ARE NHL ‘EXPANSION TEAMS’ UNDERRATED?
In the previous article, we looked at the tendency of casual fans and bettors to ‘overrate’ and ‘overvalue’ the so-called ‘Original Six’ NHL teams. In this article, we’ll consider the flipside of that equation—are NHL expansion teams underrated?
From the mid 1940’s until 1967 the NHL had only six teams—we discussed these in detail in the previous article. These teams are known as the ‘Original Six’ and all six are still in the league today:
The ‘Original Six’ NHL teams are (in no particular order):
Toronto Maple Leafs
Detroit Red Wings
New York Rangers
Expansion started in 1967—the NHL had a couple of reasons to expand. The first was ‘pent up demand’ for their product. Just as important at the time was the need to establish a presence in the rapidly growing California markets. For that reason, among the NHL’s first six expansion teams were franchises awarded to Los Angeles (the Los Angeles Kings) and San Francisco (the now defunct California Golden Seals).
Not included among the six expansion teams were any Canadian cities. This led to widespread anger North of the Border to the point that the league was compelled to act quickly to quell the outrage. In 1970, the NHL awarded franchises to Vancouver, BC (the Vancouver Canucks) and Buffalo, NY (the Buffalo Sabres). In 1972, the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames would join the league and the pace of expansion would increase.
At the time, however, the league was very conservative about admitting new cities. This provided a market opening to the upstart World Hockey Association who raided the NHL for star players and located franchises in cities that had been slighted by the NHL. One of the more intelligent moves by the WHA was awarding franchises to what would be considered ‘mid level’ Canadian cities. The WHA would eventually fold and several of the teams would be admitted to the NHL—the Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. Since then, the NHL has located teams in Ottawa, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta. There’s speculation that more Canadian cities will be added in the future.
SO ARE EXPANSION TEAMS UNDERRATED?
In our discussion of the ‘Original Six’ teams we examined several factors that contributes to the prevailing perception that the older teams are competitively superior. While serious sports bettors are quick to change their opinion of a specific team on a dime, the general public isn’t quite as eager to embrace change. In fact, in the minds of casual fans (and bettors) change comes slowly and until recently their perception of the so-called expansion teams were still colored by the ‘Wild West’ days of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The World Hockey Association had many franchises move, disband and flat out disappear. The NHL was never quite as ‘fly by night’ but they did have some dubious failures including the Kansas City Scouts, Colorado Rockies (not to be confused with the very successful Avalanche or the baseball team of the same name) and the two year run of the Cleveland Barons (the relocated California Golden Seals).
It’s also important to remember that back in the 1970’s no one did any favors for expansion teams. They were expected to make do with the dregs of the league and struggle for a number of seasons. Although they eventually would become one of the league’s elite teams, the perception that many people have of expansion teams is still clouded by the 1975-1976 Washington Capitals. The first year of existence for the current President’s Cup champion was a nightmare—they finished their first season with a record of 8-67-5 and a mere 21 points—or 99 fewer than the 2015-2016 Caps earned during the season. The new teams coming over from the WHA were also gutted to the benefit of the existing teams in the league.
That’s changed considerably in the past decade or so. Now the other teams in the league and the NHL leadership recognize that it’s better for everyone if expansion teams are at least reasonably competitive. The marketplace for signing and trading players has also changed dramatically—in a league with free agency and salary caps it’s a much level playing field for everyone concerned. That’s why expansion teams can quickly become competitive in most sports.
That being said, perception dies hard and many ‘squares’ or those inexperienced at NHL hockey betting will still gravitate toward the ‘established’ team in a hypothetical matchup between them and an expansion team. The current qualitative situation of the team is of secondary concern. Assuming two evenly matched teams—let’s say it’s the New York Rangers and a second year expansion team—the recreational player will still gravitate toward the older, better known team.
This is a significant difference between casual sports bettors and professionals. Professionals for the most part don’t hold on to such sentimentality. They realize that they’re betting numbers, not teams and that the ‘brand name’ on the uniforms are of very little meaning.