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Will contraction rear its ugly head in the NHL?

History shows contraction works in the NHL: a 10-team league shrunk down to the Original Six and then thrived for decades. But whether such a dramatic step will be taken remains to be seen.
With both the Canadian and U.S. economies struggling, the future of the NHL is under serious discussion, with more than a handful of franchise facing serious economic woes. So what’s to be done?

Bill Lankhoff lays out the rationale for contracting at least two teams, and perhaps four. It’s not as though the NHL hasn’t gone through contraction before — teams like the Montreal Maroons and the Pittsburgh Pirates were shut down before the fabled Original Six emerged in the 1930s.

In the article, Lankhoff proposes shutting down the Atlanta Threshers and the Florida Panthers and moving other troubled teams, like the New York Islanders, to the likes of Kansas City, Ontario and Seattle. We don’t think any teams will actually be contracted — NHL officials would argue that’s the wrong signal to send to league financial supporters — but the notion that one or more teams could end up moving is a strong possibility. We all know about the New York Islanders discussed in the context of a Kansas City move. We know a good hockey town, Seattle, is sitting without a main winter tenant and with an open arena ready for the NHL. We know Quebec City officials are talking about a new arena. We know there’s a passionate fan base in Winnipeg. And we know an Ontario franchise would be an instant hit.

So where’s the NHL stand on this? Still stubbornly sticking with a business plan that assumes the future of the league lies in a strong Southern U.S. base. But the South isn’t the growth area it once was, and it doesn’t seem like network television really cares whether there’s a Florida Panthers franchise. No business plan will ever be perfect; the sign of the smart businessperson is to accept changes in the business climate and roll with them. With the NHL choosing to ignore these changes, the real issue is how long successful owners will be consigned to subsidizing the less successful owners.