With the NHL hosting their annual GM meetings last week, league expansion was at the forefront of discussions once again. With Quebec City and Las Vegas submitting expansion bids, it looks as if we’re on the verge of the first NHL expansion since the year 2000. But which cities truly deserve a professional hockey franchise? And in which markets would they actually succeed?
As the largest American city without a hockey team, the league could use Houston to grow the game in the southern United States. An instate rivalry with the Dallas Stars could appeal to fans in Texas, who would have more than one team to choose from if the league expanded within the state.
The Toyota Centre is the current home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets and was used as an arena for the AHL’s Houston Aeros for nearly two decades. The infrastructure is there and so is the potential fan base, but the risk is still high given the limited success of other teams in non-traditional markets.
Hamilton has flirted with the idea of an NHL team before. There have been attempts to move the Predators, Penguins, and the Coyotes to the city from RIM business tycoon Jim Balsillie. These attempts for expansion show how eager Hamilton based groups are for an NHL team.
Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres could potentially block a team from moving to the city, stating that a team in the Hamilton would cut into their geographical fan base. On the other hand, a team so close to both Buffalo and Toronto could create an interesting rivalry between the three teams. As unlikely as it is for Hamilton to ever be awarded a team, it doesn’t mean they won’t try and buy whichever team declares bankruptcy next.
It seems like the NHL was hopeful for Seattle to place an expansion bid. A Seattle team in addition to a potential Las Vegas squad could even out the conferences at 16 teams each. The problem lies in the fact that the main group that’s trying to get an arena built in Seattle can’t seem to reach an agreement with the city.
Seattle will likely get an arena built within several years, as the same group is trying to bring an NBA team back to the city as well. If the arena is built the league will probably keep close tabs on the possibility of a team in the pacific northwest.
2. Quebec City
Ever since the Nordiques moved to Colorado in 1995, Quebec City has been hoping for a possible return of NHL hockey to the city. With the success of a franchise returning to Winnipeg, the likelihood of the NHL returning to Quebec City has increased significantly. Winnipeg is not only a smaller market, but they also house the new version of the Jets in an even smaller building than the one Quebec City has available right now.
Nordiques fans have even been passionate enough to create their own form of protest towards the league. Hundreds of supporters have worn their powder blue jerseys and stormed different NHL games since the team departed for Colorado. In combination with the extremely passionate fan base and established infrastructure, a group representing Quebec City has already paid the non-refundable $500 million expansion fee. The city is clearly ready for the NHL to return.
1. Las Vegas
Las Vegas is truly an untested market for the league, with them not hosting a single team in any of the four major North American sports. However, the city has had hockey interest in the past, hosting the first ever outdoor game in 1991, and also hosts the league’s annual awards ceremony at the end of each season. A 20,000 seat arena is currently under construction in the city, and there is definite fan interest in bringing an NHL team to the entertainment capital of the world. A season ticket campaign was held in 2014 to gauge fan interest in a team, and 13,000 tickets were purchased over the course of a few months.
The interest for expansion to Vegas is there, the rink is being finished up, and the $500 million has been paid. The NHL could be the first of the major four leagues to take advantage of this potential market.