2015-16 NHL Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

hockey.fwThe National Hockey League is one of the most unique leagues in the North American sports landscape.

In North America there are four major professional sports leagues that represent four of the biggest leagues in the world.

The MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL are four leagues all competing for the same resources in a very tight battle.

More and more the leagues are growing with more TV deals and more interest in sports from around the world.

Where the NHL is different is that they live in two very different worlds that are split by the Canada-US border.

The NFL is the only league without a team north of the border, although a number of teams are directly on the border and have plenty of Canadian fans.

The MLB and NBA have teams in Canada with both located in Toronto with the Blue Jays and Raptors representing the only current Canadian teams.

The NHL is different as there are a total of seven Canadian teams in the league and all are very important for the league.

The Raptors and Blue Jays are both successful teams in their leagues but if they were gone next season it won’t make a massive difference for the league as a whole.

In the NHL if they lost some of the teams in Canada the league will be in a far different spot than they are today.

Yes, there are only seven teams in Canada right now as opposed to 27 in the USA but three of the top five most valuable teams, as ranked by Forbes, are in Canada.

Canada is the most important section for the NHL as they are the base of the sport with fans that wait for hockey season to start every year.

This is where the massive differences come in as north of the border it seems like every city is just waiting for the new season.

South of the border it is a different story as there are some places where hockey season is the season to wait for while most of the markets it is an afterthought.

The USA is the country that the NHL wants to be successful in as it is the place with the biggest TV deals and the most sports fans.

Breaking through in a country where hockey is not necessarily bred into people is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for the league.

They continue to make inroads in America but also continue to find trouble in certain cities where it has been a tough number of years.

Places like Florida and Arizona are proving to be a challenge, although Tampa Bay has been successful, while much of the rest of the country is developing.hockey-sidebar

The league continues to try to find ways to grow and the USA is the key to that plan as they want to rival the NFL as one of the biggest leagues in North America.

They have a way to go as the NFL is the king of professional sports in North America but the NHL is continuing to grow and find their way into the conversation in America.

This is the challenge that the NHL is always wrestling with as they are in between two worlds that are entirely different.

On one hand they have Canada that is limited to how many teams they can support but is home to some of the most successful teams in the league.

Then there is the USA where the potential is limitless but the challenge of creating footholds is extreme.

The league continues to grow despite the challenges they have faced in dealing with the two very different areas that they are a part of.

They will look to continue to grow this year as the new season is set to begin and the league is heading for a period of potentially massive changes.

Not all may happen this year or even next year but there are some major changes and decisions ahead of the league.

This year many of those big decisions will be massive stories as teams begin their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

Hockey will take full focus throughout the season but some of these major decisions will be in the background for the year and maybe beyond.

These decisions could change the league in some big ways over the next few years and throughout this year there will be plenty to talk about as every decision gets closer.


It could be the biggest decision in recent years for the NHL as this off-season they sent out a call to potential cities that wanted an NHL team. The league, after years of avoiding the discussion despite the clear need for new teams, are finally getting in on the expansion talk. When the league re-organized in 2013 they created the biggest expansion buzz in recent years. In that re-alignment of teams the NHL moved Detroit and Columbus to the Eastern Conference. That left the east with two extra teams and the west with two spots not filled. For many it seemed like a clear indication that the NHL was set to expand and add two more teams to the west in order to even up the conferences. The NHL consistently denied that they were ready for expansion and it made sense as they still had struggling teams that they needed to figure out how to deal with. Were they going to move the teams. This off-season they finally sent a call out to find out the interest in expansion. The problem for the NHL is that only two teams submitted bids as Quebec City, currently building a brand new facility, and Las Vegas seemed to be the only two teams interested. Both have moved through the stages but the response was not too promising as one city, Quebec City, could only be in the east which will cause another realignment in some way. The biggest issue was that the NHL requested a $10-million fee just to bid for a team while a $500-million expansion fee awaits those who make it to the final stage. The Whether the expansion will happen is not sure yet as the NHL has moved these two teams through the  process but has yet to announce if either will be rewarded a team. Expansion and relocation could be a serious consideration if both teams get a franchise as a struggling team, say Florida, may move to the west, to a city like Seattle or Kansas City, for a smaller fee than the expansion price that seems far too much. The fact is that the NHL has now created a real debate over the expansion of the league to 32 teams and that is sure to give more merit to the debate that has been raging for the better part of three years and will continue with more to go on this season.


The Edmonton Oilers have been here before as they have selected in the top three of the draft five times in the last six years. The Oilers have been near the bottom of the league for a long time and every year it seems like they get ready to take another player that will turn their fortunes around. Whether it was Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, or Leon Draisaitl the Oilers have had their fair share of great young players on the team. Every year the hope was that the new guy was going to make the difference to start a turnaround for a franchise that has won five Stanley Cup. So far none have been able to do that and although they have shown plenty of skill the Oilers have continued to finish at or near last place in the league. Last year was no different as they finished in 28th place but in a twist of fate they won the draft lottery to pick first overall. This year’s draft lottery was slightly more important though as Connor McDavid was the man who everyone had as the best player in the draft. More than just the best of the young players coming into the league McDavid has been coined as “The Next One” by most scouts. As good as the players that the Oilers have drafted have been McDavid, by all reports, seems to be at a different level. The debate comes with the franchise itself though as they have had plenty of chances with great players and yet that talent seems to disappear in Edmonton. When they won the draft lottery there was almost a collective sigh in the hockey world. That sigh came because a lot of fans and analysts wondered if his great talented was going to be wasted, like so many before, in Edmonton. Then again he comes in with that reputation of being a generational talent that will not only change the Oilers but might change the league. That title of “The Next One” has been used multiple times with players like Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Tavares and although they are two of the best players in the league they haven’t had that impact that some promised. The attention will be on McDavid now as everyone watches to see if he is truly the next in line to be considered the best in the league and possibly the best ever.


As the league enters into another season where they continue to grow into a major contender in the USA they are still dealing with some big problem areas. The Florida Panthers, last year, sold a NHL record low tickets to many of their games leaving the arena with more than a few empty sections. They are struggling to keep up with the rest of the league in terms of growth and it shouldn’t surprise many if they do end up leaving the Sunshine state. The team always mentioned in the same breath when it comes to struggling teams are the Arizona Coyotes. They continue to struggle to stay alive and this year they are already in the midst of plenty of controversy. During last year’s playoffs the City of Glendale decided to cancel their lease deal with the Coyotes. The deal was not necessarily a great one for the city as they had to pay $8 million a year to manage the arena. The deal also had an out clause that allowed the Coyotes to relocate should revenue goals not be met. The city decided that it was not the deal they wanted and used a conflict of interest clause to cancel the deal after only a year. That move made plenty of noise as the Coyotes were seemingly headed for an off-season without an arena and limited options. Eventually the deal was changed as the amount of money that the city was required to pay was reduced while the clause allowing for relocation was also removed. The city had a new, more favourable deal and the Coyotes had a place to play once again. Although they avoided the disaster of a relocation due to the cancellation of the deal the entire process has definitely hurt relations between the city and the league. It is yet another chapter in the long history of the Coyotes that does not bode well for the team. It is already a tumultuous relationship that many see as pointless to begin with as they are one of few teams that has yet to find any success in the league. Although the lease is signed until at least 2018 when the deal is officially up. After that the Coyotes might very well be leaving the City of Glendale as they continue to play in a city that doesn’t want anything to do with the Coyotes.


As a league becomes bigger they often find a lot more scrutiny comes their way, a lesson that the NFL has learned year after year. As sports in general become bigger the best players are beginning to find their way into popular culture. The NFL has been mired in off-field issues throughout the last few years and they continue to try to handle those issues. The NHL has remained relatively out of the spotlight for most of the last few years. There have been issues before but this year seemed to be a different year with more players in more high-profile cases during the off-season. The strange off-season began when the Los Angeles Kings released Mike Richards from his contract unexpectedly. It was a big roster move that nobody saw coming and with no reasoning coming from the Kings. Then a few months later it was revealed that Richards had been arrested at the U.S.-Canada border near Winnipeg for driving into Canada with Oxycodone. The Kings had heard about this just before executing a trade and pulled the trade off the table while later deciding to terminate the contract of Richards. It was just the start of the off-season as another King had his issues with the law. Three months prior to the season Slava Voynov was arrested and pled no contest to domestic violence. Just two months after his arrest immigration was set to send him back to Russia before he was granted voluntary deportation and left for Russia himself. All of these were big news in the hockey world but none made a bigger impact in the sports world than the accusations laid on Patrick Kane. A few months before the season a woman came forward accusing Kane of sexual assault. Kane had allegedly taken the woman home after a night at the bar and raped her in his apartment. So far no charges have been filed and according to a leaked document the DNA evidence is lacking in the case. Kane has stated his innocence in the matter but it is not the first time he has been in trouble. In 2009 he was charged with the assault and robbery of a cab driver in Buffalo. Kane, Voynov and Richards are all part of an off-season where off-ice issues took more focus than the game itself. It is new territory for the league and something that they will need to prepare for if they expect to continue to grow.


Before the 2013-14 season the NHL had a tough decision to make and one that has seemed to be tougher every year that the decision comes up. That decision was whether or not they should allow the NHL players to go to Russia and participate in the 2014 Olympics. It was a challenge as the NHL owners did not want to see their biggest investments risk injury in a tournament that meant nothing to them. That risk and the fact that the season needed to be shut down for two weeks while players participated. Eventually, after long negotiations between the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF the league decided to allow players to go and play in the Sochi Olympics. It turned out to be a tough decision but in the end the right one as it brought NHL players to one of the biggest hockey markets in the world. In 2018 the decision is going to be that much tougher and for some the first shot has already been fired. The 2018 version of the games will take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, not necessarily a big hockey market. They also decided soon after allowing players to participate in the 2014 Olympics that they were going to bring back the World Cup of Hockey. 2016 will be the first version while another tournament will be in 2020. Along with the World Cup the NHL plans to establish a North America vs. Europe all-star series that will take place in 2018, between the two World Cups. The NHL will have a big decision to make and although they have some time to make that decision it will remain a focus of the season this year. There are a lot of hockey fans that consider the Olympic hockey tournament the ultimate international tournament in the world. They watch the Olympics largely because the best players in the world play for the Olympic Gold Medal. Removing NHL players will lose a lot of interest especially when the time difference is so great. The decision could also come down to the fact that the 2022 Olympics are in Beijing, an area that is a big focus of the NHL. The NHL will continue to try to find out whether they want to go to Korea to play in 2018 while they prepare for the World Cup next year and although there is time it remains a focus of every NHL fan.

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