Monday, August 29, 2011

The NHL needs more teams in Canada, where the game is more than just a game

Canada. With a population of 34,565,000, it makes for fertile sports territory. There are thousands of potential fans waiting for a team to support. However, in the last few decades, there has been a series of team relocations that have taken place amongst the 4 major North American leagues to get teams out of our brother to the North.

It all started in 1995, when the NHL relocated the Quebec Nordiques to Denver and reincarnated them as the Colorado Avalanche. The Nordiques had an average attendance of 14,395, just around the NHL norm at the time. However, the NHL shipped them to Denver, where, in the 2009-2010 season, they averaged 13,947 people, just about the same as they did back in Quebec.

The NHL next shipped the Winnipeg Jets to Arizona to become the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. The Jets were averaging around 13,000 fans in their last 4 years of existence, and the Coyotes averaged 11,989 fans in the '09-'10 season. Do you sense a pattern? Both times, when the NHL relocated a Canadian team to the US, the attendance numbers stayed about the same or even dipped.

It wasn't just the NHL who participated in this sports exodus out of Canada, though. The NBA, in 1995, created the expansion team Vancouver Grizzlies, then promptly whisked them to Memphis in 2001, where attendance has remained at about the Vancouver level for the last decade. The MLB, in 2004, relocated the Montreal Expos, a team that had been in the city for 35 years, to our nation's capital. In this case, the average attendance did go up by a lot, almost double, but that probably has more to do with the sport (baseball), than the country that the team was from.

I understand the NBA and MLB relocations. For the NBA, they experimented and failed in Vancouver and needed a fresh start. For the MLB, it was purely a business decision. But for the NHL, they experimented by moving 2 teams with solid fan bases from a country where hockey is more than just a sport to a country where hockey is in fourth place, behind football, baseball, and basketball.

I say we should get more NHL teams in Canada, where the people truly love the game. Quebec, Hamilton, Halifax, Victoria, Windsor, and Regina all could support a hockey team, at least better than many US cities do. The Islanders, Coyotes, Blue Jackets, and Panthers all have low attendance figures and small fan bases. They are all possibilities to relocate. The relocation of the Thrashers was a step in the right direction, but more change needs to come, and it needs to come to Canada.

4 of the top 10 teams in attendance last year were from Canadian cities, and 5 if you include Buffalo (which is essentially a Canadian city when it comes to hockey). Canada loves hockey, and the NHL should love Canada more in return. If New York can support two teams, I'm sure Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver can too. It's time we brought hockey to the place where it is most appreciated, Canada.

What do you think?

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