Eagleson: No, probably two or three broke even.
SI: And several franchises were rescued from financial ruin. Meanwhile, the NHL turned down a merger with the WHA. The result is that the same 18 NHL clubs—and eight WHA teams—are starting this season. It has been obvious for a long time that hockey has spread its talent, audience and dollars too thin. Aren't 26 clubs simply too many?
Eagleson: I'm not convinced that there are more than 20 good hockey cities in North America. And I'm not convinced that the NHL has 18 of them. During merger talks, our very simple view was that four weak NHL franchises—Cleveland, Denver and, at that time, St. Louis and Atlanta—could be dropped in favor of four strong WHA franchises: Quebec, Edmonton, Winnipeg and New England. We could gamble on two other WHA clubs, probably Cincinnati and Houston. Then we'd have 20 pretty good hockey cities.
SI: Actually, Alan, haven't you advocated "restructuring" the NHL back to 14 or 15 teams? Which teams would go?
Eagleson: The places that worry me are, particularly, Cleveland and Colorado because the WHA folded in both locations and because there is just a very negative feeling about these cities.
Ziegler. When people have invested upward of $5 or $6 million, it would be unfair to come in and say, "Thanks a lot. It's been fun having you, but for the good of the league we don't need you anymore." If the economics don't prove out and they're unwilling to continue to invest, then we can restructure. But the feeling is that maybe we still haven't given it our best shot in some of these cities.
Eagleson: It's easier for me to divest the NHL of franchises than it is for John and the owners. It's not my money.
SI: Doesn't the league still have an expansion committee? Surely there can't be any serious thought of expanding?
Ziegler. We do have a committee but we have no plans for expansion at this point.
Eagleson: They're still recovering from the last one.