On Tuesday, the NHL officially announced plans to expand the league to Seattle for the 2021-22 season. The unnamed Washington State team will become the 32nd team, matching the NFL for the most in North America for a professional sports team.
Although expanding to the pacific northwest is good for the league and it will create an instant rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, commissioner Gary Bettman and his Board of Governors need to stop there and not add any more teams.
Expansion to Seattle will ultimately be beneficial for hockey, its owners and the players, but the rate at which the league is expanding is unsustainable. Going past 32 teams will spread the talent pool too thin, even if it gains the owners extra revenue per season and increases the salary cap.
When Vegas joined and participated in its expansion draft in June 2017, it caused chaos across the league. General managers were required to shuffle around their rosters and, in the end, all lost a quality player or two.
With Seattle following suit, it will just cause the league’s talent pool to thin even more. With 32 teams, it is manageable, but anything beyond that will create problems. Especially so, if the league expands to Europe like it is reportedly looking at, in markets such as Sweden, additional problems will arise.
Having too many teams in a sport as low-ranking in the grand scheme of things as hockey is not a tactic to ensure survival. With additional teams on top of Seattle, players will be spread out too much and the talent pool will diminish.
Players will undoubtedly question moving to new markets as well, especially Europe. Unless the players are from the foreign countries in which the teams are based, they likely will not want to play there. The travel times and the cons far outweigh the pros for this option of expansion.
Even so, in terms of talent pool development, the NHL has debated changing draft age requirements. If the age limit goes up to 19 years old or anything other than 18, it will eliminate even more talent from immediately entering the league.
There is still a decent crop of players that, quite frankly, do not deserve to be seeing NHL minutes. Teams, such as the Los Angeles Kings, are strapped for cap and already have to make sacrifices on their rosters, and the addition of more teams will make things even more difficult for them.
As fun as it is for the NHL to reach more markets and gain fans from previously unconventional markets, it simply cannot continue. After Seattle enters the league, Bettman and his group should focus on the long-term success of them, the Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders, and Florida Panthers, all of which have the opportunity to or are struggling for business.
The future, however, could hold a different mindset. Come 2030, the NHL may be in the position to expand again, but nothing should even be considered before then.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KMKTNF.