NHL Expansion: No Thanks


News broke yesterday that the NHL could be expanding by two teams, possibly as early as 2015. Gary Bettman downplayed the news and said the NHL currently has no plans, which is classic Bettman denial and likely sadly means the reports are probably true. 

For the sake of hockey fans, specifically Canadian hockey fans, I hope the reports are wrong.

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Canadian hockey fans in Canada are getting ripped off enough as it is.

Last year, according to Forbes magazaine, Canada had six of the top seven most expensive average ticket cost (on the secondary market) in the league. Toronto was first at $368, Chicago ($313) was second followed by Winnipeg ($276), Edmonton ($272), Vancouver ($265), Calgary ($262) and Montreal ($257).

Ottawa fans got a bargain basement price at $137, 15th overall. Here is a quick link to see the prices for all 30 teams. Five of the top-six ticket prices were for NON-playoff teams. Ouch.

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To be clear those aren’t the average ticket price. It is hard to get an accurate cost for tickets, because season tickets are lower than single game seats, but on the Oilers site they are currently promoting Power Packs.


The prices of those 17 games average out to:

Gold: $264/seat.
Silver: $242/seat.
Executive: $166/seat
Exec. Terrace: $155/seat
Terrace: $119/seat
Colonnade: $88/seat
Gallery/Standing room: $55 seat

I took the average seat cost of three lower bowl sections, then combined the amount of seats in each section, (projection, not 100% exact, but close) 1,734 gold seats, 1,152 silver and 3,148 executive.and cross-referenced it with the exact lower bowl capacity of 6,034 (provided by Northlands) and came up with an average seat cost of $208/seat per game. Season ticket price are cheaper because you buy the entire season, but it is a good indicator of the overall cost.

Any way you slice it, Oiler fans, and fans across the country are paying big money to attend NHL games. And in many cases the fans are helping subsidize the weaker revenue teams in the USA like Florida, Phoenix, Carolina, etc.

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The last thing Canadian fans should want is more expansion south of the border. I know Las Vegas sounds sexy, because it is a great place to party, but will fans in Seattle and Las Vegas sell out their rink, or pay top dollar to go to games after year two?

Canadian fans shouldn’t have to foot the bill in hockey markets that don’t work. If the NHL wants a team in Seattle or Las Vegas, then relocate Florida. The Panthers aren’t making money on game nights. The owners make their money by owning the rink and having concerts.

We love hockey, but as a season ticket holder, I don’t need to keep paying a ticket increase when I know a portion of that money is going down south to keep struggling franchises afloat.

From a purely financial reason NHL expansion makes no sense for Canadian hockey fans, unless they league puts the new teams in Canada.


But even if the scuttlebutt around expansion involved Canadian cities, I’d still be against it. There isn’t enough talent, especially top-end talent, to fill out new rosters.

I, like most of you, have painfully had to sit through the last five season of Oilers hockey. They finished 30th, 30th, 29th, 24th and 28th. They finished this low in the standings for one simple reason; A lack of proven NHL talent.

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Here is the list of players who have suited up for the Oilers since the start of the 2009/2010 season:

Player GP Player GP
Sam Gagner 326 Teemu
Jordan Eberle 275 Andy Sutton 52
Ladislav Smid 272 Darcy
Ryan Jones 247 Martin
Taylor Hall 246 Mike Comrie 43
Shawn Horcoff 236 Mark
Jeff Petry 236 Jesse Joensuu 42
Ales Hemsky 231 Fernando
Tom Gilbert 208 Steve Staios 40
Ryan Smyth 201 Steve
182 Sheldon
164 Mike Brown 35
163 Marc Pouliot 35
Theo Peckham 144 Matt
Dustin Penner 144 Ryan O’Marra 31
Ryan Whitney 139 Will Acton 30
Nick Schultz 128 Philip Larsen 30
122 Chris
115 Ryan Stone 27
Corey Potter 111 Cam Barker 25
Nail Yakupov 111 Mark Fistric 25
Zack Stortini 109 Colten
Gilbert Brule 106 Mark Fraser 23
Eric Belanger 104 Aaron Johnson 19
100 Oscar Klefbom 17
95 Dean Arsene 13
Anton Lander 94 Tyler Pitlick 10
Ben Eager 84 Alex Plante 10
David Perron 78 Jerred
Ethan Moreau 76 Alexandre
Kurtis Foster 74 Josh Green 7
Boyd Gordon 74 Steve
73 Shawn Belle 5
71 Charles
Colin Fraser 67 Chris Minard 5
Luke Gazdic 67 Taylor Fedun 4
Linus Omark 66 Brad Hunt 3
Ryan Potulny 64 Philippe
62 Ryan Hamilton 2
60 Roman Horak 2
Anton Belov 57 Colin
57 Richard
57 Milan Kytnar 1
54 Johan Motin 1
Liam Reddox 53 Bryan Rodney 1

Some of those players would be hard-pressed to make an expansion team.

Some players have gone on to succeed on other NHL teams: Cogliano, Brodziak, Gilbert, Horcoff, Hemsky, Visnovsky, Penner, Lupul, Souray, Staios, Fraser, McDonald and Smid, but most of the players who played for the Oilers during that time, and aren’t here anymore, are no longer in the NHL.

Others retired, Strudwick, and a few had their careers ended due to injury, Pisani, Whitney, but the vast majority of those other players simply weren’t good enough to play on an NHL team that wasn’t a bottom-five team.

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Expansion will provide 46 more NHL jobs, but most of the players taking those jobs won’t be productive or NHL calibre players. There simply isn’t enough quality talent to fill two more rosters and make those teams competitive in four or five years.

The Oilers have had five top-seven picks and they still haven’t finished better than 24th. You need more than just a few young stars to be competitive.

I’d much rather see some teams like Florida relocate to Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec or Toronto than expand to a 32-team league.

Gary, please say no to expansion. We don’t need it.

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

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  • Spoils


    Nate Silver didn’t answer the question of expansion per se, but he did re-org the league to better reflect fanbases.

    the net I get from that is expansion in LV might not be as smart as expansion to add another Ontario team or quebec team, and maybe best accomplished by moving teams out of markets that have a persistent intrinsic drag – florida, columbus etc.

    incentives for owners to move or sell maybe? seems tough to accomplish, but a healthier league would maximize the market (grow the pie) and better support longer term pioneer expansion.

    Also – focused effort to grow the game in europe and russia and to better sell world cup/olympic play should be addressed first.

  • Spoils

    1990 cup run year – we got into mid upper blues for $14.50 each. Can’t even stand for $55 a game + TAX+TAX+TAX+TAX Why would I? Forget it. I can go fishing for 4 days for less than 2 entry seats after taxes.

  • A-Mc

    My take on NHL expansion….

    As it is right now the talent pool is diluted.
    For one we only require at the most 24 teams.
    Season calendar is too long; I’d say 70 games versus 82. Start in mid-October and end in late March. Playoffs should all be best of 5. Not 7.
    Prorate players’ salaries, tickets and merchandising should be more affordable.

  • Ryan14

    I don’t understand the relation between expansion and hockey ticket prices in Canada.

    Prices in Canada are that high because the fans are more than willing to pay. The constant sellouts and wait list to get season tickets suggest this. If fans in Edmonton or TO weren’t willing to pay the prices, they wouldn’t fork over the money and prices would drop to Ottawa level prices.

    It doesn’t matter if it is a 30 team leagues, a 34 team league, or a 24 team league. The prices would still be the same in hockey mad markets.

    • ubermiguel

      Agreed, it’s basic economics; the best price to charge for your item is the maximum that at least one person will pay. And Edmontonians are willing to pay a lot more than fans in other markets.

      • Serious Gord

        That maximal pricing idea works if you have only one event to sell. The oil are 41 events (assuming no playoffs) per year every year indefinitely. Too high a price for events now could hurt attendance in the long run. And too high a price definitely discourages young fans from attending. That was a lesson learned in Toronto both with the jays and the Argos. And it could bite the leafs if a scene team comes to town much as there was significant backlash against the Yankees that moved to the mets when they were created – outdrawing the Yankees in the mid sixties through to the early seventies.

        Boxing thought it was the smart thing to go 100% to pay per view decades ago. In hindsight that looks to have been a very big mistake.

        • ubermiguel

          I didn’t want to complicate things but yeah, it’s 18000 units over 41 dates with a variety of perceived values and elasticities so the optimal profit calculation would be a bit more complicated. But the principle holds that tix here cost more because more people are willing to pay more.

          But that’s talking about the optimal price. Pricing for building new markets and customers does require some discounts.

          • Serious Gord

            Sports like many other things like insurance, software, cable, telephones – are essentially sold on a subscription basis. It is a delicate balance between getting the most out of the client but not too much that they go elsewhere.

            The key difference and complicating factor with sports franchises like the oil is that it is a finite product supply in the short-term. And alternatives to the client are much more limited. More can be charged but getting the number right is much more difficult.

  • A-Mc

    Articles like this help to illustrate exactly why expansion makes sense (with in reason).

    “Since the early 1990s, when the NHL embarked on its aggressive expansion into the U.S., the number of Americans playing the game has ballooned by 257 per cent. Canada’s registration levels have remained comparatively flat, averaging 550,000 over the last decade.

    Surprisingly, much of the upsurge has occurred in sunbelt regions whose mere mention still induces snickers from the sport’s northern purists. By the end of last year, fully 42,988 players had registered in U.S.A. Hockey’s southeast region, encompassing former hockey wastelands like Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. That’s a near-tenfold increase from the number playing 20 years ago, and has been accompanied by similar growth in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific regions.”

    This is how you grow your sport and it appears that Bettman subscribes to this idea; revenue sharing be damned.

  • The Last Big Bear

    “There simply isn’t enough quality talent to fill two more rosters and make those teams competitive in four or five years”

    I know you guys are all drinking this self-reassuring Kool-Aid about how (re)building a team takes a really long time, but within 5 years of expansion:

    Florida had been in the cup finals.

    Minnesota had made the conference finals.

    San Jose had been past the first round twice.

    Ottawa had started an 11-season playoff streak.

    Anaheim and Tampa had both made the playoffs.

    Nashville took 6 years to make the playoff from scratch.

    A sound majority of the recent expansion teams who started from nothing were in the playoffs within 5 years.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Oilers 8 years and counting out of the playoffs.

      Flames 5 years and counting out of the playoffs.

      As an Albertan …Embarassing.

      Honest question. Which of these teams – given their current organizations, division, conference, etc. – will go the longest without making a playoff appearance, in terms of consecutive seasons?

      • Parallex

        The smart money would be on the Oilers.

        Just because of the three year lead they have in the current count. Even if the Oilers were to make the playoffs this year the Flames would still need to not make the playoffs for 4 more in order for the Oilers to “win” that contest and a lot can happen in 4 years (random percentage spikes ala Colorado, drafting a generational level player, overall talent drift between conferences making the west weaker).

        I mean if you were able to bet on a single game result when the score was 1-0 the smart bet would always be on the team with the lead right? So it would be with this.

        If I were betting on who makes the playoffs first I’d probably give the Oilers a slight edge but that’s not this.

  • Bishai in the Benches

    I agree with Gregor. The following players suited up for an NHL game WORTH ACTUAL POINTS IN THE ACTUAL STANDINGS.

    Aaron Johnson, Ryan Whitney, Dean Arsene, Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Potulny, Ethan Moreau, Patrick O’Sullivan, Dustin Penner, Ryan Jones, Fernando Pisani, Charles Linglet, Jeff Deslauriers, Taylor Chorney, Jason Strudwick, Zack Stortini, Tom Gilbert, and Mike Comrie.

    I think you can make a case for only 25% of those players being “NHL Calibre”. The talent pool in the NHL is diluted, and icing 2 expansion teams would be like icing the team mentioned above every night for 3-4 years.

    • ubermiguel

      With the over abundance of talent being bought on the hockey market now from Europe and N.America as an example ,that diluted talent you speak of does no longer exist . Rapid change , that appears to be only growing not diminishing . 32 teams will not dilute the league talent pool any where near what you seem to expect . Will it drive away hockey fans , or just increase them as it has always done in the past ? Just look at the talent on the 30 teams now for prospects ! Lots of talent to fill another 2 teams beyond any question . That’s not even considering the players in the next draft .

    • Lowe But Now High Expectations

      Totally agree. But we were a bit spoiled in Edmonton with such a great team. But don’t forget how many other great players played in that era. Stastny, Bossy, Hawerchuk, Lemieux, a young Stevie Y, Trottier, Denis Savard (his skill was unreal) + a whole bunch more.

    • I just reviewed my VHS tape on Oilers winning their last Stanley Cup . My how hockey has changed over those years . The old Oilers look slow in comparison to todays game . Todays game much faster and an incredible amount of more talent . Every generation of ten years is only relative to the years they excelled in . Just ask our old players like Gretzky how much better the athletes are today .

      • ubermiguel

        I know! They’re just kind of floating around with occasional flashes of awesome. And it’s like defence hadn’t been invented and the goalies just learned how to play the week before too. It’s stunning how far goalies have come in that time.

      • Parallex

        While I agree that the overall talent level of hockey is higher today then it has ever been there is no way that John Scott would be a “star” in any era.

  • ubermiguel

    The NHL is throwing out feelers for promotion and research.Look how much traffic and publicity this is getting in 1 or 2 days. (Bertuzzi distraction)
    No doubt they have paid people tracking responses, web-site traffic and throwing out polls on every news feed/blog page possible, anything to try and keep up the coverage with the NFL.
    Why wouldn’t the league want to one up on there biggest competitor in terms of the amount of teams and media coverage in North America. They will eventually Walmart the product!

  • Zarny

    I think 4 divs of 8 is inevitable. I expect 2 new franchises and 2 to relocate.

    I think the subsidizing US franchises argument is overstated from a fans perspective. I don’t believe for 1 second the Leafs, Habs, Oilers, Flames or Canucks would lower or not raise ticket prices if Florida and Arizona were relocated or contracted. They charge the maximum they think the market can bear. Practically, US franchises needing to be subsidized just takes money out of MLSE and Katz’ etc pocket.

    The flip side is expansion fees put $$$ in the owner’s pockets. Which is why no team will ever “relocate” to the Toronto area. The owners will sell that spot to the highest bidder.

    Expansion would certainly water down the league a bit more theoretically; but I’m not sure it would make a practical difference at this point. Collectively 30 teams would give up 4-6 difference makers and the difference between the bottom 200 players now compared to another 46 is definitely inches not miles.

    Death by a thousand cuts I suppose. It certainly wouldn’t improve the product on the ice that is for sure.

  • bwar

    32 teams makes sense. Balance out the conferences and divisions. The so called ‘talent pool dilution’ won’t be noticeable in a few years and assuming the salary cap does its job real talent will slow get distributed to the new teams.

    I think at this point expansion is inevitable. The game seems like it is growing and a 32 team league makes sense.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Just need a 70 cent Canadian dollar and this could all come crashing down no doubt. Once that Canadian gravy train dries up, and the league has to start compensating the Canadian teams for the difference in the US/Canadian dollar. Things could change rather quickly. No way this doesn’t happen though. There are 30 owners anxiously waiting to get their hands on their share of that nearly 2 billion dollar influx of cash.

    Feel bad for the 25-40 yr old crowd. These are their good old days, if you could call it that. Let us keep our team no matter how bad it gets, and we’ll just force ourselves to like it.

  • toprightcorner

    I can count on one hand the number of NHL teams I”d pay to watch. I don’t see this improving with the addition of 4 more rosters full of AHLer, grinders and assorted plugs.

    • Parallex

      Between Oilers games and snippets of all the other games hilites most probably watch over 1,000 games in part at least a year just on your TV’s , computers , etc.. Surprisingly no matter whom Oilers play most are interested in watching the game . Could get NHL and pay a small monthly price to watch more if you prefer . Don’t mind significant games of Flames and other Canadian teams as well . 2-4 more teams will just further add to our enjoyment not diminish it .

  • A-Mc

    Having a team in Seattle would actually be good for the Western teams, as it would (at least somewhat) soften the travel schedules of teams from California and Western Canada, and create a new rivalry where Vancouver fans could make the trip to Seattle and vice versa for games.