Expansion teams are supposed to stink. This is one of the basic principles of sports. The New York Mets, the Houston Texans, the Ottawa Senators, the Vancouver Grizzlies, etc. I could list bad expansion teams all day long, but that would be silly. Therefore, I will stop. Just know that, before 2017, every single expansion team in the history of the four major North American sports leagues had been bad.
This whole premise makes perfect sense. Fans of expansion teams are ecstatic to have a team. These fans do not need a good team. Having a bad team is better than having no team at all. Therefore, a league can milk several years of good attendance out of bad expansion teams. It is a tried and true formula. Nobody would be dumb enough to mess with it….except of course the man who continues to value an overtime/shootout win the same as a regulation win, the same man who stopped letting teams skate around the ice before the beginnings of periods (because it would make sooooo much of a difference in terms of keeping the ice slick). Yes, the man is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
During Mike Francesa’s last few radio shows, he interviewed Bettman. During the interview, I heard Bettman say that the league deliberately let this year’s expansion Vegas Golden Knights build a great team because he did not want to deprive their fans of playoff hockey. If ever there were an NHL version of an “Occupy Wall Street” protest, he probably heard this idiotic short-sighted idea there. OK, OK, I do not want to get too political here, so I will use a different analogy. Bettman essentially said that the 30-year-old guy who has been rejected by women all his life should now be handed a supermodel girlfriend. That is ridiculous. That guy is going to be happy being in a relationship with any woman. As a society, we do not need to waste a supermodel (in limited supply) on this “happy to be with any woman” guy.
Well, in reality, the Vegas hockey fans are this 30-year-old guy, and the Golden Knights – currently in first place in the Pacific Division – are the supermodel. Meanwhile, standard terrible expansion teams represent the “any woman”. Golden Knights fans would have been perfectly happy rooting for teams of this low caliber, just as “the 30-year-old guy” would have been happy in a relationship with any woman.
You might be wondering how the NHL set Vegas up to have such a strong expansion team. In the expansion drafts, teams were allowed to protect no more than 11 players. This was different from the last expansion draft of 2000, when teams were allowed to protect at most 15 players. This might seem like a minimal difference, but the change meant that many more quality players were available for Vegas to draft than for previous expansion teams to draft. I do not like this.
To me, it was a great story when the Ottawa Senators finally made the playoffs in their fifth season or when the Nashville Predators finally made the playoffs in their sixth season. I was excited for their loyal fans to finally experience playoff hockey. However, I am not pumped for Vegas’s fans to get playoff action in the team’s first season while loyal fans of teams like Carolina, Buffalo, Florida, Arizona, and Colorado must suffer through yet another playoffs-less season.
Moreover, when the supermodel eventually breaks up with the 30-year-old guy, that guy is going to be disappointed by all future girlfriends. The same goes for Vegas’s fans, when the team regresses and misses the playoff next season. Instead of Vegas’s fans getting 4-5 seasons of joy by watching a bad team grow into a good one, the fans get immediate gratification followed by inevitable years of disappointment when the team misses the playoffs. Therefore, instead of 4-5 seasons of guaranteed large crowds, Vegas is guaranteed 1 season of a large crowd.
Classic short-sighted move by the NHL. Expansion teams are supposed to be terrible. This allows for expansion teams to do well financially for their first 4-5 years instead of their first 1-2 years.