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The Straight Edge: Contraction is the answer

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

If the capitalist disasters that have dominated the world headlines in the past year have taught us anything, it’s that no business is above the bottom line. ‘Too big to fail?’ Not anymore.

So why aren’t we holding NHL teams up to the same standard? It’s no secret there are numerous franchises in dire financial shape right now, but anytime their situations are mentioned, the first solution is always moving the team to Kansas City or Las Vegas.

Has contraction never crossed anyone’s mind?

Maybe the NHL has become too big not to fail in some markets. In terms of cold, hard economics, lopping off the two most money-sapping teams in the league would cut down on revenue sharing dollars and perhaps even raise the cap in the process (which the NHL Players’ Association would have to take as some comfort in exchange for the loss of 60-plus jobs).

A 28-team circuit also has benefits in terms of competitiveness. Obviously a realignment of divisions would be necessary, the easiest solution being four groups of seven. That means any whining about a weak third playoff seed (by virtue of the team winning its division) would be gone. Merit again comes out on top.

For those who enjoyed the 1980s, you could even return to a playoff system where a team would have to battle its way out of its own division before moving on to the conference final.

But where’s the human impact, you ask? I recognize pro sports teams are often a vital part of a community, but so is a sawmill or an automobile plant. This is capitalism here, and in the words of Mobb Deep, “Ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks.”

Or, as Richard Sheir, an opponent of public funding for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ arena told the Columbus Dispatch, “They came in with their eyes wide open. This was vetted by some of the best business minds in the community. And the idea that a business, one so fully vetted, still fails...that's how capitalism works.”

Now, I have no bias as to which two teams should be contracted, but clearly the standard should be revenue and attendance. Neither Atlanta nor Phoenix could draw even 11,000 fans the other night, but it’s common to see a lot of empty lower bowl seats in certain rinks.

If an owner of a team that doesn’t draw well wants to continue pumping millions of his own dollars into the franchise, I have no problem with that. If they want revenue sharing, it’s a different story.

The dispersal of the top-end talent would only make the NHL product better, too. All of a sudden a job that used to go to a mediocre first-liner (and they are out there) is now being contested by Rick Nash, Ilya Kovalchuk or Shane Doan.

This does not necessarily mean the end of hockey in these markets; clearly there’s at least 10,000 people in town who enjoy the game. But it does mean a recalibration of expectations is needed. Maybe these are American League markets. If your player payouts go from an NHL-mandated minimum of $40 million down to a much cozier $4 million, there’s a lot less red ink being spilled right off the bat. Lowered ticket prices are more family-friendly and a nice tradeoff for when a miracle season ends with the Calder Cup instead of Stanley’s version.

As I write this, I know there will be skepticism. You might even think I’m crazy. But isn’t propping up a consistent money-loser just to save face madness in itself? We know the NHL isn’t going anywhere; the fan base is solid. But that doesn’t mean the whole is sound – there is sickness in parts.

Contracting two teams may be heart-wrenching and a little embarrassing, but it’s also good business in an age where there are no sacred cows – and those who ignore that fact become hamburger.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.

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