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NHL expansion could alter landscape for San Jose Sharks

Toronto might not fight over which team is stuck with Rob Ford as a fan, but finding taking fans away from the Maple Leafs seems unlikely.
Toronto might not fight over which team is stuck with Rob Ford as a fan, but finding taking fans away from the Maple Leafs seems unlikely.Photo by Brett Gundlock/Getty Images

NHL expansion

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The San Jose Sharks announced their new broadcasting team for the 2014-15 NHL season Wednesday, Aug. 27. Could the itinerary of the newly-promoted Jamie Baker—the natural choice to take over for Drew Remenda (Bret Hedican takes the vacancy on the radio team)—soon include new cities?

Former expansion-era San Jose Shark Jamie Baker will take Drew Remenda's place in the boradcast booth
Former expansion-era San Jose Shark Jamie Baker will take Drew Remenda's place in the boradcast boothPhoto by Al Bello/Getty Images

Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area listed each of the pictured cities as rumored NHL expansion candidates. The captions provide summaries of the pros and cons of each that are further examined below, and they could impact the Pacific Division landscape for the Sharks.

Before the right cities should be tackled, the idea of expansion needs to be addressed. Ratto also addressed this and came to the same conclusion Examiner did—there are too many current NHL franchises struggling to even consider more.

Ratto even mentioned there was talk of adding four teams by 2017. If Gary Bettman insists on adding teams after a third lockout in his three negotiated collective bargaining agreements, he has to do it to give the NHL balance.

Both teams added must be west of the Eastern Time Zone or the Detroit Red Wings will have to relocate back to the Western Conference despite their location. That should already rule out Toronto and Quebec City, but is not the only reason not to put a team in either place.

Canada has the hottest hockey fan base, but that does not make either location right for NHL expansion. Hamilton has also been trying to get a team for some time and would be a better choice. They have the facilities and probably would still have the ownership if offered a serious shot at a team. However, they are too close to both the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs to compete as a relatively small city.

The Maple Leafs are the top reason Toronto is the wrong choice for NHL expansion. Competing against an Original Six team in its own city is insane.

The ineptitude of Toronto's long-standing team could give another team a chance to capture some anguished fans in a transient city. It might also attract a few new fans to the sport in that sizable a market. Seventh-round picks also sometimes work out, but not often enough: 19 of the first 22 drafted by San Jose general manager Doug Wilson (2003 through 2011) were no better than John McCarthy will never be more than a reserve at the NHL level.

For every Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun or Jason Demers, there are several that range from Jay Barriball to John McCarthy (successive picks in the seventh round of the 2006 NHL draft). Those are not good odds, and they would not be much better in Quebec City than Toronto.

The older settlement is far enough away to compete with the Original Six Montreal Canadiens, but its former team could not. The Quebec Nordiques moved right at the beginning of Bettman's tenure—call it the lockout era since no other commissioner has had one, months after the first ended in 1995. Is the game so different as to support a team better this time around when there are more options for the sports enthusiast these days?

The one that seems most likely is Seattle. Long a supportive hockey market in part because of its proximity to Canada, it also has a void to fill with the Supersonics moving to Oklahoma City. The drive to get another NBA team is much stronger, but the NHL could be a vehicle to make sure facilities and fan support are premium enough to attract a new team.

Seattle would certainly be a Pacific Division team, possibly signaling the departure of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. Filling the other open spot would be either the Colorado Avalanche or another expansion team in Las Vegas.

Another potential Pacific Division city, it poses issues for the NHL. A franchise in a gambling hotbed for a league with recent gambling issues? It is also a transient population that does not foster a deeply-rooted hockey fan base.

Then again, it is a large, wealthy city with no competing major sports franchises. The casinos and performances rely more on tourist revenue than local sports fans in need of an outlet, even if only to see their hometown team come to their new home.

The next likely choice is Kansas City. They built a new arena when they were wooing the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is not so new anymore, but has to be suitable for some time and its construction shows the community supports a team. It is far enough away from St. Louis and Dallas, but close enough to be natural rivals for both.

The other city Ratto mentioned was Milwaukee. Its omission from the rumored list was evidence to him that it is about money more than hockey markets.

Milwaukee is larger than Kansas City and a more natural location for hockey with frozen lakes abound throughout the state (over a thousand more than in Minnesota), a rich tradition of Wisconsin Badgers hockey and a well-supported minor league team. It already has NBA-level facilities, and proximity to the Chicago Blackhawks might bring in more fans through the natural rivalry than it loses to current fans of the Original Six team.

Thus, either Milwaukee or Kansas City would be a better fit than Colorado for the Central Division if neither Seattle or Las Vegas gets a team. If just one is added to each Western Conference division, no teams would need migrate.

That could leave the Sharks with a one or two new Pacific Division rivals soon. We can only hope that the current rival Arizona Coyotes (formerly Phoenix, like naming them after the state instead of the city will sell tickets) are at least close to solvent before it happens.