A Far Fetched League Scenario? or The Cold War of Northern Secession

There are a lot of scenarios that can be imagined to happy to any situation, including the NHL. Some of them are normal, steady as she goes, predictions of the future. This one is not. What if a radical series of events hit the NHL that would cause a complete change in everything we know as the National Hockey League. The following is a guided narration of that scenario, all of which has some basis in fact and historical precedent.

The NHL has recently stepped up unification of the league, in media, in appearance, in jerseys, in advertising, and so far the teams have complained little. There have been a myriad of problems with the switch to the new RBK Edge jerseys, with every team forced to adapt their design to the new cut, if not change it entirely. Then comes the website switch. Every team was to have a website that matches the template of the NHL.com home site. The New York Rangers protested, refusing to switch, even filing a lawsuit against the NHL when the league imposed a $100,000 per day fine for not complying. The Rangers cited the NHL's inability to market the team properly, and that the "illegal cartel," as the Rangers called the NHL, couldn't market the Rangers as well as the Rangers could market the Rangers.

The lawsuit was thrown out, but it set a huge precedent: the teams could sue the league. This means that the teams must have some form of independence from the parent company.

The Rangers have been Fire Eaters of sorts, thwarting the NHL and RBK at every turn with their jerseys, opting to use their style from last year, and now sewing the hemlines, folding them to look like a regular jersey. They're the only team to do such a rebellious thing.

What if something bigger happened? What if something so huge were to occur that the Rangers said "no more"? The NHL was formed out of the ashes of the National Hockey Association, which folded after 4 teams left the league to form the NHL. Why did they leave? Eddie Livingstone, owner of the Toronto Blue Shirts, annoyed the other owners so much that they packed up and left. Could it happen again? Now that I've given the basis for my scenario, let's move to a narrative.

In the near future....
Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL have decided that they are not reaching enough audience, and there isn't enough cash in the coffers with the much-expanded cap, which had reached pre-lockout levels just a few years earlier. Echoing the NHL of the 1990s, expansion is the answer, and two teams are being added: Las Vegas and Kansas City. In an effort to increase scoring at the same time, Bettman flexes his muscles and larger nets are implemented. This angers a vast portion of the league, and the New York Rangers begin to protest as goalies begin a mass exodus for Europe.

The Rangers sue the league, but their case is thrown out of court. The NHLPA sues on behalf of the goalies, threatening to strike, but things blow over as an undisclosed amount of money is given to the NHLPA for "damages." The NHL Board of Governors (NHLBoG) meets without Bettman, and the wheels are put in motion for something not seen in about a century.

The New York Rangers, complete with a team of lawyers to back their claims, secede from the National Hockey League. They would rather form their own league or join another than play in the sham of the new(er) NHL.

The NHL immediately takes the Rangers to court, but lose, and the Rangers are allowed to maintain their newfound independence. Following the decision, other teams begin to take interest. The Canadiens and Canucks secede the day the court case ended. The Flyers, Bruins, Oilers, Red Wings, and Blue Jackets join them within a week. By the start of the NHL season, the rebel teams are joined by the Wild and the Maple Leafs. The 10 seceding teams join together to make their own league, the Heritage Hockey League (HHL).

The NHLPA becomes torn as to how players are allowed to leave the league with their teams. It is decided that players who wish to leave with the team may do so without NHLPA benefits, and any who stay will re-enter the NHL as free agents. Though this appeals to a great many players, especially budding superstars who look to make more money by moving. however, goalies are chomping at the bit to join the HHL, who promises to return the game to its glory days and casts aside the new nets, the Edge jerseys, the shootout, and other new rules.

Both leagues begin their respective seasons, the NHL with just 22 teams (including the expansion Las Vegas and Kansas City) competes for the Stanley Cup still, and the HHL plays for the new Howe Trophy. The HHL, looking to start over, grovels to ESPN and gets a contract that guarantees them no money, but gives them exposure. The HHL matches the NHL for ratings, despite Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the first Stanley Cup of the new era.

Following the season, teams begin to defect after feeling mistreated by the NHL during the original secessions. The New Jersey Devils lead the charge, followed by the Senators, Blackhawks, and Islanders. despite losing many players during the defection, the teams find it worthwhile, and the HHL grows to 14 teams for its second season.

To counter, the NHL begins expanding, and adds teams in New York City, Seattle, Detroit (again), and Montreal. The North American hockey world has expanded to 40 top-level teams, the talent pool wears thin. Quality of play decreases. The HHL surpasses the NHL in ratings. The entire hockey world pressures the NHL to include the HHL in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL refuses, and the Sabres win their first Stanley Cup.

The NHL is hemorrhaging money, the ratings are the worst in history, and the HHL is doing rather well. Cities can only support so many teams, and cities with both NHL and HHL franchises support the established teams: those who defected. The NHL teams that have been established are primarily southern, and their lack of financial support becomes painfully apparent with the absence of the Canadian teams.

The following season, the NHL agrees to allow the NHL Champion to play the HHL Champion for the Stanley Cup. The HHL Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup over the Carolina Hurricanes. The Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins defect to the HHL following the season, although Sidney Crosby remains in the NHL. The 16 team HHL has won hockey's biggest prize, and won over the majority of fan support.

Gary Bettman finally gets fired, and despite hiring Wayne Gretzky as commissioner, it was too little too late. The following season, Sidney Crosby leaves the Tampa Bay Lightning to defect to the HHL, and the NHL's fate is sealed. With only southern teams (and a few northern expansions), the NHL declares bankruptcy after 3 more seasons of poorly played hockey and Stanley Cup losses. The HHL takes over, a 16 team league, playing the best hockey in over 50 years, dominates the North American landscape, and within 10 years of the NHL's demise, surpasses both the NBA and MLB in ratings.

Could it happen? I doubt it, a series of perfect events would have to coincide with court cases going in favor of the teams...but it's an interesting thought, no?

For Sci-Fi Channel Canada, I'm John Baranowski, Signing off.