If NHL Expansion Was Based On Rivalries…

This a fun article which little corresponds to reality. Expansion in any league is a hot topic and as this is a hockey blog I’ll limit this to the NHL. Though I have written articles on this blog in the past about which countries should have their standard of play raised to improve international hockey. And even expanding Canada’s junior CHL leagues would be fun.

For this article I’m going to throw logic out the window. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s and offered them reasonable terms for readmission (No mention then of a $500 million expansion fee and $10 million “consideration fee”). These included a great fan base, a suitable owner, and a proper NHL fee. For this fun, imaginary article I am going to pretend that all the expansion choices meet all three of his demands. I am also going to make the assumption that the NHL will realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences with 4 Divisions each and each will have 4 teams to start with. This makes it easier to expand to 5 teams per division (40) and even 6 teams to a division (48).

I am also going to put some limits on this expansion. First, some teams already have their best ever rival in the NHL. There are the New York teams; Calgary and Edmonton; Tampa Bay and Florida; the two Los Angeles teams and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. There will be no better rivals added to them, though some of the new teams might develop a rivalry with them. Second, some teams will not be given a new rival. They may not be near anybody who is currently big enough yet. And third, teams will be only limited to one new rival, so Montreal will not get both second Montreal and Quebec, San Jose will not get both San Francisco and Portland, etc.

The latest team that was actually added to the NHL was Las Vegas, which in theory could be the best-ever rival of Phoenix, two desert teams. The question is will there be an Arizona team in the future? This potential rivalry could be killed at birth. I am making the assumption that Arizona will still be around. But here are some of the best NHL rivalries that have yet to be realized. There is no special order in this list though what I consider to be the best unrealized rivalries are at the top.

1. Montreal Canadiens Vs. Quebec

This was the best rivalry in the NHL before it came to an untimely end, so it was an easy choice to list it first. The NHL could also bring back the old Montreal Maroons who folded in the Great Depression, but the growth of Quebec City and its intense rivalry with Montreal when it joined the NHL after being a WHA team gives Quebec priority. All Canadians and probably all the NHL Board want Quebec back, now that it has built the Videotron. Bettman has to resolve the Quebec ownership problem as soon as possible to get this feud going again.

2. Boston Bruins Vs. Hartford

This rivalry never really got off the ground because Hartford seldom had a good team because of its ownership and arena problems. But Hartford-Boston for the championship of New England is a natural. Hartford plans to update the XL Center and if they can find a suitable owner, a new Hartford team should no longer be a weak sister. This rivalry has yet to see its better days.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Hamilton

Whenever Toronto plays Hamilton in the CFL, it is said that there is usually at least one fist fight in the stands. Can you imagine what would happen if Toronto and Hamilton became NHL rivals as well? This potential great rivalry is being held up because Toronto and Buffalo will not share the rich southern Ontario market. But one of the next 9 NHL expansion teams HAS to be a new southern Ontario team. Bettman should be reigning in the NHL Board to set a suitable compensation package for Hamilton and get one of the best rivalries in Canada, one to rival Montreal-Quebec and Calgary-Edmonton going.

4. Vancouver Canucks Vs. Seattle

This has the potential to be the best cross border rivalry in the NHL. Buffalo-Toronto has never really taken off all these years but that may change with Americans Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel now leading their teams. Vancouver has never really had a top rival all to itself. It has rivalries with Calgary and Edmonton, but still plays second fiddle to the championship of Alberta. In baseball and football, Seattle has been mostly by itself. So it could be a promising experiment to give them each other for the championship of the northwest coast. The NHL wants Seattle in, in fact they were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. Right now Seattle is stuck at the arena issue but if it is resolved, they would become the leading western city to get an expansion franchise.

5. Nashville Predators Vs. Memphis

An interesting experiment, the battle between eastern and western Tennessee for the championship of the state. The Predators, after being a precarious NHL franchise may finally have turned the corner as a credible NHL market, with their recent visit to the Stanley Cup Final. Giving them a state rival might consolidate things. It’s worth taking a chance on.

6. Chicago Blackhawks Vs. Second Chicago

Is Chicago big enough for two teams? MLB seems to think so. They now play each other every year since Inter-league play was introduced. Right now Chicago’s main rival was traditionally Detroit, but the Redwings moved to the Eastern Conference and seldom play the Blackhawks any more. So giving Chicago an inner city rival might work.

7. St. Louis Blues Vs. Kansas City

The battle of Missouri seldom happens. In football, St Louis was placed in the NFC and Kansas City in the AFC. Now St. Louis has lost its team and it may be a long time before it comes back. In baseball, the cities finally play each other with introduction of inter-league play. There was also a memorable World Series in 1985. But Kansas City-St. Louis still has to take off in any sport and hockey has the chance to ignite this sleepy feud.

8. Dallas Stars Vs. Houston

In baseball, Houston was having attendance problems so they switched a traditional National League team to the American League just so Houston could play the Texas Rangers more frequently. In football, the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys only play each other once every four years. In basketball, Dallas has a significant rivalry with both Houston and San Antonio. The NHL definitely wants Houston, the largest American city without a hockey team in the league. The Dallas Stars have no real rivalry with anyone so bringing Houston into the NHL would fill a big hole.

9. San Jose Sharks Vs. San Francisco

Right now San Francisco is building a new arena but like the unsuitable Barclay’s Center, it may be only good as the new home for the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. There is no talk of getting an NHL team for San Francisco, but MLB and the NFL (until the treacherous move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas) believed that the Bay area could support two teams. But these cities seldom play each other though there was a World Series between San Francisco and Oakland. Regular games between San Jose and San Francisco could lead to a promising NHL rivalry.

10. Washington Capitals Vs. Baltimore

Washington seldom plays Baltimore in both MLB and the NFL so a real rivalry between these close American cities has yet to take off. Hockey has the opportunity. Actually another possible experiment for Washington would be to give Norfolk Virginia a team. But Baltimore has always been a great sports city though it has never tried NHL hockey. The NHL could be the beneficiary of a seldom-tired rivalry.

11. Winnipeg Jets Vs. Saskatoon

In the CFL, Saskatchewan was always Winnipeg’s best rival despite the Blue Bombers having to be moved back and forth between the Eastern and Western Conferences as occasion merited. Saskatoon is one of Canada’s fastest growing smaller cities so a Saskatchewan regional team, within 20 years might be a feasible possibility in the long term.

12. Minnesota Wild Vs. Milwaukee

In the NFL, Minnesota-Green Bay is one of the league’s best rivalries. Right now, Minnesota’s best rival might be Chicago but Chicago’s best rival was always Detroit until they switched conferences. Minnesota-Milwaukee has the same promise as Minnesota-Green Bay. It’s an experiment worth trying.

13. Raleigh Hurricanes Vs. Charlotte

In hockey and football, they call the team Carolina. Only basketball goes by the city name of Charlotte. The NHL’s team is located in Raleigh, not North Carolina’s largest city, and has been having attendance problems, probably because they have not iced a competitive team for a long time. Giving them a state rival would be an interesting experiment, one that might save the franchise.

14. Buffalo Sabres Vs. Rochester

This will never happen, at least for a very long time. Buffalo versus Rochester for the championship of upper New York State might become a great rivalry. It only occurs in lacrosse. But Buffalo will not share northern New York State with Rochester any more than it wants to share the southern Ontario market with Hamilton. Maybe in the very distant future when the population of Buffalo is 5 million and the population of Rochester is 3 million, it could happen for the NHL.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets Vs. Cleveland

For this rivalry to occur, Columbus has to finally become a credible NHL city, the NHL has to finally forget the horrible memories of the Cleveland Barons, and the city of Cleveland itself finally has to be willing to support a team at the top level of hockey, not just the Lake Erie Monsters. Nobody is going to take a chance in the Death Valley of hockey, Ohio-Indiana. For that reason, nobody is going to take a chance on either Cincinnati or Indianapolis as a rival for Columbus too.

There are 15 potential great rivalries waiting to happen in the NHL. That’s 15 more teams giving the NHL 46 teams, two less than the symmetrical 48 for an even 8, 6- team Division league. So to round out the NHL I’m going to nominate Portland and second Montreal…