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Expansion seems like a very bad idea, unless you’re the NHL (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

Earlier this week there was considerable hullabaloo about the potential for a new arena being built in Markham, Ontario, with the idea behind such a project obviously being that it could be used to lure an NHL franchise.

And, unlike whatever is being planned in Quebec City, it seems that most involved with the potential second rink in the Greater Toronto Area aren't setting their sights on prying some struggling franchise from a dying Southern market; but rather on the prospect of getting an expansion team in the next three or four years.

Paul Kelly, who used to run the NHLPA, said as much, noting that the "most likely" places where those teams would be located were Toronto or thereabouts, and Quebec City.

Much furor followed because of that whole Canadian masturbatory fantasy about luring Our Game back to its motherland. Make It Seven, Eight, Nine and all that. And indeed, expansion seems really very inevitable, despite the NHL's insistence that no such plan is in place (all the spin from the lockout showed just how much you can trust a word anyone at league office says about anything at any time -- that is, not at all).

The NHL appears to be dead set on realignment so that there are 30 teams playing in four conferences, which obviously makes very little mathematical sense, so bumping the number of teams up to 32 is a pretty handy way to sort all that out in relatively short order. It also makes a lot of sense to have those teams be located in markets that are known to support hockey rather than travailing into, say, Seattle or Kansas City, where the ability to maintain a fanbase beyond any initial curiosity residents might have is a lot less certain.

But two things in this plan appear to be pretty stupid, or at least shortsighted.

Let's suppose, for one thing, that Kelly is right that Toronto and Quebec City will be the recipients of these supposed expansion franchises. How does that in any way begin to address the purpose of realignment in the first place?

As I understand it, the problem many teams have with the current setup is that travel in the Western Conference generally sucks and travel in the Eastern Conference is pretty damn easy. What, then, does adding two more teams in the Eastern Time Zone accomplish, particularly if we're to believe that Detroit, a team considerably farther west than either Toronto or Quebec City, would be moved to one of the new Eastern Conferences?

How does that even begin to work?

Does the second Toronto team become a Western Conference team? If so, in what way does that make travel easier on the teams who have to go play three road dates a year there? And what about the Toronto team itself? They'll immediately find themselves at or near the top of that annual airline miles list, which might be great if you're in a Jason Reitman movie, but not so much if you're an NHL player.

Maybe the money a second Toronto-area team would generate would be enough to make it all worth it (in the NHL's eyes, probably yes), but it just seems to be a poorly-considered plan. Unless the League goes back on its apparent word to the Red Wings and really only shuffles things around to better arrange for these two new franchises. Even with Winnipeg moving to the West, which was the impetus for all this realignment talk in the first place, swapping Detroit to the East once again creates an imbalance: 18 teams in that time zone versus 16 in all the others; something has to give.

The second reason this seems supremely ill-advised is that while, yes, we can all agree that the product in the NHL today is pretty damn good, one could also argue that it's perched pretty precariously on the precipice of "potentially ugly" as well. Look at the number of guys in the NHL today who just aren't very good hockey players. Not even considering guys whose sole job is to play six minutes a night and get in staged fights, there are just a lot of not-very-good players on many teams' rosters these days. Adding up to 46 more regulars to the roll of NHLPA members doesn't strike one as making a whole lot of sense.

Expansion of this type opens the door for every AHL superstar who had holes in his game big enough for him to never stick in the bigs to get on an NHL roster. Great for guys like Darren Haydar and Keith Aucoin; not so much for the quality of NHL hockey at large.

How long did it take the global talent pool to catch up to the rapid expansion of the late 1990s and early 2000s? It always seemed to me the lower quality of play when the Thrashers, Blue Jackets, Wild and Predators were brand new could have helped to kill national interest in the game prior to the 2005 lockout as much as The Trap ever did.

Again, though, the NHL probably won't care. Adding teams in markets that will absolutely support them regardless of how good or bad they are — within reason — is basically like giving the owners giving themselves a Scrooge McDuck-style money pool to splash around in as they see fit, and the struggling Southern markets that were so close to moving to (insert destination here) benefit doubly. They get to both keep their teams where they are and also enjoy increased revenue sharing.

An insane amount of extra travel. Diluted talent pool and therefore worsened product. Who cares. Cash rules everything around the league.

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Adding toughness didn't make Buffalo a contender? The devil, you say!?

Last night's game between Buffalo and Boston was billed as some sort of reckoning. Perhaps not moreso than the first game after the Miller/Lucic Incident, which was a sideshow that occasionally featured big guys skating around and passing a puck but also had a shootout, which Buffalo lost.

In a very literal and insane direct response to that whole thing, Darcy Regier looked at his roster, which finished below Calgary in the League standings last season, and said, "What really prevented us from barely squeaking into the playoffs, and what will definitely make up the three extra points we needed, is adding toughness."

Not good players. Tough players. Getting Steve Ott almost accomplished both, but Steve Ott's not 26 any more. This was the big answer to the question about what went wrong with the Sabres: "That one guy skated into Milan Lucic and no one beat him up."

It's very odd that this one incident so defined a team not only for the remainder of that season but also an entire summer and the following year, but here we are.

And here we are with the Sabres having lost four consecutive games to what most would consider to be the dregs of the conference headed into last night's game with Boston, indisputably the best team in the East, and perhaps running neck and neck with San Jose for best overall.

Losses to Carolina twice, then the Capitals, then the Maple Leafs (albeit in OT) don't necessarily confirm that Regier's plan was a laughable one — small sample size and all that — but only scoring 16 goals in six games sure speaks to the fact that this is a one-line team. Only three Sabres had multiple goals this season through six games, and wouldn't you know it, neither Ott nor John Scott were among them.

Part of that, one supposes, owes to the team's somewhat low shooting percentage, because Ryan Miller's stats look pretty strong. And part of it too might be the fact that this has all the makings of an historically bad faceoff team. Through those first six games, they'd won only 42 and look to be on their way to the sixth consecutive season with a faceoff percentage below 50. Now, to be fair, Ott was supposed to fix that too because, no matter what you think of all other aspects of his underwhelming game, the man can win a draw with the best of him. So of course Lindy Ruff has him taking the fourth-most draws on the team behind Cody Hodgson (37.9 percent on 116 faceoffs), Tyler Ennis (39.4 on 71) and Jochen Hecht (32.7 on 52). It makes perfect sense.

Beating the Bruins last night, not beating the Bruins last night. None of it mattered in the grand scheme of things. At best, it would only have ever been a moral victory. The Bruins are still fantastic. The Sabres are still mediocre at best.

Buffalo made its decisions about where it was headed this summer, and the answer was "nowhere."

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Should anyone at all be surprised that Greg Jamison's investors weren't real?

No of course they shouldn't.

All that stuff about "I don't have to reveal who my investors are," had the tenor of Jamison bragging about his hot girlfriend from another state and you don't know her but man she's really hot.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on impossible conundrums: "Would you rather watch the Pro Bowl from start 2 finish. Or, be locked in a room for 24 hours with Cotton Eye Joe playing on a loud speaker?"

If you’ve got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He’ll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you’ll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you’re so inclined.

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