Franchise Relocations: More Common Than We Think

I should be straightforward and confess my bias right off the bat: I hope that the Phoenix Coyotes move to Québec City. I don’t care about the poor, suffering fans in Phoenix, I don’t care about ‘growing the game’, and I don’t care about the millionaires and/or billionaires that stand to lose from the Coyotes moving elsewhere. Even the taxpayers of Glendale, who have been getting the proverbial shaft, are in some ways undeserving of sympathy, for not being more involved. Call me callous, but I’m more interested in reigniting old rivalries (i.e. with Montréal) and witnessing the rebirth of a franchise.

Many people don’t see La Vielle Capitale as a viable long-term location for a hockey team and/or they (somewhat justifiably) feel Phoenix hasn’t really been given a fair chance, but the truth is, "long-term" is a relative term, and losing money sucks. Many franchises have moved over the course of the NHL’s history, and it’s really only younger fans that perceive the NHL as a static entity of 30 teams in certain locations.

Take a look at this chart, showing the growing and shrinking that the NHL has done since 1918:

I’m not going to bother pointing out all the major turns and twists in the NHL’s history in this post (I would surely never do such history justice in one post, and there have already been many capable writers who have already taken on this task) but I think that it’s enough to notice that, very broadly, the NHL has grown – and shrunk – in clusters that loosely reflect North American economic health.

Being right now in the midst of, what may not technically be a recession, but, some rather difficult economic times, it only makes sense the we see some shifting in the NHL’s franchises. That it should come in a cluster also makes a cetain amount of sense, at least, when considering historical precendent.

The other point worth making here is that, since the 90’s, when the Gary Bettman era expanded the league by more than it had grown since the absorption of the WHA, the NHL has yet to experience any kind of serious rash of relocation or contraction. There has never been a period of expansion where every single team has been able to remain in the league.

This in no way justifies any particular team’s end or relocation, but I think it’s important that we recognize the NHL as an organization that is perhaps more fluid in its essence than we currently consider it to be. Teams come and teams go, and Phoenix will probably get another chance.

The least I can do is hope that a franchise relocates (however briefly) to a place that I care about. I’d rather hate every inch of a hockey team (see: every Canadian franchise that isn’t my favourite) than be completely indifferent towards them (see: almost every team south of Washington, DC).

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