Bettman: NHL 'would have to consider' putting Quebec franchise in Western Conference
The NHL expansion process may not lead to perfect alignment.
With 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference, it was assumed that if the league decided to grow to 32 teams, a level of geographic balance would be achieved.
This of course, was based on the belief that both Las Vegas and Seattle would submit bids. But as the application deadline passed, only the former, as well as Quebec City, threw a hat in the ring.
As a result, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman conceded it's possible that a Quebec City franchise could have to begin playing out west.
"The answer is that's something we would obviously have to consider," Bettman told Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe in regards to slotting Quebec City in the Western Conference. "The experience with Winnipeg in the Southeast was less than ideal. The experience over time with Detroit (Red Wings) and Columbus (Blue Jackets) in the West - and they're farther west geographically - they couldn't wait to get into the East. So geography is an issue.
"But the fact that we identify it as an issue doesn't mean we've reached a conclusion. It means it’s one of the things that has to be considered."
The Winnipeg Jets played two seasons in the Eastern Conference after relocating from Atlanta, and moved west prior to the 2013-14 regular season, with the Blue Jackets and Red Wings concurrently shifted to the Eastern Conference.
As it stands, no teams in the Eastern time zone are slotted in the Western Conference.
Bettman added it's not out of the realm of possibility that only one expansion franchise could be awarded, and that not adding a team is also "conceivable."
"The board, I assume, will only vote to expand if they're completely comfortable that it's the right thing to do, taking into account all of the factors," Bettman said.
"This is going to be a deliberate and orderly process because it's an important decision to be made one way or the other."
The league was clearly disappointed to have received only two formal applications, something that could make the process a bit more complex - or at least less than ideal - than expected.
Bettman downplayed the notion that the sagging Canadian dollar could prevent the NHL from committing to Quebec City.
"It's something the process will have us evaluate," Bettman said. "We'll have to see ... The Canadian dollar, it tends to get overstated. Our system accounts for the Canadian dollar. The Canadian franchises are seven out of 30 and it gets factored into the system."
The loonie dipped under 77 cents U.S. earlier this week, hitting its lowest point since 2004. The commissioner reiterated that wouldn't deter the league from adding an eighth Canadian team.
"No," Bettman said. "Because the Canadian clubs are doing fine. Other than player salaries, most of their expenses are in Canadian dollars."