When the National Hockey League or the NHL began its last expansion process in the beginning of the 1990s, increasing the number of teams from 21 to 30, many people considered it as a sign that the NHL was making progress and inroads into unexplored territories and deemed it as a necessity for the future. However, that has not turned out to be the case.
For one, the addition of a staggering nine franchises into the NHL meant the integration of as many as 200 players on the rosters of the team. Although the increase in the European imports into the NHL increased at this time, in the end, all that the expansion did was lower the bar of standards. Instead of acquiring world class players into the team, the teams started to bring in players and loading them to stack their third and fourth lines that can be termed mediocre at best. Prior to the expansion, these players would hardly have the chance to make the squad of a NHL team, let alone play.
With the dilution of the talent pool being a huge setback for the game as a whole, many teams had been placed in markets that are not known for their lover and passion for ice hockey. The popularity of Wayne Gretzky and the success of his Los Angeles Kings team had been a significant factor in the rising popularity of the game in the American Sunbelt.
But Gretzky couldn’t possibly play on forever and the next few years saw him decline as a player and his ultimate trade to St. Louis before he finished his career with the New York Rangers, leaving the NHL with no star whom they could promote. As a result, the casual fans of the southern part of the country began to lose their interest in the game and the teams based in these regions began to suffer financially.
This financial problem was the sole reason for the lockout of the NHL that completely wiped out the 2004/05 season of the NHL. Although there were attempts to create a wage cap that would be directly proportional to the amount of money brought in as revenues, the increasing prices of the Canadian Dollar as well as the success of the bigger teams in terms of the commerce led to a bulging wage cap and this created a burgeoning gap between the top teams and those earning low revenues.
Although the game has been popular in certain regions in the south, it has predominantly been popular in Canada and the regions near its borders and this leaves the teams with no chance of relocation whatsoever. The options are limited for the NHL at the moment. Almost a third of the teams are struggling financially and another third are struggling to break even each year.
And perhaps the best and only viable option at the moment is a contraction. Although it is an extreme alternative, there are no better ones than that at this time.