Let me put this out there before I get too into the plan: this is actually a terrible idea. From business and logistical standpoints, it would be an absolute shitstorm for the NHL. It would make Gary Bettman look like Gary Busey. Uprooting franchises sucks, and something tells me a mass exodus to that ice desert known as Canada would not be well received. BUT JUST THINK HOW COOL IT WOULD BE.
Something else probably worth mentioning before I unveil this ridiculous idea: the NHL is fine. Stanley Cup Finals TV ratings will probably never compare to the other Big 4 leagues, but the numbers are up big compared to those scary post-lockout days. A 20-year old won the MVP last season. The Winter Classic is awesome. And purists of the league can still bank on ancient traditions like the Capitals choking in the second round. Still, all this isn’t to say that the league can’t get bigger and better. There’s definitely major room for improvement in America when it comes to publicity for NHL players. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are legends in their home countries, but I’m not sure they’d get swarmed in any American malls outside of Pittsburgh and DC. Auston Matthews is essentially Steph Curry in Toronto, but even in his home state of Arizona he’s more like Zaza Pachulia.
Hockey is at its best when there’s international ramifications involved. The gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics between the US and Canada is easily the most hype hockey game of my lifetime. Zach Parise suddenly became a common knowledge name to sports fans with his game-tying goal, but before the game I would’ve guessed that Parise rhymes with Clarice. And that’s coming from someone who follows the NHL at a decent level. Casual sports fans probably think TJ Oshie is a Top 10 player in the league ever since he single-handedly beat Russia in a shootout in the 2014 Olympics. Oshie is good but yeah…that’s not the case.
And if you ask me, things are just too damn cordial between the US and Canada these days. Just look at how their pretty boy Prime Minister diplomatically accepted this mental undressing from the First Daughter. We would’ve unleashed Mad Dog Mattis on his ass for half of that back in the day. And we know those Canadians with their universal healthcare and next-to-nothing crime rates and generally more positive outlooks on life can’t be trusted for anything, so it’s once again left up to us to start this war. The current NHL structure in theory should set up some US vs. Canada battles in the Stanley Cup Finals, but go figure, they can’t uphold their end of the bargain. So we’re gonna do what Americans do best: rig the system and create some totally unnecessary tension.
LOCKS TO STAY (14)
- Original Six (Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings)
I’m crazy but I’m not an anarchist.
- Other 5 Canadian Teams (Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators)
Even though the team that plays in Canada’s fucking capital couldn’t sell out its arena for playoff games, it would be counterproductive to uproot any of the existing Canadian teams. I warned you that this isn’t the best idea.
- Metropolitan Powerhouses (Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins)
These teams aren’t Original Six, but they’re the next closest things. They’ve all been around since players didn’t wear helmets, they’ve each spent time as the class of the league, and they’re now integral to the NHL’s identity.
YEAH THEY AREN’T GOING ANYWHERE (5)
People may think that St. Louis is a dying sports city because the Rams just bailed, but the Cardinals are one of the most successful MLB teams and I think the Blues have the potential to get there in the NHL. They have a ton of young talent and were among the league leaders in attendance last season. I’m also not gonna be the one to stomp on Tony X’s mojo.
You’ll soon realize that I’m not crazy about hockey teams in warm places. But the Kings were a part of the NHL’s original expansion, they’ve won two Stanley Cups this decade, and they’ve done the impossible by finding a loyal fanbase in LA.
The Lightning are probably the most surprising team in this tier, but honestly they are closer to being a lock than a team missing the cut. They do well in attendance, have some solid history, and officially became a free agent destination once Steven Stamkos chose to come back.
Carrie Underwood. Last year’s Finals run with their insane home-ice advantage put Smashville on the map, and I don’t think they’re going away any time soon. Also, Carrie Underwood.
You can always bank on the Wild for an embarrassing postseason exit, but you can also bank on them to dominate in attendance and land some of the biggest free agents.
JUST MADE THE CUT (3)
Mayyybe there’s some bias here because I’m from Jersey. But the Devils have been to the Finals in each of the last three decades and low-key have themselves a really nice arena. And c’mon, New Jersey has way too many fucking people not to have a professional team of its own.
When I first came up with this idea, I thought the Sabres would be on the chopping block for sure. But the more I thought about it, the more I think that the Sabres will become the next Predators within 5-10 years. The roster has some building blocks in place and they’re in a trendy sports city. If Bills Mafia gets ahold of a sick hockey team? Literally stay 100 miles outside the Buffalo city limits.
Not gonna lie, I’m not psyched about the Sharks being the last team in. I don’t think the Bay Area needs a hockey team. But they do well enough in attendance and it feels like they’re in the playoffs every year. Plus the Shark Tank is one of the better stadium nicknames in sports. And for those reasons, they are not out.
EXPANSION TEAMS (2)
If I had written this blog last year, there’s no shot I would’ve given Vegas a team. But the Golden Knights have been ELECTRIC so far and Vegas seems to have something real. The jerseys aren’t any fun to look at, but everything else about the Golden Knights is awesome.
The first new team! With only 31 teams currently in the league, everyone knows another NHL squad is coming soon to balance things out. While there’s a good chance the 32nd team actually ends up in Seattle, we’re gonna follow the blueprint and bring the team north of the border. Toronto is hockey-obsessed and is the fourth most populated city in North America, so the potential fans are definitely there. A lot of people way richer than me have fought to bring a second team to T Dot and have even submitted stadium proposals, but it just hasn’t happened yet. This team will be the NHL equivalent of the Mets, and everyone knows they have the happiest fans in all of sports.
The Move: And the newest NHL team is…the Toronto Toros! I was gonna suggest the IceHogs since “Hogtown” is apparently a nickname for Toronto, but I was STUNNED to find that the name is already taken by the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate. The Toros were an actual team from 1973-1976 in the World Hockey Association. The WHA was the biggest ever competitor to the NHL and was the original home of the Oilers and Jets. Plus, they already have a pretty dope logo and jersey.
JUST MISSED THE CUT (1)
If I take any shit for this blog, I expect it to be for this decision. I have a good amount of friends who are Islanders fans, and it’s not ideal to move a team that has won four Stanley Cups. But facts are facts, and the facts are this team is essentially homeless. The move to Brooklyn was an unmitigated disaster, so much so that a bid has already been made to bring the team back to Long Island. But let’s be real about Long Island’s Team…does the NHL really need Long Island’s team? They finished in the Bottom 10 of capacity attendance in each of their last five seasons playing in Nassau Coliseum, including a dead last finish in 2010-2011.
The Move: And the New York Islanders become…the St. John’s Islanders! Probably not the best call to have this as the first relocation idea since it’s the least plausible. Newfoundland and Labrador has roughly the population of Wyoming, but almost half of the province’s people live in St. John’s. It was also the home to the Canadians’ AHL team until this year, and the city is supposedly working to bring professional hockey back ASAP. I’m usually gonna get more creative with names for the new teams, but this serves as a nod to the Islanders’ actually good history and makes sense for their new home. Newfoundland is, news to me, an island. It was originally settled as a fishing town too, so the Islanders can still roll out these alternates that everybody totally loves. St. John’s is also so far east that it might as well be in fucking Greenland, so the Islanders overnight go from one of the worst home-ice advantages to one of the best.
YEAH THEY GOTTA GO (4)
Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure like 99% of tourism to the Denver area is based around winter sports. And yet people there still don’t give a shit about the Avalanche. No one goes to the games, the team blows, the uniforms are ugly…they won’t be missed.
The Move: And the Colorado Avalanche become…the Quebec Nordiques! My last relocation suggestion was probably the most ridiculous, but this one might be the sanest because I could actually see it happening. It makes zero sense that Quebec City doesn’t have a NHL team. The Nordiques played in the league from 1979-1995 until they became the Avalanche, and I’m pretty sure that no take-backsies agreements expire after 22 years.
The Blue Jackets have actually put a really solid squad together lately, but no one in the Buckeye State has seemed to notice. They have some pretty dismal attendance figures, including a last place finish in capacity percentage in 2012-13. Turns out people in the Rust Belt didn’t take to ice hockey. Who would’ve guessed?
The Move: And the Columbus Blue Jackets become…the Brunswick IceJacks. We have ourselves another shaky suggestion since New Brunswick has less people than North Dakota, but this one could actually work. A 2013 study by FiveThirtyEight estimates that the Saint John-Moncton market has more hockey fans than seven actual NHL markets. And after reading more Wikipedia pages on Canadian history than one person should ever do, I’ve learned that New Brunswick also has some proud heritage in forestry. You can already imagine a logo of some grizzly dude taking a jackhammer to the ice.
If we’re blowing up the system, the first rule that goes out the window is that the LA area needs two pro teams for every league. The Ducks have done just about everything possible to piss off hockey fans lately too. They chose to distance themselves from one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time but for some reason still kept the Ducks name, ditched the D3 jerseys for maybe the grossest look in all of sports, and fielded a roster full of players that everyone hates. I’d move this team to the Yukon Territory if I weren’t taking this mildly seriously.
The Move: And the Anaheim Ducks become…the Victoria Cougars! It’s pretty weird that no professional North American team is the Cougars, and in my head actual cougars just roam the streets in Canada. So I knew I wanted to make one of these fictional teams the Cougars, and Victoria was on my short list of cities to make the cut since it’s pretty much a consolation prize for Seattle. And THEN I discovered the Victoria Cougars were an actual team back in the day. Not only that, in 1925 they won the Stanley Cup! Yeah…THAT Stanley Cup. Welcome back!
It’s hard to find a more “meh” sports team than the Stars. I really don’t have much to say about them. They’re just so boring that it feels like they need a fresh start. I feel like you could make a lot of money in the future challenging people at sports bars to name the 1999 Stanley Cup champs.
The Move: And the Dallas Stars become…the Hamilton Steelheads! Students, if you could now take out your Canadian Geography textbooks. You might be thinking it’s overkill the cram three NHL teams into a small part of Ontario with Buffalo right nearby too, but this would be fine. First things first, the dude who founded BlackBerry has actually been trying for a while to hijack any American team and bring it to Hamilton. Also think about it this way: right now the New York/New Jersey market has three teams with Buffalo kinda close by and that’s worked out ok enough for the NHL. Now peep that FiveThirtyEight article I referenced before and check out how the Greater Toronto area has roughly more than twice the amount of NHL fans than the NYC/NJ region. As for the team name, the city is called “Steeltown” since the steel industry has apparently always been the backbone of Hamilton’s economy. Take that, do a little play on words with a common North American fish, and we have a solid name for the new hockey town.
LOCKS TO LEAVE (3)
All right, I know I’ve opted to let Los Angeles and Tampa keep their hockey teams. But fucking PHOENIX cannot have a team. It’s like 120 degrees there every single day. Not only that, but the Coyotes have ZERO history and all of the 80 year olds who live there during the winter are playing bridge or watching NCIS instead of going to games. The ice is figuratively and literally melting for this team.
The Move: And the Arizona Coyotes become…the Saskatchewan Stags! The common theme with this tier is that all of these relocation ideas are pretty reasonable options that should be heavily explored but probably won’t be. Even though the home base of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (god dammit Canada) would be the smallest market in the NHL, even including my other suggestions besides St. John’s, the people would come Ray. The people most definitely would come. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are pretty much the Packers of the CFL. Their fans are rowdy as hell and apparently pretty welcoming too since they recently opened their arms for Trent Richardson. There’s already a NHL-sized arena in Saskatoon and you gotta figure these lunatics would fill it up night after night. The Stags is also a layup of a team name when you consider the white-tailed deer is the province animal and that alliterative names are inherently better.
I’m gonna have to spend a little extra time on this section, because the Carolina Hurricanes in all actuality might not be a team in 5-10 years. The good thing about the Canes is their existence makes me feel better about some of my dumber suggestions because Gary Bettman approved putting a pro team in fucking Raleigh. The bad thing about the Canes is I get irrationally angry when I think about how they have a Stanley Cup and the Caps don’t. They’ve actually had a ton of talent come through over the years, but no one besides their 4 fans seemed to care. Seriously, by looking at their arena during games you’d think the Hurricanes play in 1986 Chernobyl. I’d make a hurricane joke about their attendance figures, but I’m pretty sure those will never be in good taste.
The Move: And the Carolina Hurricanes become…the Halifax Highlanders! Halifax should absolutely have a team. The people are there, the interest is there, the arena is already there, and the studies to back up its credibility are there. At this point it’s just about picking the team name. I thought about going with the Ospreys, since it’s the province bird and birds of prey are automatically solid mascots. (I’d argue that every bird is a bird of prey, but that seems like another blog for another time.) The Highlanders is the most common pick around the web, and for good reason. I already mentioned that alliteration gets the people going, and it’s a nice shoutout to the province’s proud Scottish history. Nova Scotia is Latin for “New Scotland,” something I definitely figured out on my own.
Fun assignment for Thanksgiving dinner: ask one of your aunts what sport the Florida Panthers play and see if hockey is one of her first five guesses. Seriously, why is this team a thing? Did the league see all those Dolphins games in their half-full (I’m a positive guy) stadium and think, “give me some of that!” The team name makes negative sense for the sport, the jerseys look like they belong in some Russian developmental league, and the team happens to suck. Oh, and the funniest thing about the Panthers took a turn for the really creepy over the past few weeks.
The Move: And the Florida Panthers become…the Montreal Maroons! Before you start to think, “well that’s a weird fucking suggestion for a team name,” this was an actual team from 1924 to 1938. And guess what? They won a Stanley Cup…two of them in fact! The Maroons were a successful organization until their sudden demise due to some Canadian economic event called The Great Depression. Seriously though no one thought to try to bring this team back once people, you know, had money again? I’m pretty sure the NHL was just handing out franchises to any rich person with good manners in the 60s and 70s, and “asking nicely” is pretty much Canada’s favorite pastime. Montreal has more than enough people for two teams, and this year a $200 million arena was opened in the suburb of Laval. How about we stop terminating or moving teams that have won the Stanley Cup, ok? (Unless these teams are the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, or Carolina Hurricanes.)
||Detroit Red Wings
|New Jersey Devils
||Los Angeles Kings
|New York Rangers
||San Jose Sharks
|Tampa Bay Lightning
||St. Louis Blues
||St. John’s Islanders
||Vegas Golden Knights
||Toronto Maple Leafs
NOW LETS KICK THOSE HOSERS’ TEETH IN AND MAKE THEM EAT THEIR POUTINE THROUGH A STRAW!!!
Follow PJ on Twitter at @Real_Peej