Jul 2, 2000
With the completion of the NHL Draft Weekend, the rosters of the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets are now stocked. Finally, the decade which brought us 9 new expansion franchises is over and teams can get back to building depth. No longer (at least not for a while) will the threat of losing a budding prospect or key veteran because they were not protected, exist. For example, just this year, Colorado was forced into giving up prospect Marc Denis, for a bargain basement price, for fear of losing him in the expansion draft. But the problem with expansion goes far beyond an issue of depth.
Expansion may have had its benefits and may have been necessary to expand a national interest in hockey. However, the problem with expansion is that it was overdone at a time when another major problem should have been the priority of the league. Several Canadian hockey clubs seem to be dying a slow death, not to mention the two that have already packed up and left. Trying to remain north of the border and be competitive at the same time, has become a constant struggle. Instead of worrying about bringing so many new teams into the league in such a short period of time, the league should have concentrated on stabilizing what they had and preserving hockey in Canada, the universal home to the game.
Anyone who has not experienced a game in Toronto or Montreal, or even simply been at a local Canadian bar on a Saturday evening watching the traditional doubleheader of "Hockey Night In Canada" does not know what hockey means to Canadians. It is almost religion-like, as kids and adults alike seem to worship a game played and followed in the smallest of towns as well as the big cities. It's not like the United States where baseball, basketball, and football compete for athletes and fans. Canada is hockey and it's as simple as that. In a country where some fairly substantial cultural differences exist among the citizens, hockey is a unifying force felt coast to coast.
It seems, however, that very few Canadian NHL franchises (namely Toronto and Montreal) can escape persistent rumors of a south of the border re-location. Two clubs (Quebec and Winnipeg) have already given in to the lure of the American dollar and the threat continues to haunt Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa. Now that expansion is over, the league needs to change its focus to saving these teams. Just 11 years ago Canadian teams made up 33% of the league. Today that number has been reduced to 20% and could be reduced even more in the very near future.
Simply saving these franchises, however, will not be enough. They need to be made competitive once again. This means not simply battling for the 7th and 8th playoff positions, but rather realistically competing for the Stanley Cup, something a Canadian team has not done since Vancouver lost to the Rangers in 1994. Even Toronto and Montreal are not exempt from this drought, as neither has visited the finals since 1993. For these teams to become competitive once again, the uneven financial playing field Canadian teams seem to compete on must be fixed, whether that be in the form of some kind of salary cap or revenue sharing.
With the lower valued Canadian dollar it is extremely tough for smaller market teams to keep their star players who make big salaries, or even younger players who are on the verge of cashing in on high dollar contracts. One need only look at several NHL stars who have played in Canada in recent years and have been shipped south of the border in an effort to cut costs. The list starts with Wayne Gretzky back in 1988 and continues with Paul Coffey, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Theo Fleury, Pavel Bure, Patrick Roy, Vincent Damphousse, and Mark Recchi just to name a few. Basically, the smaller market Canadian teams have almost developed into a farm system for their American counterparts. Rarely, it seems, will a top level NHL talent be traded from an American club to a Canadian club.
Canada is where hockey as we know it originated. Over 60% of the players in the NHL are Canadian and letting these teams slip away would be like taking U.S. Major League Baseball teams and planting them north of the border. Finding an answer to this problem will not be easy, as it unfortunately will need to center around the almighty dollar. But now that expansion is out of the way, hopefully the league and the owners, will make this issue a priority, before the great traditions of teams like the Flames, Oilers, and Canadians are reduced to distant memories.
Your own opinions can be expressed in the message forums.
Editorials are opinions of the author, not this website, the owner of this website or any of its members.