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Expansion: Why it will be the downfall of the NHL and how it is being used as a quick fix

Updated: Apr 17

This is a picture of the Atlanta Thrashers logo that the team used from 1999-2011.

By NHL.comThis image was created with Adobe Illustrator., Fair use,

This is a picture of the Cleveland Barons home jersey in the Hockey Hall Of Fame

By Nhl4hamilton | Chit-Chat - Own work (Original text: I created this work entirely by myself.), Public Domain,

By now, everyone is aware of the NHL being the biggest and the best professional hockey league in the world. But it has come in spite of the selfish attitudes of the owners, and their repeated mistreatment of the players who make the game as great as it is.

Between the years of 1942 and 1967 there were only 6 teams, meaning only 120 players got roster spots in the big league, and the owners had a vise grip on player negotiations. There were some very high quality players that stayed in the minors for long periods of time as a result of limited jobs, such as Hall of Fame goalie Johnny Bower. Though it made for quality hockey back then, the players had no power at the negotiating table, because the owners forbade the discussion of salaries between players, and when players like Fern Flaman, Jim Thomson, and Ted Lindsay tried to organize a union, it failed. All 3 players and other sympathizers were either traded or forced out of the league regardless of on-ice performance. However, an up-and-coming lawyer named Robert Alan Eagleson made his way into NHL circles as legal representation for many Maple Leafs players, and formed the Blue and White group with many of them.

Bobby Orr is sitting to the left of Alan Eagleson in this picture.

Image source: Russ Conway: Game Misconduct

Bobby Orr is pictured on the left with his now former agent, Alan Eagleson. They had once been close friends, with Orr being one of his strongest supporters, but soon discovered that he had been misled by Eagleson, who left him bankrupt, and withheld the opportunity for him to own 18.5 % of the Boston Bruins. He wound up in Chicago due to Eagleson's strong friendship with Bill Wirtz, Chicago's owner.

His arrival on the scene was only a couple years before the NHL announced the addition of 6 more teams into the NHL: Oakland, Minnesota, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and LA. During the same year that the NHL doubled in size, the NHLPA was established as a union for the players. However, Eagleson was a player agent at the time, and because of that players that weren't represented by him didn't receive adequate help when they asked for it, and the owners knew they had him in their back pockets.

The owners contributed to the NHLPA's funding, but Eagleson convinced the players to play in international tournaments to earn extra money for the association, not knowing that he did that to offset owner expenses. Between 1970 and 1975, 6 new teams bought in for a combined total of 36 million US $, and Eagleson did not stand up for revenue sharing. He also encouraged the NHL players to support the merger between them and the WHA on behalf of the owners, knowing it would kill the competition for the best players by eliminating an equally competitive league and reduce player salaries to what they were 10 years before. The merger also brought in 30 million US $ from the 4 WHA teams that bought in, of which the players received 0 $.

As the 80s wore on, many players, past and present, grew dissatisfied with Eagleson's leadership, and his conflicts of interest as player agent, union president, international hockey promoter, and aspiring team owner. He survived a brief investigation in 1989 led by Ed Garvey, Ritch Winter, and Ron Salcer, but they still uncovered incriminating information against him. He was working with Peter Karmanos in the 90s to help him secure an NHL team, and the deal was that for every million US $ below market value Eagleson could find a franchise, Karmanos would give him 200 000 $. Karmanos eventually purchased the Hartford Whalers in 1994 for 38 million US $, but had long severed ties with Eagleson by that point, who had been charged by the FBI for fraud and racketeering. He was quick to point out in his search for a team that John Ziegler, the NHL president at the time, was hurting the league by going for the quick score, pointing out that 4 teams had gone under in the 70s. He established a vision that saw the league expand from 21 to 28 teams between 1990 and 2000. Though he couldn't see it through, due to him stepping down alongside Eagleson, Gary Bettman did, and to this day, many of those teams added during that time have only seen marginal success.

It seems the NHL still has yet to learn from its mistakes of the past, and due to their constant PR failures and inability to promote the game, they should cease any discussion of expansion. The league has a long way to go and needs to be a thriving enterprise free of criminals and politicians such as Bettman, Eagleson, or Ziegler to be able to accept another franchise.

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