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What if the NHL was an 100 team league?

Since Gary Bettman became NHL commissioner the league has seen itself expand from 24 teams to what will soon be 32 once Seattle joins in 2021. The growth of the game has been undeniable as it becomes more popular in America and produces superstars like Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel.

But what if he kept going? What if Gary Bettman decided 32 NHL teams isn’t enough. What if he decided to get drunk off his ass and agree to make the NHL the world’s first ever 100 team league.

Let’s discuss.

First off obviously is finding the teams. This would almost certainly involve the league’s expansion outside of North America so I’ve decided to round out another 18 teams in the continent and then put the other 50 elsewhere giving us balances 50 team conferences of North America and World.

Below are the 100 teams competing in the new NHL.

The Teams:

North American Conference

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Atlanta Thrashers
  3. Arizona Coyotes
  4. Baltimore Bandits
  5. Boston Bruins
  6. Buffalo Sabres
  7. Calgary Flames
  8. Carolina Hurricanes
  9. Chicago Blackhawks
  10. Cincinnati Cyclones
  11. Cleveland Barons
  12. Colorado Avalanche
  13. Columbus Blue Jackets
  14. Dallas Stars
  15. Detroit Red Wings
  16. Edmonton Oilers
  17. Florida Wildcats
  18. Halifax Moosehead
  19. Hamilton Bulldogs
  20. Hartford Whalers
  21. Houston Aeros
  22. Indianapolis Racers
  23. Kansas City Scouts
  24. Los Angeles Kings
  25. Mexico City Toreros
  26. Milwaukee Admirals
  27. Minnesota Wild
  28. Montreal Canadiens
  29. Nashville Predators
  30. New Jersey Devils
  31. New Orleans Brass
  32. New York Islanders
  33. New York Rangers
  34. Ottawa Senators
  35. Philadelphia Flyers
  36. Pittsburgh Penguins
  37. Portland Bucks
  38. Quebec Nordiques
  39. San Antonio Rampage
  40. San Diego Gulls
  41. San Jose Sharks
  42. Saskatoon Blades
  43. Seattle Grunge
  44. St. Louis Blues
  45. Tampa Bay Lightning
  46. Toronto Maple Leafs
  47. Vancouver Canucks
  48. Vegas Golden Knights
  49. Washington Capitals
  50. Winnipeg Jets

World Conference

  1. Amsterdam Tigers
  2. Astana Barys
  3. Athens Warriors
  4. Barcelona HC
  5. Beijing – Kunlun Red Star
  6. Belfast Giants
  7. Belgrade – HK Partizan
  8. Berlin Polar Bears – Eisbären Berlin
  9. Bratislava Sky
  10. Budapest HK
  11. Cairo Sphinx
  12. Cardiff Demons
  13. Copenhagen Lions
  14. Dublin Rams
  15. Glasgow Clan
  16. Gothenburg – Frolunda HC
  17. Helsinki Jokerit
  18. Kiev – Ledyanye Volki Kiev
  19. Lisbon – Benfica
  20. London Raiders
  21. Madrid – Real Madrid
  22. Magnitogorsk Metallurg
  23. Malmo Redhawks
  24. Manchester Storm
  25. Melbourne Glaciers
  26. Milan Vipers
  27. Minsk HC
  28. Moscow CSKA
  29. Moscow Dynamo
  30. Munich Red Bull – EHC Munchen
  31. Nottingham Panthers
  32. Omsk Avangard
  33. Oslo – Vålerenga
  34. Paris Saint-Germain
  35. Prague Engineers
  36. Riga HC
  37. Rome – A.S. Roma
  38. Saint Petersburg – SKA
  39. Sapporo Snow
  40. Seoul – Anyang Halla
  41. Shanghai Dragons
  42. Sheffield Steelers
  43. Shenzhen Rays
  44. Sochi HK
  45. Stockholm – Djurgardens IF
  46. Sydney Wolf Pack
  47. Tampere – Tappara
  48. Tokyo Rabbits
  49. Turku – TPS
  50. Vienna HC

As a note: When possible I gave teams nicknames that current or former teams/clubs had in those cities. I also tried to avoid two teams having the same nickname because we’re not making the same mistake the CFL did.

The Florida Panthers are now the Wildcats because Southern States love naming their teams Wildcats so I assumed Florida would be okay with letting Nottingham be the Panthers. Also the Cardiff Devils had to become the Cardiff Demons because New Jersey isn’t as friendly as Florida. If an existing team just calls itself “[City Name] Hockey Club”, then I just kept it that way because is it works for soccer it works for us.

The Players

There’s no way around it, the talent level will plummet at first. The league will be going from 700ish active players to over 2000. Most people would suggest this is bad for the league but if the idea of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl getting a two on one breakaway against an ECHL goalie and a defenceman who should be playing in the Italian Leagues doesn’t excite you, then I don’t know what will. That being said, those critics would be correct; the skill level in the average game would plummet.

There’s some hope that long term this creates a growing interest in the sport and in 2049 teams are tanking for the chance to draft some Japanese phenom who will go on to put up 200 points in their rookie season. While that would be nice, the truth is in the short term, a 100 team league would see some absurd mismatches. This could be the way to drive up scoring that Gary Bettman has wanted all along.

The Schedule

This gets… tricky.

Here’s some options.

The Soccer League

Method: Each team plays each other team twice. One home, one away.

Games Played: 198

Thoughts: This is a true nightmare and borders on endurance torture.

The One and Done

Method: Each team plays each other team once.

Games Played: 98

Thoughts: This is setting up for a whirlwind of complaints. Teams and fans saying they only lost because they were the away team. Also you know how much the NHL loves forcing rivalries which would never happen if teams only face off against each other once per year.

The MLB before 1997

Method: Each team plays each other team in their conference twice. One home, one away. They never play the other conference unless they meet in the finals of playoffs.

Games Played: 98

Thoughts: This seems kind of sensible but would fans really be happy if they never got to see certain superstars or teams face off unless they made it to the finals?

The NFL(ish)

Method: Each conference is split into 5 divisions of 10 teach each. Every team plays their divisional rivals twice (one home, one away), they then play each conference rival once, and HALF the teams from the other conference once per year.

Games Played: 83

Thoughts: This… isn’t awful? It adds only one more game per season to each team’s schedule, allows for divisional rivalries, and each team will never go two consecutive seasons without matching up. This might be the best method available… which is exactly why the NHL would never do it. It makes too much sense.

The NHL

Method: Each conference is split into 5 divisions of 10 teams each. Every team plays their divisional rivals four times (two home, two away), they then play each other team once.

Games Played: 126

Thoughts: The NHL would almost certainly try something so absurd. It forces divisional rivals. Each team is seen at least once a year. The problem is it adds over 40 games to each team’s season and complicates scheduling. How does the NHL deal with this problem? Where can they save time on the league calendar? By ruining the playoffs of course.

Playoffs

NHL Playoffs is the most exciting championship grind in all of sports. Brutal best of seven action with favourites winning enough for it to be fair and underdogs winning enough for it to be exciting. There’s nothing like playoff hockey.

Except the NHL’s current playoff format is such a nightmare of unfair matchups and forced rivalries, that all us fans are just waiting to see how they can ruin it further.

Here’s how.

With an 100 team league and the NHL’s love of parity you can 100% expect 64 teams to make the playoffs. The NHL will then look at how popular March Madness is and say “me too!” then suddenly best of seven series’ are gone in favour of a single elimination knockout tournament with a team needing to only win 6 games total to claim the championship.

Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll make it a home/away best of two. Maybe.

With a shorter playoffs, there’s a chance more value gets placed in winning the President’s Trophy but that faces its own complications because of the uneven divisional schedules. We’re truly getting the worst of both worlds now. Thanks NHL.

Yes, this was absolutely a long winded way to vent about the NHL’s playoff format and try to find a scenario where Toronto doesn’t have to play Boston.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of things to be excited about with an 100 team league. The growth of the game, new markets, new fans, and new superstars who fell in love with hockey at a young age after watching their hometown team play.

Growing the game is a top priority but tripling league size overnight may not be the best way to do it. Is it the most fun way? Maybe. Is it the smart way? Definitely not.

Realistically, there’s a good chance that the NHL grows beyond 32 teams at the top level and then less extreme versions of everything mentioned here needs to be discussed. Ideally we one day see multiple leagues of 16-32ish teams around the world who all send their best teams to compete for an on-ice version of the Champions League Trophy. Hockey becoming the international spectacle that soccer is, having the KHL, SHL, and other leagues being able to regularly beat an NHL franchise would be a real dream come true.

But until then, even with all the complaints we have about it… the NHL and its 6 12 14 16 18 17 21 22 24 26 27 28 30 31 32 teams will do just fine.

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