A new six-team division
The National Hockey League board of governors made a startling announcement yesterday that will re-shape the face of professional hockey in North American. In fact, the decision will have far-reaching effects on all levels of the sport, and may truly be a game-changer.
The league announced that it will expand to twelve teams, adding a completely new division, made up of six expansion teams, which would play an interlocking schedule with the established division. The question now becomes, where will the six new teams be located, and when will this take place. None of these details were provided.
New teams will have to meet NHL standards
New teams will have to meet criteria as set out by the NHL. Number one on that list would be an arena suitable to house a big-league hockey club. Many cities that have expressed interest in joining the NHL do not have such a facility.
Los Angeles and San Francisco have clamoured for NHL admission for years, but yesterday’s announcement really doesn’t do anything to appease those demands. Los Angeles does have a rink that would meet NHL standards, but the Cow Palace in San Francisco is not up to snuff, according to the NHL. And, the two Californian cities will not gain admission to the league unless four other partners can be found.
So it’s no slam-dunk that expansion is going to happen any time soon, but prospective cities have been mentioned.
Other centres that could be in line for franchises are Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Portland, all in the United States.
New owners will have to be well-heeled
NHL president Clarence Campbell threw a wet blanket on the hopes of every city mentioned except for Los Angeles and St. Louis. Of Portland, he said “It isn’t a big league city in any other sport. The only existing buildings which would be suitable are Los Angeles and St. Louis. But I understand arenas in Pittsburgh and Baltimore could be suitable with modifications.” Expensive modifications. New owners will need very deep pockets.
Campbell also mentioned Minneapolis-St. Paul as another location which would be considered if an arena were built.
Campbell was asked what the price for an expansion franchise might be.
He replied, “I can’t say for sure, but this is no chicken feed deal. I would say this would be quite a few million in each city.
“We’re not interested in promoters. We want people fundamentally interested in hockey and with sufficient depth to take a shock or two if they had to in the first couple of seasons.”
Players will come from existing teams
As for staffing the new teams, Campbell agreed that the quality of play might suffer initially. Teams would likely be able to claim players from the existing teams, but only after those clubs would compile a list of untouchables.
“When you double the number of teams, you are bound to weaken the result, but we believe at the present time we have the right type of organization in the NHL to generate players and to bring back the calibre over the long-term. There is no shortage of hockey players, but whether the reduction in calibre would be too much of a disappointment to the public, I can’t honestly say.
“Properly distributed on a competitive basis, we feel we could eventually establish a major league which would span the continent.”
An NHL spokesman said that the league has no intention of absorbing either the Western or American hockey leagues. Minor league franchises in cities that obtain NHL admission would be relocated.
The NHL will begin accepting applications for franchises immediately.
Reaction to the announcement was immediate. Interested parties have already begun expressing their intentions to apply for a franchise.
Al Leader, president of the Western Hockey league, said that Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland are the most logical candidates to be added to the NHL. He also said that the new arena being constructed in Seattle is “strictly big-league.”
Keith Allen, general manager of the Seattle WHL team said, “You bet we’ll be applying for a franchise. While it’s too soon for us to know all the details, the action will probably come at the spring meetings in Toronto.”
Emory Jones, vice-president of the St. Louis Braves of the Central Professional Hockey League and manager of the St. Louis Arena said that St. Louis will file an application if the NHL is ready to take them seriously. The St. Louis Arena is owned by James Norris and Arthur Wirtz, owners of the Chicago Black Hawks. It is thought they would have no issue leasing the building to an NHL club.
Zanvyl Kreiger, one of the co-owners of the Baltimore Clippers of the American Hockey League, says that the city and present ownership “is satisfactory to the NHL.” The Baltimore arena seats about 11,000 for hockey.
Gerald Martineau, general manager of the Quebec Aces of the AHL wasn’t as enthusiastic. “It is clear that the directors of the NHL don’t want us.”
Martineau says he in interested in joining the NHL, “insofar as the Aces could meet the requirements of the league.” He believes that it will be difficult for Quebec to play in the NHL if all the other teams in a new division were located in the western United States. He feels a viable solution would be to move Chicago to the new division, and allow Quebec to play with the established teams.
Max McNab, general manager of the Vancouver Canucks of the WHL said that Vancouver interests, either his team or another group, would definitely make application for a franchise. He estimated the total cost of a Vancouver NHL club to be $11 million, including the construction of a new arena.
The city of Vancouver recently rejected a proposal by Toronto Maple Leaf president Stafford Smythe to build a downtown NHL-quality arena. Smythe has said that Vancouver will not have any chance at an NHL franchise because of the rejection.