Before the NHL officially announced its recent expansion which in the end produced “only” the Las Vegas Golden Knights, it was commonly reported in the media and on the Internet that there were four “done deals”, Las Vegas, Quebec, second Toronto, and Seattle all ready in the bag. And that was only the tip of the iceberg. The NHL had not expanded since 2000 and rumors and desires had been building up, that it was thought that the cup was overflowing with potential applicants just waiting to get in.
There was Quebec’s fellow lost partner, Hartford and frustrated Hamilton. There were two failed bidders from 2000, Houston and Oklahoma City. There was Kansas City with its empty Sprint Center, built to get an NHL and NBA team. There were the potential hockey hotbeds of Portland and Milwaukee and perhaps surprise bidders like San Diego and San Francisco. All were thought to be parked outside of the NHL’s door just waiting for an official announcement of expansion.
Instead the NHL ruined everything by tacking on a $500 million expansion fee and a $10 million “consideration fee” ($8 million to be refunded if your bid failed) that threw cold water on every potential bidder’s face. The verdict by the investment world: We’d love to own a professional sports franchise but we’re not suckers. An NHL franchise is not worth that amount of money. Of 16 potential bidders, only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec stayed around to the end. And Quebec’s potential owner was unacceptable to the NHL. Even two of the “done deals” pulled out.
It was a first rate humiliation for the NHL. Not only did they want to expand, they wanted to realign as well into an NFL like structure of 2 conferences each having 4 divisions of 4 teams which would permit growth to the 40 team level and beyond. Instead they staged an expansion with no competition between rival cities (perhaps a “big 4″ North American professional sports first) and had to settle for only Las Vegas giving the league only 31 teams which prevented the NHL from realigning.
An unexpected fallout from this bungled expansion has been the fate of Jaromir Jagr, Jerome Iginla, and Shane Doan. All are representatives of the new kind of athlete that the NHL like its bungled expansion is unprepared for. With new advances in medicine and conditioning, it is now possible to prolong professional athletic careers beyond the usual retirement age of 35-40. Gordie Howe played until he was over 50 and Chris Chelios reached 48. But instead of being the exception, tomorrow’s athlete will play to these ages regularly.
The NHL is quite unprepared for this development. The oldest, Jagr, at 45 was still making significant contributions to his last team, the Florida Panthers. But NHL teams, ignoring that these elderly athletes can still make a significant contribution declined to sign these free agents, choosing to sign younger players who may have more long term potential in them for the future.
Sure Jagr, Iginla, and Doan have seen their best days pass them by. Modern medicine still isn’t advanced enough yet to turn them back into the state of 20 year olds, though that potential still exists in the future. But even at their advanced ages, they can probably still play better than many of the young players who are being given a chance, but will never reach their potential.
Doan gave up and retired. Jagr and Iginla are still waiting for offers. It is a shame that three of the NHL’s recent greatest players cannot get contracts and are being considered washed up without too much evidence.
If anything, the admission of Las Vegas should have made more NHL jobs available. And there would have been lots more if even only all four “done deals” had been granted NHL franchises. But the NHL’s greedy terms produced the worst “big 4″ North American professional league expansion in history. Now the NHL is caught between a rock and a hard place if they want to expand and realign in the near future. Either way they will lose face. They have to admit their expansion terms were unrealistic, refund money back to Bill Foley and Las Vegas so that they can set more realistic expansion terms that are more in tune with the real NHL franchise market, or wait years (decades?) before the investment world agrees that an NHL franchise merits a $500 million expansion fee and $10 million consideration fee. They could be stuck at the 31 team level, unable to realign for a long, long time.
If NHL expansion had been done properly, there would be four new teams entering the league now and Jagr, Doan, and Iginla would have no problem finding a new home. Their careers are either over or in suspension, a casualty of a league that is unprepared for the athlete of the future, and does not know the true value of its franchises in the investor market.