Does Canada Need the NHL?

Captain FanaticCorrespondent IJune 23, 2008

For the last three out of four years, the country has watched in agony as Canada’s Teams goes down in defeat to teams whose official websites feature special instructional segments explaining the basics of hockey.

For Canadians who know that icing isn’t creamy and delicious and the puck is not a Shakespearean character, this is particularly hard to bear. Certainly, most of the players who hoisted the Cup are native sons who bring Stanley home for a day—but this is cold comfort for any hockey fan who doesn’t happen to personally know the Niedermayer brothers.

Clearly something needs to be done, and what could be a more effective solution than the creation of an all-Canadian hockey league?

This may seem extreme on the surface, but on closer inspection it is hard to see why Canada shouldn’t split from the NHL. After all, Lord Stanley himself, in his original mandate, decreed that the Cup be “held from year to year by the champion hockey team of the Dominion of Canada.”

The creation of an all-Canadian league would allow the Stanley Cup to return to its original purpose. Of course, Stanley’s wishes mean nothing if the money isn’t right.

Although the NHL and its teams are tight-lipped about hard dollar figures, it is quite clear that the Canadian teams are not the ones who are struggling. Last year five of the six Canadian teams were in the top 10 in attendance, averaging a sellout a game or better.

Only Edmonton finished outside the top 10, coming in at 17th—but this can be attributed to their playing in a smaller building, as they still filled an average of 98 percent of their seats.

Television deals are major money makers for sports leagues, and in any other sport the loss of the American TV market would be huge. Not so for hockey, where the American and Canadian TV contracts are almost on par with each other.

Based on last year’s numbers, losing the $60 million from the Versus contract would easily be offset by the increased share of the CBC deal for each Canadian team—from $4 million a year to $10 million. Surely, the Canadian ratings would not drop significantly—and may even rise, as there would be more high demand matchups such as Leafs-Habs or Oilers-Flames per season.

The existing six teams may be too small to form a league of their own, but within a CBA similar to the existing NHL one, it is not too hard to envision teams returning to Winnipeg and Quebec City, as well as expansion franchises in the Maritimes, Saskatchewan and perhaps another Ontario team—already a possibility, with Kitchener-based Jim Balsillie working towards purchasing a team.

The Canadian dollar is almost on par with the American, and expected to continue rising, meaning that player salaries could remain consistent with NHL levels, allowing teams to attract top talent from around the world.

It is unlikely that such a split will ever occur, as there are myriad legal and technical complications with this scheme. But it is a nice fantasy for a Canadian hockey fan who is tired of hockey in June, who doesn’t believe that ducks and panthers have any business on an ice rink, and who thinks the Cup belongs in Canada.

And as an added incentive for Leafs fans—for surely Toronto will have to lead the charge—a smaller, Canadian league would dramatically increase the odds of a blue-and-white Cup win for the first time in 41 years.