Ranking the expansion and relocation moves this off-season

With the announcement of Mentor joining the FHL on Monday, it appears the silly season for the leagues and towns that we aim to cover here at Bus League Hockey has come to a close.

The FHL, SPHL, NAHL, and LNAH have all rounded out their teams and schedules for the coming season, and really all that’s left for each of these leagues is filling out rosters, heading to training camp and then taking the ice.

But not all expansion and relocation moves are created equal, and we’re here to tell you which moves by these respective leagues was the best. To determine that, we took a variety of things into account, including impact on the local town, impact on their new league, chance of long-term success, and just plain how we feel about things, because there are times you can look at something and just know it doesn’t feel right, or vice versa. And then just how much excitement the announcement or news caused. Because some where a HUGE deal, while others barely made a ripple.

That all being said, here’s our rank of the seven teams across the NAHL, FHL, SPHL, and LNAH that either are new teams, or moved to a new town.

1. Elmira (NY) to the FHL

This has been in the works since last summer, and fell through due to arena issues and lease. But they got it down this summer, and as I wrote earlier, Elmira is the biggest get in league history. It’s an established hockey market, people were hungry for a team, they got a great local owner, and it means they will be updating and renovating First Arena with the chance for that to also have local ownership.

The only concern I have about this move is if people will turn up for the FHL after seeing ECHL hockey for a decade, and then having a team in a Single A league that doesn’t have the best reputation. Personally, I think this is going to be a big success for Elmira and the FHL.

We talked about it earlier, but this is the type of move that could help solidify and legitimize the league going forward, and potentially open future doors for expansion cities that might have been previously skeptical of the FHL.

2. Quad City to the SPHL

Almost everything I just said about Elmira applies here, minus the arena issues. It’s an established hockey market that wanted to keep pro hockey going after the ECHL team left town, and local owners quickly stepped in to put a team in the very strong SPHL. The reason this isn’t first is the SPHL would still be strong without QC, I don’t think the FHL would be strong without Elmira.

The only concern here about making it work is the worry about a potentially dwindling fan base, and the really long travel they now have in the SPHL. That said, if they can do close to the numbers they did in the ECHL, even near the end, hockey should be in Quad City for a long time.

3. NAHL Philadelphia Rebels relocate to Jamestown, NY

The Rebels were never going to work in Philadelphia, and that was proven with a couple of years of attendance where they didn’t break 300 fans a night. So getting out of the big city and into smaller city where they are the big show in town is a very smart move. The team also reportedly has a VERY friendly lease that is signed for the next seven years, so unless something goes insanely wrong, people in Jamestown will have quality hockey for a while.

The concern here is they had an NAHL team previously in Jamestown, and well it didn’t really draw. They did about 660 fans a night, which is nearly triple what they were drawing in Philly, but still not great. Maybe they market it better and get closer to 1000 a night, but if not, then they have seven seasons of a quality product playing in front of a few hundred fans.

4. Mentor, Ohio to the FHL

This was the worst-kept secret in the FHL, and had been rumored since before Elmira talks heated back up this summer, and it finally happened yesterday. This gives the FHL a strong sixth team, with a good GM and coach in place, in a new market.

The concerns here are the late start to things, with roughly 93 days until the season starts, and then the worry of a new market that is close to a major city with better hockey. Will fans turn up for this product or will they just drive the 30-40 minutes to Cleveland to see the AHL Monsters instead? But the area does have Single A baseball that is well supported, so maybe that translates to hockey.

5. Berlin, New Hampshire to the LNAH

I wanted to rank this one higher, I really did.

If this were just based on the quality of play a town was getting, this might rank highest on the list. I’m happy for the people in Berlin that they get another shot at pro hockey and in a fun league like the LNAH. But of all the teams that we’re listing here, this is the one I have the most concerns about, and worry that it could blow up the fastest.

The biggest issue is if Berlin can support this team. It’s not a big town (10,000 or so), and just doesn’t have the facility size needed for a big fan base. The rink can’t hold more than 1000 seats in it (anyone who tells you it’s 1680 like the Berlin River Drivers claimed is lying), and they’re going to a league with higher player salaries (but lower travel costs), and fewer home games. So a league that’s in the ballpark of FHL costs and fewer home games to make up the money, that’s cause for concern.

Plus the league isn’t exactly steady. Yes, LNAH is better hockey than the FHL, but they’ve had 40+ teams in their 22 seasons, and had to put out a post on the league site saying, “Yes, we’re playing in 2018-19.” Which is never a good sign.

6. Maryland (Baltimore) to the NAHL

The biggest benefit here is that this pushes the NAHL’s East Division to six teams, evening out the schedule, and putting the league back at an ever 24 teams with six in each division.

But the worry here is that they are playing in rink that’s similar size to Berlin’s (and a few other NAHL teams in the East), and it’s in a major city. Baltimore deserves hockey, the NAHL is a good product, but I just worry that the rink and small-time atmosphere kind of gets lost in the shuffle similar to Philadelphia’s woes, and that people don’t turn up for it.

7. Coulee Region (NAHL) to Chippewa Falls, WI

Kind of a neutral move. They go from one small rink in a small town to another small rink in a small town. Prior to the move the rink in Chippewas Falls announced it was getting $700k in updates, so they will have a nice, new place to play.

But again, small town to small town, and you wonder if they can top the 580 fans a night they drew last season as the Chill. There’s good ownership in place, but this just isn’t the type of exciting move that people notice, unless you live in Chippewa Falls, or just saw your team leave down in LaCrosse.

So that’s our rankings, do you agree? Disagree? Or do you just want all the expansion talk to end to see pucks on the ice?


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