Warning: long article.
This issue has been spoken about numerous times and may seem monotonous to some, but I will be discussing it my way – NHL relocation and expansion, as well as changes in Minor League Hockey.
Obviously there are a plethora of NHL teams losing money and there are markets desperate for an NHL team to call their own. It’s time that those needs are satisfied. The teams that need to move are the Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, and Florida Panthers.
Do I really have to explain Phoenix relocating for everyone?
Columbus is losing money, especially after Nash trade.
Dallas has been losing a lot of money recently. Their desperation attempts to attract fans through cheaper ticket, food, and merchandising prices are the reason why. New ownership has considered the thought of relocation. They should consider it.
Florida draws fans when northern teams come to Miami. It’s kind of embarrassing when the home team sees a packed house with very little home support.
My relocation ideas will be Quebec City, Quebec; Hamilton, Ontario; Cleveland, Ohio; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For expansion cities, I will award them to Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Who relocates where of these two lists doesn’t matter.
Relocation of an NHL franchise to Quebec City is obvious. Apart from the Winnipeg market, the Quebec City market shows a lot of passion for a team that left the city. One problem that the NHL might have is the current condition of the Pepsi Coliseum, but stadium issues can be averted.
Hamilton was very close to having an NHL team back in 2010 during Phoenix’s financial crisis. What stopped them from getting a team was their close proximity to Buffalo and Toronto. There is an NHL relocation and expansion rule that states that a franchise cannot move within 60 miles of another market unless it receives consent from said market. The Rangers gave consent to the Islanders and Devils to establish themselves within that range. After Hamilton proved themselves by selling season tickets and creating a three-year waiting list for tickets for a pretend team, they had to seek approval from Toronto and Buffalo to relocate. Toronto was okay with it, but the pre-Pegula era Sabres were not. The Sabres, being right next to the US/Canadian border, have fans and season ticket holders in the Hamilton metropolitan and surrounding suburban areas. A majority of those fans, as reported, would surrender their season tickets to purchase ticket plans for the “new” team. Buffalo said that they would have difficulty recovering those lost season ticket holders. Because Buffalo gave no consent, Hamilton was not allowed to receive an NHL team. Today, the success of the Sabres and death of the “slug” might change corporate opinion. It is worth another shot. Also, I am hearing that Toronto might get a second team. They already have two teams – one NHL and one AHL (Toronto Marlies, playing at Ricoh Coliseum). That’s plenty!
*Hamilton Bulldogs, after AHL team
Cleveland is home to the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters. The Monsters are without question one of the most popular and lucrative teams in the league. They play at the Quicken Loans Arena (where the NBA's Cleveland Cavs play). They have a continuous increase in attendance figures since they were renamed in 2007/08. I like these numbers because on weekdays, the Monsters only sell tickets to lower bowl seats, creating such a fluctuation in these numbers. On weekends, they open up the whole arena. Of the 20,056 the stadium seats for hockey, they have surpassed the 15,000 mark on several occasions, with the lowest to my knowledge being somewhere around 7,000. This is way above average for a minor league hockey team. Last time I checked, these numbers are better than Phoenix. Cleveland’s close proximity to Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Hamilton, and Toronto, as well as tourists attractions (Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lake Erie, Playhouse Square Center, Cleveland Orchestra, West Side Market, and Cleveland Botanical Garden – just to name a few) and dissatisfaction with the Browns and Cavs in the fall and winter could draw many to see the team play. The Blue Jackets may need a new home soon, since Nationwide Arena is in bad condition and has been declining in attendance and revenue.
*Cleveland Barons, but open the idea to retain the name “Lake Erie Monsters”
Wisconsin is a hockey state. Everyone and their mothers love hockey up there. They have college teams with packed houses every night, major junior and minor professional teams, and prep schools for everyone to learn the game. The only thing they don’t have, what everyone wants, is an NHL team. They have an AHL team that does decent in attendance, but the city of Milwaukee would rather welcome the opportunity to have an NHL team instead.
*Milwaukee Admirals, after AHL team
This relocation and expansion will begin in 2015. With all the changes I am implementing, it makes sense that it happens all at once. Let the cities losing NHL teams absorb the idea that they are losing something great that they have failed to acknowledge since those teams arrived in their respected cities. I like the date 2015, especially for the expansion teams.
Seattle is building a new arena, and citizens are petitioning to bring the Super Sonics and an NHL team back. They have a stadium, Key Arena, but it is just terrible. From the way the stadium is set up for hockey, 25% of the arena has obstructed viewing. The Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL used to play there, and the dissatisfaction of the fans at the games was one of many reasons why they moved to Kent, Washington to compete. If it goes according to plan, the expected completion date of the arena will be 2014.
*Seattle Thunderbirds, after WHL team.
Portland is home to the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. Ever been to a game? Many have said that the atmosphere at these games is equivalent to a Stanley Cup playoff. They play at the Rose Garden, same home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. The city is mixed about hosting an NHL team, but mixed opinion on the side of “FOR” is enough to support a team. Because their identity is 99% identical to the Chicago Blackhawks, they would need to rebrand.
*Portland Pythons, a temporary name for this blog post.
Before I continue, there’s one team that should consider rebranding – New York Islanders. In 2015, the Islanders will be moving to Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center. According to sources, they will be keeping the Islanders name. This is not a good idea.
Even though Brooklyn is geographically on the Island, they are without question two separate entities. Brooklyn is known as a borough of Manhattan, not as a Long Island sector. Both have different lifestyles and customs. They should change their name to accommodate that custom, and to re-enhance their rivalry with the Rangers. I have come up with a name that will do just that: the Brooklyn Renegades.
What is a Ranger? The Rangers were named after the Central Park Rangers, officials who maintain law and order. What is a Renegade? A renegade is someone who rejects law and order and lives for disorder and chaos. The disorder and chaos in this case, wrecking it on the ice and on the scoreboard. Looking at their current rosters and prospect development, the Islanders will be a very competitive team by 2015. If the Islanders were like what they use to be in the 70s and 80s, I would be against the name change.
Here is how the new divisions will look:
For the minor leagues, personally, I am not a fan of there being multiple minor professional hockey leagues (AHL, ECHL, SPHL, CHL, FHL). My idea would be to make two leagues, one “AAA” league and one “AA” league. The “AAA” league will remain the American Hockey League and the “AA” will be renamed the International Hockey League. Every league will have teams that are within a close proximity of one another and have the ability to create and enhance new and current rivalries.
Here is how the American League will look:
Oklahoma City Barons
San Antonio Rampage
*This division will be a combination of AHL and CHL teams that are located within a close proximity of one another. Wichita and Missouri are major rivals in the CHL. Wichita has an AHL-sized arena; Missouri has an amazing draw every game. Oklahoma and Tulsa have the ability to rekindle that “Turner Turnpike” rivalry. Four Texas-based teams with big followings will create many in-state rivalries, some more talked about than the Stars.
Capital City Rangers1
St. John’s Ice Caps
*All New York-state teams will be in the same division, creating an Empire State rivalry.
Knoxville Ice Bears3
Grand Rapids Griffins
Rockford Ice Hogs
Fort Wayne Komets4
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
WB/ Scranton Penguins
1 – Albany, NY is home to more Rangers fans than Devils fans. Let New York’s Capital District develop the stars for New York’s major city.
2 – With the relocation of Philadelphia’s farm team to Trenton (see 5), and since Glens Falls, NY is near the mountains, the name kind of makes sense, in my opinion.
3 – The SPHL’s Knoxville Ice Bears have the best attendance drawing in terms of percentage capacity (around 3400 out of 4973 since 2004/05) for a league that competes at a level below ECHL and CHL and above FHL. This move will help establish the Nashville Predator identity across Tennessee.
4 – The Fort Wayne Komets, currently in the ECHL, have moved from league-to-league since the 90s. But, they still draw massive crowds every game (7,402 per game so far in 2012/13, 1st in ECHL). The fan base deserves a more competitive and skilled team to root for, and since they have dominated at the “AA” level (9 championships between International Hockey League, United Hockey League, and Central Hockey League), they can afford the risk of trying their luck at “AAA” level.
5 – The Jersey Phantoms will play in Trenton, NJ and be the AHL affiliate for the Flyers. The cities are 35 miles away from one another, making call ups and send downs a breeze. Currently, they are home to the ECHL’s Trenton Titans. The Titans have an interesting history. When the team came to the ECHL in 1999 as the Flyers affiliate, every game was packed. Flyers fans, and even Rangers and Devils fans, would come to games to root for New Jersey’s capital city squad. Their 2004/05 Kelly Cup run has been said to be the most historic. In 2006, the Devils took over the Titans and rebranded them to the “Trenton Devils “ the following year. Instead of family fun, the focus of this ECHL team was solely player development and a “baby devil” mascot interacting with kids. Their primary goal was to bring the AHL to Trenton, but under the “Devils” moniker, and move the ECHL team to Atlantic City. That failed completely. As a result, the team folded in the summer of 2011 with a reported $3.5 million lost over the “T-Devs” reign. Later that summer of 2011, a new investment group bought the team and brought back the Titans. Thousands were raving over their return; however, attendance and popularity in the community showed something completely different. Their current marketing strategies and usage of media have drawn 3,000 in attendance per game since the Titans revival, but that number correlates to tickets sold for a game, not people who actually showed up to said game. Flyers fans in South Jersey welcome the opportunity to bring the AHL to Trenton as the Flyers affiliate (based on the majority I have talked to). But if that happens, most Flyers fans would like to retain the AHL Phantoms identity. Jersey Phantoms sounds cooler than Trenton Phantoms, to me at least. Goes to show you how much New Jersey cares about its NHL teams.
Here is how the International Hockey League will look:
San Francisco Bulls
Arizona Sun Dogs
Las Vegas Wranglers
*Arizona will join the ECHL Pacific teams based on Prescott Valley’s close proximity to these cities. The Sun Dogs do have a popular following and enough fans to function, unlike Phoenix.
Rapid City Rush
*The Colorado Eagles and Denver Cutthroats are located one hour away from each other by car. Eagles have been known for their consecutive sellouts, and Cutthroats are a new team doing fairly well in the CHL. Can lead to a “Centennial State” rivalry that will draw heavy interest in the Loveland and Denver communities.
South Carolina Stingrays
Greenville Road Warriors
Pensacola Ice Flyers
Orlando Solar Bears
Fayetteville Fire Antz
*This division will consist of the ECHL southern teams and the successful SPHL teams.
St. Charles Chill
Evansville Ice Men
Quad City Mallards
*St. Charles will be a CHL expansion team for the 2013/14 season. They are gaining a lot of recognition lately, especially for naming a woman as the team’s GM, in a positive way. It’s closeness to Bloomington, Quad City, and Evansville will create interesting rivalries.
Mohawk Valley Mayhem6
*Dayton will be the only FHL team to enter any league, since Hara Arena seats 5,000 and the others less than 2,500.
6 – Utica, NY, located in Mohawk Valley, is home to the Utica College Pioneers, a D-III hockey team. They play at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. It seats 4,000 for hockey. For a D-III school, they average over 3,000 fans a game. The city welcomes the opportunity to host a minor league hockey team. When they come up with a name, they should consider using Mohawk Valley over Utica in their name. Fans in the area are willing to support two teams.