For several months, maybe even a year, I’ve been expressing my opinion about how the city of Cleveland should be in consideration for an NHL team. So much so that I even wrote an argumentative piece with fellow CST writer Gregg Senko about this topic (click here to read that article). However, since then, I’ve realized that Cleveland isn’t getting an NHL team any time soon. Perhaps one day it will happen, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
I’ve attended a lot of Monsters games over the past few years. Including this season even with the Covid-19 restrictions. While at these games, I’ve noticed that there are fans of many different NHL teams. For example, I’ve seen people wearing Boston Bruins jerseys, Pittsburgh Penguins t-shirts, Tampa Bay Lightning 2020 Stanley Cup Champions hats, etc. What this shows is that Cleveland does have a passion for the sport of hockey 🏒.
Moreover, the Monsters have always been near the top of the AHL (American Hockey League) in terms of attendance. If you go back and look at Game 4 of the 2016 Calder Cup Finals between the Lake Erie Monsters and Hershey Bears, it was the first true sellout in the history of the franchise. 19,600 fans were packed inside Quicken Loans Arena “The Q” to watch Oliver Bjorkstrand put in the game/championship-winning goal with 1.9 seconds remaining in overtime.
Cleveland had the opportunity once before to have an NHL team, the Cleveland Barons, but they only lasted for two seasons. After the second season, the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars to become the Dallas Stars.
Since the Monsters aren’t an NHL team, they don’t generate the same amount of interest as the Browns, Indians, or Cavaliers. However, there’s another issue when it comes to this subject. Think about the geography of Cleveland when it comes to the surrounding cities and the NHL. The Columbus Blue Jackets are two hours south. The Chicago Blackhawks are six hours to the west. The Detroit Red Wings are two hours to the north. Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins are two hours to the east. Additionally, you’ve got the Nashville Predators who are seven hours. So when you put it all together, it feels like Cleveland is in a bit of a black hole.
Let’s hypothetically say that Cleveland got an NHL team. You would think that a rivalry would instantly develop between the Jackets and the Cleveland team. However, that might not come to fruition. The reason is that when the Vegas Golden Knights came into the NHL, the league wanted to try and create them and the Arizona Coyotes based on geography. But that didn’t happen, instead, Vegas seems to have developed a rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche*.
*Quick side note, when the Monsters came to Cleveland they were called the Lake Erie Monsters and they were the AHL affiliate of the Avalanche.