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I'm not sure what it means to ask what kind of league it would be if there was no league - i.e. if the owners were not in league with one another.

Obviously there are many different league arrangements possible, and something like the multi-tiered soccer approach might make for lower initial barriers to entry, for example (although in practice this seems to make little difference), but without more concrete details on what would be proposed to enable more competition with respect to new entrants to the market, it's hard to really comment.

Declan: "something like the multi-tiered soccer approach might make for lower initial barriers to entry, for example (although in practice this seems to make little difference)"

Or rather, the differences are so profound that it's hard to even begin to think about it. In soccer (and here I'm going to write about England, because that's where my resident expert is from) there's promotion and relegation, so every year the top teams move up a division and the bottom teams drop down. Imagine the Toronto Leafs being demoted to the American Hockey League and you get the idea. How is English soccer different from N. American hockey:

- there's no amateur draft
- which leads to a totally different system of player development
- every player is a free agent
- franchises can move wherever (though interestingly, in practice they almost never do)
- an owner can build a great team by pouring money into it (cf. Elton John with Watford)

Take a look at a map of the premier league teams. Compare it to a map of the NHL teams. Notice how the soccer teams are all concentrated in the big markets - London has several teams, medium-sized markets have none. Whereas there is just one team in the enormous Southern Ontario hockey market.

If the NHL didn't have such tight control over individual franchise owners, there would be at least two teams in the Toronto area and (probably) two teams in Montreal also.

The comparison to English soccer is most useful. It makes me wonder what the underlying legal(?) differences are that create those other differences.

"Originally, the NHL/WHA merger had not gone through, because Montreal and Vancouver were opposed."

I'm a bit of a WHA nut, so here goes:

There were *several* attempts at a merger, including one after the first year of the league, proposed by the New York Rangers, that would see any (and potential all) WHA teams enter the NHL, so long as they paid a 3M expansion fee.

The NHL required a 3/4 vote to allow for a merger, which in practice meant that a coalition of 5 teams out of 17/18 were enough to block the move. The Leafs, Canadiens and Canucks were all worried about splittling HNIC revenue. The Bruins didn't want to share a market with the New England Whalers. The L.A. Kings opposed many of the merger plans, for reasons that have never been clear to me. Plus 3 owners/Presidents held MAJOR grudges against the WHA for having their rosters raided: the Leafs (half the Houston team was made up of players from the CHL's Phoenix Roadrunners - a Leaf farm team, plus they lost 4 of their top 5 scorers from 71-72 to the league - Ullman, Henderson, Keon and Jim Harrison, though not all at once), the Bruins (Cheevers, Sanderson, Pie McKenzie, Mike Walton and a bunch of role players/minor leaguers), and the Blackhawks (Bobby Hull and Whitey Stapleton). Since all that was needed was 5 of the following 7 teams: Leafs, Canadiens, Canucks, Kings, Black Hawks and Bruins to vote no, a merger was next to impossible. The Molson situation and Bassett in Birmingham signing all the Baby Bulls pretty much forced the NHL's hand.

The Premiership is one of many soccer leagues which operate on a similar basis, and many of the other leagues (Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, the French League (whatever name it goes by) have a distribution of teams which seems quite similar to the North American leagues. Even the Premiership isn't too far off North American patterns allowing for the uneven distribution of economic strength by city in England - the main oddity is the high number of teams in the Manchester area - perhaps a historical relic(?). As you say, the main lack in the NHL distribution of teams is the absence of a second/third team in the Toronto area (depending if you count Buffalo), something that seems bound to happen eventually, although the league seems willing to stall for a while first.

The WHA was a great alternative for players tired of the NHL dictatorship-like style and forced the NHL to improve player-relations.

I remember the Molson situation very well as sales of their products dried-up at the Winnipeg Arena after Montreal voted against a WHA merger. They soon changed their minds!! It's always about the money.

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