The Next NHL City to be added to the Western Conference could be… Detroit

By Brad

There seems to be a prevailing logic in NHL expansion circles that because the league currently has two fewer teams in its Western Conference than the Eastern, any expansion 500px-Quebec_Nordiques_Logo_svgscenario would have to include the addition of at least one, if not two, west coast cities, in order to even things out. This would be our supposed advantage over places like Quebec or Toronto if the NHL were to add any more teams. You couldn’t add any more teams to the east coast because they’d have to play in the Western Conference and then they’d have weird travel schedules, or else they’d have to play in the Eastern Conference, which already has more teams and would become so out of balance that the league would actually tip over on its side and spill all its franchises into the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, the next time the league expands, it will add teams to the Western Conference.

And I agree! If the NHL does expand, it definitely will add teams to the Western Conference. This is absolutely true. They just might not be the new teams.

The first problem with this “expansion must be in the west logic” is that it assumes that the NHL is locked into its current alignment, and that it would be unwilling to make the divisions any more uneven, or have a team in a division that doesn’t really make sense geographically. That would be really weird if it were true, because it would not only force them to add one team on the west coast, where at least there are two potential markets in Seattle and Portland, but also one in the Midwest/Mountain region where the prospects are slimmer. Are you going to put a team in Kansas City simply because you have a spot open in that division? Or Houston? Probably not, though I have to admit, it would be pretty funny if the NHL suddenly added a franchise to Houston without asking, like the neighbors dropping off a fruitcake on Christmas.

And once you accept the possibility of the NHL realigning its divisions again, you begin to see that they actually have a lot of flexibility right now. You’ve got Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago and Columbus all along the western Great Lakes but split into three different divisions, two teams in Florida chilling out all by themselves, and Colorado almost perfectly placed between the two western divisions. You could add one or two teams to just about anywhere on the map and be able to make it work.

realignment map

Detroit is probably the most likely candidate to be shifted to the Western Conference. Geographically it makes sense, and they have a long history there already, as well as rivalries with Chicago and Minnesota that extend beyond hockey to all four major sports. There has been some talk that the team may have been eager to join the Eastern Conference in order to reduce their travel burden, but under the current scheduling format, they would actually travel less if they played in the Central Division. They’d be closer to the teams in their division, and only playing one additional game against Pacific division teams than the teams in the Eastern Conference. Besides that, the Red Wings have been playing in a predominantly western Conference since 1981, and during that time, the team has been pretty successful.

The other candidate to change conferences would be Columbus, which a quick glance at Google maps shows to be remarkably aligned with Detroit in terms of east-west geography. In the event of two teams being added to the east coast (such as Toronto and Quebec), both teams could added to the Central division, with Colorado sliding over to the Pacific. Colorado isn’t really close to the Pacific teams, but they aren’t close to the Central teams, either, so that move would be kind of a wash.

As an expansion candidate, Seattle has a lot of things going for it – a big, growing metro area, proximity to Canada, economic prosperity, and the prospect of a new, state-of-the-art arena being built here soon. But it’s a mistake to assume that the NHL would give preference to putting a franchise here just because we’re on the west coast.

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The weeks roundup of news and what it means to NHL coming to Seattle

Last week was another surprisingly busy week on the NHL to Seattle front. Environmental Impact Study on SodoArena was released, Chris Hansen is identified as a backer of the Referendum push for the Arena in Sacramento and an Arena in Great Toronto Area is on the rocks. This is August right? This should be a dead time for news.

1st the Environmental Impact Study (EIS): I am by no means and expert in analyzing the results and if you are, feel free to read through the 437 page document + hundreds of other pages in the Appendix. From what I understand, there moreEISare no red flags and the results couldn’t be better. One of my favorite outputs of the EIS is that the Arena stands to produce 286 million per year to economy vs 230k impact the Port of Seattle. Umm..yes, that is 286M with an M versus 230K with a K. Surprisingly, the Seattle Times hasn’t covered this at all. We now enter 45 days of public comments & there are 2 meetings on the calendar Sept 10 & 19 at Seattle City Hall. Expect me to make some noise about those events.

What does that me to us?  This is great news. Things are progressing for the SoDo Site. We need to continue to make our presence felt in support of the Arena.

2nd Chris Hansen was identified as a donor of the Referendum efforts in Sacramento:  This was an anti-Sac arena move after he congratulated the City and KJ on keeping the team. This isn’t fj7tD_AuSt_4great and although I have opinions on the Sac Arena deal, I think that is really up to the people of Sacramento. I don’t like outsiders telling our city how to vote and therefore don’t really weigh in to other politics. Chris has since owned it and Brian Robinson from SonicsRising.com put an excellent, authentic piece together on the subject. To be so close, I can totally see why Hansen did this and if this is his only blemish, I would say we still have a great person leading the efforts.

What does that me to us?  Depends. If you believe the NBA must still come to Seattle first, this is definitely a setback but certainly something that can and will be fixed. The NBA owners might not like this move by Hansen as it technically goes right against their vote for Sac. So the people that must vote him in can now make it a little more challenging….as if it wasn’t already. Michael McCann said it best on twitter, “There’s that saying ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I bet each NBA team owner has made mistakes in judgment.” Now if you If you believe the NHL can come first, this doesn’t change the outcome too much. Hansen might be less confident and therefore might want to make sure he covers his risk a little bit more without a guarantee. At the end of the day, I don’t think this is very material of an impact.

3rd the Markham Arena deal could be killed in September: It looks like the second NHL ready rink in the Greater Toronto Area is going to be shelved for now. GTA is widely believed to be able to support a second franchise but the Council member that supported it in Markham believes that the league is focused image.jpgon Quebec City and Seattle. He doesn’t really have any insider information but certainly doesn’t want to be caught with a $300M+ white elephant gift with no guarantees of an NHL team.

What does that me to us?  Very little. By killing an Arena plan for Markham, it certainly eliminates a perceived competition but if the league wants a second team in GTA it will get one. It will have municipalities and billionaires falling all over themselves to make it happen.

Any while I am pushing links, here was a great article on former Seattle Thunderbird and current Dallas Star Brenden Dillion. Love hearing about these guys as they continue progress in their career.  http://mynorthwest.com/745/2335509/From-undrafted-to-shutdown-defenseman-Brenden-Dillon-excelling-with-NHLs-Dallas-Stars

Canadian impact on Mariners Attendance

by John

Long story short but I met a friend outside of Safeco on Tuesday night right around first pitch of the Mariners-Jays baseball game. He was running late so I was loitering around for about 15 minutes. I always knew that a lot of local Canadians would go check out the Jays when they came to town but I really figure that it was similar for every team (i.e. Michigan folk check out the Tigers, Bostonians check out the Red Sox, etc.) As I was waiting for my friend, I was shocked at how many Toronto shirts were going through the turnstiles. If I could venture a guess, it seemed like 60 to 70% of the people going in were Jays fans. Realistically, I know 60 to 70% wasn’t really possible for an out of town team but I noticed and wondered how I validate that observation. I’ve often mentioned to people that there sure seems like a lot of Canadians live in the area but have never been able to validate my theory.

Wednesday evening, I started to look at some Mariner attendance data. I went back 5 years and got game by game data so I could compare like games to Toronto’s games. The first thing to point out is that Monday through Thursday games average 30% less that Saturday or Sunday games. Here are how the last 5 years of Mariners have shaken out by day of the week:

Mariners attendance by Day of the Week

Toronto comes to town every year and has only played mid-week series (opposed to Weekend Series) over the last 5 years and only in 2011 have they come to town twice (both times that year they played Monday – Wednesday). When we isolate the Blue Jays games these are how the numbers look:Mariners and Blue Jays attendance by Day of the Week

As you can see the Blue Jays are a big draw for the Mariner’s compared to other games on the same day of the week. Over the last 5 years, the Jays have drawn 23% over average attendance for Mon-Wed games. This year they drew 52%, 74% & 79% higher for their Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday games. MatchupsThe Mariners-Blue Jays Tuesday and Wednesday games were the highest attended Tuesday and Wednesday games of the 2013 season. Monday was only the second highest Monday game attended…with opening day the highest attended Monday game of the year.

Digging deeper: Excluding interleague play, only the New York Yankees have drawn more fans than Toronto on Mon-Wed games. As you can see from the table to the right, Cubs & Atlanta have drawn better than Toronto over the last 5 years. Those teams have only played one series in the last 5 years and there is a novelty factor in trying to see all teams in the league.

I think this proves my point here, there is a huge impact on attendance when the Toronto comes to town. This is a mix of Canadians in the area as well as our brothers and sisters from Vancouver making the trek. I would love to know what % is coming from where but until the Mariners turn over their database to me, I don’t think it is going to happen.

To wrap it up, I looked at the top 10 highest attended Monday through Wednesday games over the last 5 years and remarkably, Toronto has 3 out of the top 10 but when you remove the 3 opening nights that fell on a Monday, Toronto had 3 of the Top 5. I knew Canadians would often attended the Blue Jays games but I never expected the impact could be so significant. With 7 Canadian NHL teams coming through Seattle a year, plus BC and Alberta teams coming through multiple times, we are looking at a guaranteed 10 sellouts a year which is already more than 8 teams in the NHL. This will be a distinct business advantage an NHL franchise in Seattle when comparing themselves to other teams because Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and even the Leafs do not draw well on the road in most US markets. The Canadian impact could be a lot bigger than any of us could have predicted.

Top10 Most attended Mon-Wed Games

Lots of hurdles for Expansion but expanding in pairs is not one of them.

by Brad

In 1978, the NHL’s Cleveland Barons merged with the Minnestoa North Stars, bringing the total number of teams in the NHL down from 18 to 17. The next year, four teams fromcleveland_barons_2000 the World Hockey Association were added to the league, bringing the number up to 21. For the next twelve seasons, the NHL went on with this odd number and, remarkably, the league did not implode – divisions were set up, schedules somehow still got made, fans saw some great hockey, and nobody ever questioned the legitimacy of the Islanders, Oilers or any other team’s championships during that era. The league carried on as usual, blissfully unaware that the way it was set up was a direct insult to the very laws of mathematics.

Or so you would think, reading any of the news about possible expansion to Seattle these days. Many articles written on the subject have mentioned that an expansion to Seattle would require the addition of a second new franchise as well, in order to keep the number of teams even. Bleacher Report, perhaps the most trustworthy of all websites that feature both sports analysis and lists of the sexiest WWE Divas, went as far as to say that “With 30 teams currently in the league, expansion would need to occur in pairs.”  But while it’s certainly fun to speculate about additional cities entering the league – especially for people in potential NHL destinations like Quebec, Portland, Toronto, or Kansas City – it’s really a not a requirement at all. The NHL has functioned with an odd number of teams before and could do so again.

Perhaps you are thinking that sure, that was all well in good in the 80s, when there were only 21 teams, and this made the impact of one oddball was somehow different. But the NHL also had an odd number of teams as recently as 1998, when it added the Nashville Predators to rousing cheers of “Hockey? What’s that?” throughout the state of Tennessee. And aside from a few confused Preds fans wondering how you score a touchdown in this newfangled sport, things went along just fine. Sure, the league added another team the very next year to even things out again, but they didn’t have to (other than perhaps for purposes of keeping Steve Staios in the league a bit longer). And actually, that’s sort of encouraging in its own way, as it shows that if there were a second candidate for expansion, we wouldn’t necessarily need to wait for them to be ready. Seattle could get started right away, while the second franchise could join the league a few years later.

Realignment

This situation  isn’t unique to the NHL, either. From 1999 until 2002, the NFL played with 31 teams (exactly the same number the NHL would have if it added a team here). And for the NBA, a league which is quite similar to the NHL in terms of schedule and divisional structure, having an odd number of teams in the league is fairly normal. The NBA went 24 consecutive years with an uneven number of teams, from 1980 all the way to 2004, even while adding six new teams to the league. Nobody ever said “Oh, sorry Miami, you seem like a good city for a franchise, and I bet we could make a lot of money here, but we’re really trying to get a nice, even 26 teams right now.” Both of those leagues survived – thrived, actually – because having an odd or even number of teams in a sports league is a supremely easy obstacle to overcome, and conference balance is much less of a concern that generating big piles of cash.

There are significant obstacles to getting an NHL team here – finding an owner and a place for the team to play are highest among them. But locating a second market to enter the league at the same time as us isn’t one of them.