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A nearly empty hockey stick rack is shown in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. (David Duprey/AP)
A nearly empty hockey stick rack is shown in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. (David Duprey/AP)

What would an NHL with just 12 teams look like? Add to ...

That is to say, we reduced the NHL from its current 30-team incarnation to just 12 teams, so that it could mirror the size of the league in the post-1967 expansion era.

The rules were simple. No salary cap. No spending restrictions. The idea was to draft a team that could win a Stanley Cup in 2012-13, and not a fantasy hockey pool loaded with one-way offensive players either. Just as in the real world, the teams needed scorers, checkers, face-off men, minute-munching defencemen and quality goaltending.

The point of the exercise was to ponder how much better the overall NHL product might be if the riff raff disappeared.

A 12-team league might more closely resemble what happens during an Olympic hockey tournament, where the level of hockey is highly entertaining.

So which 12 teams made the cut? Tough call.

There were multiple possibilities. Two six-team divisions, one in Canada, one in the United States. Or you could base it strictly upon on financial factors - market size, valuations, revenue streams. Forbes Magazine annually assesses the dollar value of the present-day franchises on multiple fronts.

The model that made the most sense was splitting the league into Canadian and American conferences, which would feature 11 of the 12 highest revenue teams, plus the Edmonton Oilers (who were edged out by the Los Angeles Kings) on Forbes’ list.

So in the U.S. Conference: The New York Rangers, the Detroit Red Wings, the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the Canadian Conference: the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens, the Vancouver Canucks, the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers and the Ottawa Senators.

Now, if you wanted to blue sky the exercise to reflect markets where hockey matters the most, then the so-far-imaginary, but long-anticipated second team in Toronto (or Markham, Ont.) would likely fit the bill ahead of two-dozen others currently in the league.

The ideal world would then be an 18-team NHL, composed of two nine-team conferences, one in Canada, one in the United States.

If you added Markham, Ont. and Quebec to the seven existing Canadian teams, and then added the Los Angeles Kings, the Washington Capitals and the Minnesota Wild to the six U.S. teams that made the contraction draft cut, you’d likely guarantee that every team would make a profit or come close to breaking even on a reliable annual basis.

Moreover, if every team could make it on its own, without needing to dip into a revenue-sharing pool, then you would eliminate one of the biggest sticking points in the current lockout stalemate - how to prop up all the teams in non-traditional markets that need a helping hand to survive the NHL’s current economic model.

In fact, you could likely do away with the salary cap under that scenario and simply let market forces prevail - or alternatively put a limited drag on spending with a payroll (or luxury) tax.

Sports tends to be cyclical. For long-term stability, you want markets that are strong enough to survive the down times. Currently, the Edmonton Oilers make an interesting case study because they are in a pitched fight over financing for a new arena, arguing that their current home, Rexall Place, produces inadequate ancillary revenues to operate profitably in the current system.

However, the Oilers have been an NHL bottom-feeder for the past three years (30th, 30th, and 29th) and have missed the playoffs for six consecutive years. In all that time, support for the franchise, in one of the smallest markets in the NHL, has remained strong. So Edmonton makes the cut, because it has proven that it can weather the downtimes that generally occur for every team eventually.

If you lopped off anywhere from 200 to 400 jobs from the bottom of NHL rosters, you could create an interesting competition for playing positions at the edges of the line-up. The gap between the first and 50th best players in the league is far wider than the gap between the 400th and the 600th best player, where there generally isn’t much to distinguish one from the other.

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