NHL's Bill Daly Shoots Down Rumors Of League's Plan To Expand To 32 Teams
Talk of the NHL possibly expanding to 32 teams "has floated for a long time," but it has "never been officially adopted as a go-ahead strategy" by the league, according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. Former NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly on Tuesday told the Markham, Ontario, City Council that "while he ran the players' union (2007-09) he was made aware of the NHL’s plan to expand to 32 teams with the presumption that those two markets probably would be Toronto and Quebec City." However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly yesterday said, "There’s never been a plan to expand to 32 teams. Whether we talked conceptually at some point if things are going well whether we could expand to 32, I’m sure we suggested we could, but we certainly never reached the point where that was appropriate when Paul Kelly was executive director of the NHLPA and I’d say we haven’t got there at this point." He added, "I’d say any sports league aspires to be in a position where expansion is a good idea. But again, it’s got to be the right circumstances." Daly figures that Kelly is referring to "conversations he would have had with the league during his time at the NHLPA, when the NHL was fighting off Jim Balsillie’s attempt to move the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes to Southern Ontario, and the rules governing a second team in that area" (ESPN.com, 1/30).
FIVE-YEAR PLAN? The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes as much as the NHL "tried to distance itself from Kelly’s assertions that a 32-team league was its ultimate end game, Kelly correctly identified the two elements the NHL requires before it will even consider an expansion or relocation scenario -- a modern building filled with the necessary bells and whistles to extract every possible dollar from the paying customer, and a deep-pockets’ ownership group able to swallow hard when they hear what the cost of an expansion franchise in the metropolitan Toronto area will be." Just because the expansion plan to Toronto "isn’t official yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen." NHL owners are "not stupid when it comes to seeing windfall profits in the making." Internally, they have "long viewed a second team in Toronto as 'low-hanging fruit' -- easy money in their pockets." That is why there has "always been something of a disconnect between what they say in public about expansion (no plans beyond considering the idea 'conceptually') and what some owners really believe (what are we waiting for!)." Whatever the number "eventually is, it will be one price for Toronto and a second, lower price for an expansion franchise in, say, Quebec, where the projected revenues for a new Nordiques team couldn’t come close to what they’d be for a new team in the Greater Toronto Area." The ultimate vision for the NHL is to "move slowly toward a 32-team entity, which would consist of four eight-team conferences and create a nice symmetry." But that "isn’t going to happen until some of the perennial trouble spots -- Phoenix and beyond -- are stabilized, which is going to take some time, perhaps as much as five years" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/31).