The National Hockey League (NHL) has undergone several rounds of expansion and other organizational changes during its 100-year history to reach its current thirty-one teams: twenty-four in the United States, and seven in Canada. The last time the NHL added expansion teams was in 2016, when the league approved the Vegas Golden Knights for play in the 2017–18 season. The league's most recent relocation was in 2011, when the former Atlanta Thrashers relocated to become the modern Winnipeg Jets.
To gauge interest and help determine whether the NHL should entertain further expansion, the NHL Board of Governors accepted applications for new franchises during the 2015 offseason. Two potential ownership groups submitted applications for prospective teams in Las Vegas and Quebec City. The geographic distribution of teams between the NHL's two conferences was not a primary consideration for expansion, and the earliest time when a new franchise could start play was the 2017–18 season. On June 22, 2016, the NHL approved expansion to Las Vegas starting in the 2017–18 season with the Vegas Golden Knights. With the Quebec City still shelved by the league's board of directors, the league opened up another expansion window in December 2017, specifically to allow an ownership group from Seattle to bid on a team; no other cities were allowed to submit bids in that window.
- 1 Expansion sites in Canada
- 2 Expansion sites in the United States
- 3 Possible relocation candidates
- 4 Expansion outside Canada and the United States
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Expansion sites in Canada
The potential of adding additional franchises in Canada had been an ongoing source of controversy for the NHL in recent years as numerous groups proposed expanding the league into a new Canadian city, or purchasing a struggling American franchise and relocating it north; to a certain extent, these issues continue even after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, becoming the country's seventh active team. Quebec City and the Golden Horseshoe area of Southern Ontario are most frequently proposed as locations for new Canadian teams, as was Winnipeg prior to the announced relocation of the Thrashers.
History of Canadian franchises (1967–present)
Throughout the history of the NHL, attempts to bring franchises to Canadian cities have caused points of contention. Among them, the league's existing Canadian teams, especially the Montreal Canadiens, historically have raised concerns about further dividing the NHL's Canadian television revenue.
Vancouver's rejected bid for one of six new franchises added in 1967 outraged Canadians, who felt they had been "sold out". Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson stated that "the NHL decision to expand only in the U.S. impinges on the sacred principles of all Canadians." Three years later, the Vancouver Canucks joined as the league's third Canadian franchise.
The 1979 defeat by a single vote of a merger agreement between the NHL and the rival World Hockey Association that would have resulted in three Canadian WHA franchises (the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets) joining the NHL led to a mass boycott of Molson products across Canada. In a second vote, the Montreal Canadiens, owned by Molson, reversed their position, allowing the Oilers, Nordiques (who were owned at the time by then-rival brewery Carling O'Keefe) and Jets to join the NHL for the 1979–80 NHL season (along with the New England Whalers, who would be renamed the Hartford Whalers). The Calgary Flames became Canada's seventh franchise in 1980, relocating from Atlanta.
There was considerable upheaval amongst Canadian franchises in the 1990s. In 1992, the NHL returned to Ottawa, beating out Hamilton for an expansion team. However, the declining value of the Canadian dollar at that time, coupled with rapidly escalating salaries, placed hardships on Canadian franchises. As a result, the Nordiques and Jets left Canada, becoming the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 and the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 respectively. Fears persisted up to the 2004–05 NHL lockout that the Flames, Oilers, and Senators could follow suit. The financial fortunes of Canada's teams rebounded following the lockout: Canada's six franchises represented one-third of NHL revenues in 2006–07, primarily due to the surging value of the Canadian dollar.
In May 2011, True North Sports and Entertainment, an ownership group with the support of billionaire David Thomson, 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and moved the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This was the first franchise relocation since 1997 and the first franchise to locate in Canada since the Ottawa Senators entered the league in 1992. At the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, it was announced that the team would be named the Jets.
Current views on Canadian expansion
Former National Hockey League Players Association executive director Paul Kelly has repeatedly argued in favor of bringing a new team to Canada. In early 2008, he described the Canadian market to The Palm Beach Post: "The six Canadian franchises do so well, they pack the buildings, get great TV, great revenue streams. If you put another team up there, be it in Nova Scotia or Hamilton, it would be more of the same." Prior to the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke in favor of another team in Canada, stating he has spoken with NHL owners in the past about bringing a new team to southern Ontario.
A study published in April 2011 by the University of Toronto's Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation concluded that Canada can support 12 NHL teams, twice the number it had at the time of the study, including second franchises for Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
In May 2013, Nate Silver, editor of the polling and statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight, concluded that there were about as many avid hockey fans in Canada as in the United States, despite the U.S. having nine times Canada's population. He determined that among current NHL media markets, the average Canadian market had considerably more hockey fans than the typical U.S. market, and that Canada could support 11 or 12 teams, with two additional franchises in the Golden Horseshoe, a second franchise in Montreal, and a team in Quebec City. Silver also believed Vancouver could support a second franchise, although he thought that some of the Vancouver-area hockey market could be drawn by a Seattle-based team.
Quebec City has been home to two NHL hockey teams. The first, the Quebec Bulldogs, lasted from 1878 to 1920, after which they moved to Hamilton, Ontario. The second, the Quebec Nordiques, called Quebec City their home from 1972 to 1979 in the World Hockey Association, and from then on to 1995 as a National Hockey League team, at which point they moved to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche. Part of the challenge for both the Bulldogs and Nordiques was that Quebec City was by far the smallest market in the NHL. According to the Television Bureau of Canada, a prospective Quebec City team would now be in the league's second-smallest market, ahead of only Winnipeg. However, Silver's analysis suggested that the Quebec City market was comparable to those of Winnipeg, Buffalo, and Washington, D.C. in terms of avid hockey fans.
In 2009, Alexander Medvedev, founder and president of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, stated his interest in purchasing an NHL team for Quebec City, saying that it was "very strange" there was no NHL team there. Medvedev later shelved plans to buy a North American team after NHL representatives told him that the league would never allow him to own one of its clubs. In October 2009, Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and former Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut regarding a team. Bettman stated that Quebec City could be considered as a candidate for an NHL team provided it built a new arena and a team were for sale.
In May 2011, Labeaume stated that Pierre Karl Péladeau, then-president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., was in talks with the NHL regarding a franchise in Quebec City. He later became a politician for the Parti Québécois, a sovereignist political party in the province. In September 2012, then-Quebec premier Jean Charest (a member of the rival Liberal Party and whose government had invested in the new arena) claimed that the political aspect might hinder Quebec City's chances of getting the Nordiques back, saying that Bettman might be less likely to allow a team to move if sovereignists were in power. According to Sports Illustrated, the league is wary of the Quebec sovereignty movement because of concerns that it could destabilize the Canadian dollar. However, Mayor Labeaume insists that Péladeau's involvement in politics will hinder neither the management of the new arena nor the negotiations over the return of the Nordiques.
Prior to the 2011–12 NHL season, an exhibition game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning was played at the Colisée Pepsi, the former home of the Nordiques. The Canadiens were well received despite being from rival Montreal, and the designated away team of the game. Montreal was also scheduled to host the Carolina Hurricanes at the Colisée Pepsi in 2012; however, that game was canceled due to the lockout. In September 2012, construction started on an 18,000-seat arena in Quebec City that would eventually become known as Centre Vidéotron, the cost of which (C$400 million) was split equally between the provincial and municipal governments. The arena opened on September 12, 2015.
In July 2013, ex-Nordiques coach Michel Bergeron accused Bettman of arranging a Glendale City Council vote concerning the relocation of the team then known as the Phoenix Coyotes, although the team would have more likely moved to Seattle. Bergeron called it "an obvious lack of respect and I find it disgusting," and claimed that Bettman is averse to moving teams out of the United States. In March 2014, news broke that former Canadian prime minister and vice-chairman of Quebecor Brian Mulroney was also involved with negotiations. Labeaume pointed out that Mulroney and Bettman had been negotiating directly for some time, and that "Mr. Bettman is a businessman. The Quebec sovereignty project will not bother him."
On June 24, 2015, Quebecor announced that it planned to apply for an NHL expansion franchise, with the aim of bringing the Nordiques back to Quebec City. Nearly a month later, on July 20, 2015, Quebecor formally announced it had submitted an application to the NHL for an expansion franchise. On July 21, 2015, the NHL confirmed it had received an application from Quebecor. On August 5, 2015, it was announced that Quebec had moved on to Phase II of the expansion process. The bid subsequently advanced to Phase III, which ended on September 4.
Centre Vidéotron hosted a neutral-site preseason game between the Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins on September 28, 2015. The following day in New York City, Quebecor and the Las Vegas ownership group presented their bids to the NHL's executive committee. However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated in a press conference after the NHL's Board of Governors meeting that though the league continued to explore the possibility of expansion, no deadline had been established for a decision. Commissioner Bettman also said that expansion requires a three-quarters affirmative vote from the Board of Governors, but the members of the executive committee would first have to make a recommendation to the group.
Quebec City's 2015 bid on an expansion team, while not entirely ruled out, was significantly weakened after the Canadian dollar declined in value against its U.S. counterpart. As of June 2016, the Quebec City bid was said to be still being seriously considered, but not yet decided. The league ultimately decided to "defer" the Quebec bid until a later time. Centre Vidéotron was awarded some exhibition games leading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, an international tournament operated by the NHL, as well as a pair of NHL preseason games in successive years; on October 4, 2016 and September 18, 2017, between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
Hamilton mayor Jack MacDonald attempted to lure the Colorado Rockies to Hamilton in 1980, an effort that ended when he lost his re-election bid. Hamilton was also a candidate for expansion in 1990, being one of the favorites, but it lost out to the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning. Hamilton's bid group attempted to negotiate the $50 million expansion fee; a condition the NHL rejected. While it was speculated that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres did not want an NHL team in Hamilton due to territorial competition, former league president Gil Stein has denied that was the case.
BlackBerry founder and former co-CEO Jim Balsillie has made several attempts to purchase an existing NHL team with the purpose of bringing it to Southern Ontario. He signed an agreement in principle to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins for US$175 million on October 5, 2006. Penguins' majority owner Mario Lemieux agreed to the sale after struggling to gain support from local governments to build a new arena. Balsillie's purchase agreement offered to help finance a new arena, but also contained a stated intention to relocate the team to Hamilton or Kitchener-Waterloo if no deal on a new arena could be reached. Balsillie later retracted his bid, claiming that the NHL had placed conditions on the sale that he was not comfortable with, including a commitment to keep the team in Pittsburgh under any circumstances.
Balsillie then reached an agreement to purchase the Nashville Predators for $238 million on May 24, 2007, and began a season ticket campaign in Hamilton a week later intending to prove that the city was capable of hosting an NHL team. Thousands of fans purchased tickets, however the sale again fell through a month later when Predators owner Craig Leipold terminated the agreement. The Predators were later sold to a group of ten investors, led by Nashville businessman David Freeman, who promised to keep the team in Nashville. Leipold accepted $40 million less from Freeman's group than Balsillie offered, and later ended up as the majority owner of the Minnesota Wild.
During the 2008–2009 NHL season, the future of the Phoenix Coyotes was on shaky ground as the team expected to lose as much as $45 million, and the league had to step in to assist with paying the team's bills. Coyotes' managing partner Jerry Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early May 2009. Immediately afterwards, an offer by Balsillie to purchase the team was made public. The NHL challenged the Coyotes' ability to file for bankruptcy, claiming that as a result of the financial support the league had been offering the franchise, the league itself is in control of the team, and that Moyes did not have authority to act as he did. Balsillie launched a public relations campaign aiming at igniting Canadian nationalistic feelings and the perception that Bettman had an anti-Canadian agenda, including a website. His bid to purchase the Coyotes failed as the bankruptcy judge ruled his offer did not meet the NHL's rules on relocation.
The Hamilton Spectator reported in May 2009, that a Vancouver-based group led by Tom Gaglardi was planning to make a bid to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the team to Hamilton in time for the 2010–11 NHL season. This never materialized, and the idea was eventually rendered moot by the Thrashers' sale and relocation to Winnipeg. Gaglardi later purchased the Dallas Stars and kept the team in Dallas.
Under NHL rules, an expansion or relocation of a team to Hamilton could potentially be blocked by the Buffalo Sabres or the Toronto Maple Leafs, because FirstOntario Centre, the likely venue for a Hamilton NHL team, is located less than 50 miles from the Sabres' and the Leafs' home arenas. Roughly 15% of the Sabres' business comes from residents of the area of Ontario between Hamilton and Buffalo, and the Sabres or the Leafs could require "an enormous indemnification payment" to allow an additional team to be established within a 50-mile radius. An unnamed bidder made a bid for the Sabres in February 2011, offering $259 million for the team to move it out of Buffalo, which would either mean the team would relocate to Hamilton or it would clear the way for another team to make such a move. The bid was rejected in favor of an offer from Terry Pegula, who planned to keep the team in Buffalo.
The city has hosted 10 Grey Cups (Canadian Football League Championship Games), the 1930 British Empire Games (now known as the Commonweath Games), 1986 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, 1996 Men's and Women's World Curling Championships, and the 1997 IIHF Women's World Championship.
Greater Toronto Area
Although Toronto is already home to the Toronto Maple Leafs and that team's AHL development team, the Toronto Marlies, its suburbs have been mentioned as potential sites for an NHL franchise, under the premise that the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA, is the most-populous metropolitan area in Canada and therefore could support two NHL teams. Unlike other potential expansion markets, a new arena would need to be constructed, and most of the proposals for a new Toronto area team include a new arena along with them.
In April 2009, a group of businesspeople met with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to discuss the possibility of bringing a second NHL franchise into the Toronto area, most likely in Vaughan, Ontario. Despite the talks, Daly reportedly stated the NHL is "not currently considering expansion nor do we have any intention or desire to relocate an existing franchise. In June 2009, a group headed by Andrew Lopez and Herbert Carnegie proposed a $1 billion plan for a second Toronto team, called the Legacy, to begin play no earlier than 2012. The group announced a plan for a 30,000-seat arena, half of which would be priced at C$50 or less. The arena would be situated in Downsview Park in the north of the city. Twenty-five percent of net profits would be given to charity.
In 2011, a proposal surfaced to build a multi-purpose 19,500-seat arena in Markham, Ontario, northeast of Toronto, that could be used for an NHL team. The C$300 million arena is part of a proposed entertainment complex. The company behind the proposal, GTA Sports and Entertainment, is headed by W. Graeme Roustan. Roustan, a Montreal-raised private equity investor whose firm Roustan Capital, partnered with Kohlberg & Company and purchased Bauer from Nike, was also the chairman of Bauer. The proposed location for the arena is near the Unionville commuter train station on land owned by Rudy Bratty, chairman and CEO of Remington Group, an organization that is charged with the development of Markham's downtown. However, the GTA Sports and Entertainment Group did not file an application for expansion prior to the July 20, 2015 deadline.
Bill Hunter, the founder of the Edmonton Oilers, had an agreement to purchase the St. Louis Blues and move the team to Saskatoon as the Saskatoon Blues in the 1983–84 NHL season; however, the NHL (which did not want to leave the St. Louis market) vetoed the sale. Faced with the prospects of either having to allow the sale or contract the franchise, the league found an owner (Harry Ornest) willing to keep the team in Missouri and, in an eleventh-hour deal, preserved the Blues in St. Louis, where they remain. Saskatoon again bid for a franchise during the league's early 1990s expansion, but the bid was considered a long-shot and was withdrawn before the league made its final decision.
A proposal from Ice Edge Holdings to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes would have moved a portion of the team's home games to Saskatoon in an effort to maintain the team's viability in its main home in Phoenix, similar to the former Bills Toronto Series arrangement in the National Football League; the group, had it bought the team, was ready to go forward and had leased Saskatoon's SaskTel Centre for five home games in the 2009–10 season. The group was believed to lack the funds to buy the team outright, but remained in contention as potential minority owner until May 2011, when it pulled out of negotiations. Some members of the Ice Edge group later joined the ownership group led by Canadian businessman George Gosbee who ultimately purchased the Coyotes and kept them in Arizona.
On Ice Management, an ownership group backed by auto racer, former Moncton Wildcats owner, and former professional hockey player John Graham, is backing a long-shot bid to bring the NHL to Saskatoon. The Calgary Flames were scheduled to host the Ottawa Senators in Saskatoon, for a preseason game (sponsored by Graham) in September 2013; that game led to speculation that the city may host the Flames if the team's regular arena, Scotiabank Saddledome, which had been damaged in the 2013 Alberta floods, did not complete its repairs in time for the 2013–14 season. In the end, repairs were completed on a compressed schedule, and the Saddledome reopened in September 2013. Although neither Graham nor any other bidder representing Saskatoon placed a bid in the expansion window, the city will again host a neutral-site preseason game in 2015.
The city has hosted the 1989 Memorial Cup, 1991 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, 2009 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, 2010 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, 2013 Memorial Cup, 2013 University Cup, 2014 University Cup, and UFC Fight NIght 74.
The city with the longest odds that has occasionally come up in expansion discussions is Halifax, Nova Scotia. The city presently has the Scotiabank Centre with a capacity of 10,595 which opened in 1978. The arena has undergone some renovations that were funded as part of the naming right deal signed in 2014. The city has had three previous American Hockey League teams (Nova Scotia Voyageurs, Nova Scotia Oilers, and Halifax Citadels) and presently has a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team (Halifax Mooseheads). The remoteness of the city, population base, and lack of a large enough arena are major obstacles for any attempt to expand to any city into the Atlantic Canada region. Halifax would have had to have been an early entry into the NHL if they were to have had any chance at being in the league such as the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League being a small team in a small league back in the 1920's. The city of Halifax had one team challenge for the Stanley Cup in March of 1900 when the Halifax Crescents challenged the Montreal Shamrocks and were beaten 2 games to none. For Halifax to have any future chance of landing a team, a new arena would be the first obstacle to overcome as the Scotiabank Centre is a less than ideal for expansion as the arena is surrounded by streets, buildings, and the Citadel Hill National Historic Site. Second, would be ownership with deep pockets as the cost of operating a team in a city as remote as Halifax is would have a higher travel expense budget than most of the league. If a teams are added in Quebec City and Hartford; Halifax could become a little more viable as a market but at that point the league would have to be 38 to 40 team league.
By 2018 the city had gained some more attention as a sports city with the Halifax Rainmen and then the Halifax Hurricanes playing in the finals of the National Basketball League of Canada several seasons in a row. The city was rumoured to be the destination of the Rochester Knighthawks of the indoor professional National Lacrosse League or an expansion team in the league for 2018-19 or 2019-20, and the formation of the Halifax Wanderers in the Canadian Premier League. The city was also selected as host of the 2019 Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads hosting the events at the Scotiabank Centre. The city has also hosted the 2010 Tim Horton's Brier (Canadian Men's Curling Championship), 2011 Canada Winter Games, the 2015 World Men's Curling Championship, 2015 University Cup, the 2016 University Cup, and the 2016 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.
Expansion sites in the United States
Several cities in the United States have been mentioned in the media as possible future sites for new or relocated NHL teams. In December 2007, organizations from Kansas City, Las Vegas, Houston, and Seattle presented their proposals for a franchise to the NHL's Executive Committee.
The five largest metropolitan regions without NHL franchises are (in descending order of population) Houston, Atlanta, Seattle-Tacoma, San Diego, and Baltimore. Cleveland, Kansas City, Houston, Cincinnati and Atlanta have hosted major professional hockey teams. During the 1970s, Cleveland was home to the Cleveland Barons (the former Oakland Seals), which failed to draw fans or revenue, and was merged with the Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) after two seasons. The Atlanta Flames joined the NHL in 1972 and played in the city for eight years before being moved to Calgary in 1980 and becoming the Calgary Flames. The Atlanta Thrashers played in the NHL from 1999 to 2011 until their move to Winnipeg for the 2011–12 season. The Kansas City Scouts joined the NHL in 1974 and relocated to Denver after two unsuccessful seasons, becoming the Colorado Rockies in 1976. The Rockies subsequently moved to the New York/New Jersey region to become the New Jersey Devils in 1982. The Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association (WHA) existed from 1972 until 1978, where they won two Avco Cups and enjoyed a large and loyal fanbase. The Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association (WHA) existed from 1974 until 1979, and were the final cut from the WHA/NHL merger of 1979 despite having a loyal fanbase.
Among NBA cities lacking an NHL franchise, Houston (Toyota Center), Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena), Portland (Moda Center), and Orlando (Amway Center) have arenas capable of hosting NHL games. Cleveland, which had a failed franchise which lasted for only two seasons, is unlikely to receive a team due to its close proximity to the existing NHL franchise in Columbus, southwest of Cleveland via Interstate 71. Similarly, Orlando would be unlikely to receive a franchise due to its close proximity to Tampa and its franchise via Interstate 4. Atlanta's Philips Arena was formerly capable of hosting NHL games; the arena has not been used for hockey since the Thrashers' relocation in 2011 and is currently undergoing renovations in order to optimize its sightlines for basketball, leaving the arena less than suitable for the NHL. Should the NHL return to Atlanta for a third time, the next largest hockey-ready arena in Metro Atlanta, the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, currently the home of the ECHL's Atlanta Gladiators, is unsuitable for long-term use by a prospective NHL franchise due to being undersized at 11,300 seats.
Other arenas are specifically designed for NBA franchises such as San Antonio's AT&T Center and KeyArena in Seattle. The New York Islanders moved from Nassau Coliseum in Nassau County to Brooklyn's Barclays Center for the 2015–16 season onwards, an arena specifically designed for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets. The arrangement was amended starting with 2018-19 where the Islanders would play half their schedule at the refurbished Nassau Coliseum while wating on the completion of their new home in Elmont, New York which is scheduled to be completed by 2021
Milwaukee has been considered at times for an NHL team due to the popularity of ice hockey in Wisconsin; the city's BMO Harris Bradley Center, scheduled to be replaced by the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center in 2018, had the capacity to host an NHL team, and the notion has garnered support from players. However, Milwaukee has never received a team due to its small market already being home to multiple major pro teams – in addition to the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks, the market also de facto supports the Green Bay Packers – and (by some observers) its close proximity to Chicago and the Chicago Blackhawks wanting to protect its market. The Milwaukee area already hosts the NHL Nashville Predators' American Hockey League-affiliated development team, the Milwaukee Admirals. The state of Wisconsin is one of the hot beds for hockey in the United States with many youth, junior, and collegiate programs in the state.
During the 1990s, the Hampton Roads region of Virginia was in contention for an NHL expansion or relocation, which would have been known as the Hampton Roads Rhinos. Other cities such as Oklahoma City, San Diego, and Portland, Oregon, had expressed interest in landing an NHL team. Baltimore, which was a "backup" option had one of the Expansion Six not been able to launch in 1967, is today unlikely to get a team due to its close proximity to the Washington Capitals (who play preseason games in Baltimore annually) and Philadelphia Flyers; the main arena in Baltimore, Royal Farms Arena, is both undersized and outdated. Current proposals to replace the Royal Farms Arena don't have attracting an NHL or NBA team in mind.
Seattle has a long hockey history, dating back to the formation of the PCHA's Seattle Metropolitans in 1915. The 1917 Metropolitans were the first American winners of the Stanley Cup, but folded in 1924, while the Seattle Totems played in the borderline-major Western Hockey League from 1944 until the WHL's dissolution in 1975. As of 2015, the Puget Sound region's highest level of hockey is the Canadian major juniors: the Seattle Thunderbirds (based 20 miles south of Seattle in Kent) and Everett Silvertips (25 miles north of Seattle) play in the Western Hockey League. Additionally, Silver's 2013 study concluded that Seattle had the largest number of avid hockey fans of any U.S. media market that did not have an NHL team.
In April 1974, Seattle and Denver were conditionally granted NHL franchises. Seattle's never came to fruition because of the Western League's instability (according to season ticket promotions, the team would have kept the WHL name of Totems). A Seattle group made a bid on an expansion franchise in 1990, but it failed over the financial terms the NHL demanded. The SuperSonics basketball team managed the arena and would not offer a share of suite revenues considered necessary for the NHL team's success. The businessmen who wanted to operate the potential NHL team were unwilling to pay the $50 million expansion fee imposed by the NHL, and their bid was rejected.
The largest arena in use in the Seattle area, KeyArena, is considered somewhat problematic for NHL hockey due to a 1994–95 renovation. The changes were tailored to its major tenant, the now-relocated Seattle SuperSonics. Notably, the sight lines for hockey leave much to be desired. The scoreboard was significantly off-center in the arena's hockey configuration, and so many lower-bowl seats were obstructed that half the lower bowl had to be curtained off for hockey. This was a major factor in the Thunderbirds leaving for their own building in Kent in 2009. SB Nation columnist Travis Hughes argued in 2012 that for these reasons, KeyArena would be "just unacceptable" even as a temporary facility. League deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated that KeyArena would be "a difficult arena for hockey" due to the large number of obstructed-view seats. The most recent NHL exhibitions to be held in Seattle (in 1996) were instead hosted at the Tacoma Dome 30 miles south of Seattle; that arena would likewise require major renovations to be suitable for hosting a full-time NHL team.
An unnamed Seattle group expressed its interest to the NHL in 2007. In 2011, the NHL acknowledged that there was interest expressed by a group in Seattle for a team. Multiple reports suggested Chicago Wolves owner and businessman Don Levin had expressed interest in building a new arena in nearby Bellevue that could host an NHL team.
On February 16, 2012, a plan was announced to build a new arena in Seattle's SoDo district just south of Safeco Field. An investment group, headed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, is proposing to seek a return of the National Basketball Association (NBA) to Seattle after the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and is interested in possibly having an NHL team as well. The configuration of the proposed arena would be able to accommodate hockey, unlike KeyArena. The arena would be built as a public-private partnership between the City of Seattle and Hansen's group. Hansen's group would invest $290 million and the public sector (city and county) $200 million. The project will not proceed without the confirmed purchase of a professional team as the arena's tenant. Hansen's group has purchased all the land that makes up the arena site. Commenting later that day, NHL Commissioner Bettman stressed that the NHL has no plans for expansion or relocation. Levin has spoken to Hansen and expressed his interest in being involved as the owner of the NHL franchise that would be the tenant in the arena. Levin has also expressed his interest to Bettman.
On July 25, 2012, it was reported that Wayne Gretzky was meeting with Bellevue officials regarding an NHL team in the Seattle area. On September 11, 2012, it was announced that the Seattle City Council had reached an agreement with Hansen to build an arena in Seattle's SoDo district. The agreement calls for a $40 million transportation fund, $7 million to upgrade KeyArena, an option for the city and county to sell the arena at the end of the 30-year lease period, and a personal financial guarantee from Hansen if the arena's finances fall short. Shortly afterward, on September 24, it was reported that Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz and team president Patrick LaForge visited Seattle, sparking rumors of the Oilers relocating to Seattle.
When Greg Jamison was unable to meet a deadline to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes on January 31, 2013, speculation began that the team would be relocated to Seattle. On June 16, 2013, it was confirmed that the Phoenix Coyotes would be moving to Seattle if an arena deal between the team and the City of Glendale was not reached. Ray Bartozek and Anthony Lanza would purchase the franchise for $220 million and immediately begin operations in Seattle for the following season. However, on July 3, 2013, the Glendale City Council narrowly voted 4–3 to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale.
On April 27, 2015, Ray Bartoszek's RLB Holdings Sports and Entertainment group filed a zoning code interpretation request with the City of Tukwila for a potential privately funded arena in the Seattle suburb. The arena would sit adjacent to the Tukwila Sounder commuter rail station. However, no formal application was received by any Seattle-based group by the application deadline of July 20, 2015.
On December 4, 2017, the Seattle City Council voted 7–1 to approve a memorandum of understanding between the city of Seattle and the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, co-founded by Tim Leiweke, for renovations of KeyArena. Renovations for the arena are proposed to begin in 2018 and fully completed in 2020. While the renovations are intended for acquiring an NHL franchise, acquiring a new SuperSonics basketball team were also within the design of the approval. On December 7, the NHL's board of governors agreed to consider an expansion application from Seattle, with an expansion fee set at $650 million. The Seattle ownership group is represented by David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer, who will conduct a preliminary season ticket drive to gauge interest in Seattle. On March 1, 2018 the team surpassed its goal of 10,000 season ticket deposits within 12 minutes. The city is hoping to have team playing for the 2020-21 or 2021-22 seasons out of a renovated KeyArena.
Greater Houston is the largest market in terms of both city proper and metro population, in the US or Canada without an NHL franchise; since 2016, Houston is also now the largest metropolitan area without a complete set of teams in the major professional sports leagues. The area ranks second in the nation with 22 based Fortune 500 companies, only behind New York City, which has 45.
Professional ice hockey dates back to 1946 in Houston with the establishment of the Houston Skippers. This was followed by the Houston Apollos, the Houston Aeros of the WHA and the Houston Aeros of the AHL. The WHA Houston Aeros were an original member of the World Hockey Association. From 1972 to 1978, the Aeros twice won the AVCO World Trophy and featured the first father/son combination to play together in professional hockey, Gordie Howe and his two sons Mark and Marty. The Aeros, despite being a successful franchise, were left out of the NHL-WHA merger and were forced to fold in 1978. Another team also named the Aeros, of the American Hockey League (AHL), played at The Summit (renamed the Compaq Center in 1998 and converted to a megachurch after the Aeros' departure), and moved to the Toyota Center in 2003; the Aeros were unable to negotiate a lease extension, leading to the team's departure from Houston in 2013.
As part of the lease agreement between Toyota Center (which is NHL capacity, with 17,800 seats in its hockey configuration) and the Houston Rockets, only an NHL team owned by the owner of the Rockets is allowed to play at the Center. The Rockets have twice explored the purchase of an NHL team for the building, with the closest being then-owner Les Alexander's attempt to purchase the Edmonton Oilers in 1998 which was thwarted when a local ownership group came together and matched his offer.
In 2017, the Toyota Center and Houston Rockets were purchased by Tilman Fertitta. In a press conference, Fertitta expressed his interest in bringing an NHL team to the Toyota Center and he had reportedly met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Fertitta has stated his intentions of possibly finding a tenant that could help fill the building throughout the year, including the mention of the NHL.
Kansas City, Missouri has hosted NHL hockey before. The Kansas City Scouts played in Kemper Arena from 1974 until 1976. The team averaged only 8,218 in attendance per game in the 17,000-seat arena, leading to the team's sale and relocation to Denver to become the Colorado Rockies. Professional hockey continued at the arena in the form of the minor league Kansas City Blues, followed by the Kansas City Blades and the Kansas City Outlaws. The ECHL's Kansas City Mavericks currently play at the suburban Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri.
Kansas City opened an NHL-ready arena named the Sprint Center in 2007. The arena is managed by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which owns the Los Angeles Kings, among other sports interests. In 2007, when the Pittsburgh Penguins faced financial troubles and no prospect of a new arena, the president of AEG offered to relocate the team to Missouri to play in the new Sprint Center rent-free and to become managing partners in the facility. The Penguins, however, remained in Pittsburgh and got their new arena in 2010.
Kansas City sports investor Lamar Hunt Jr. called the NHL's $500 million price tag for an expansion franchise "a ridiculously big fee," and said that he is not aware of anyone in Kansas City who will make a push for a team. Neither he nor Cliff Illig, co-owner of MLS's Sporting Kansas City, have any intention of bidding in the NHL expansion window.
Hartford was the home of the World Hockey Association New England Whalers who morphed into the Hartford Whalers when they joined the NHL in 1979. The Whalers were based out of the then Hartford Civic Center (now XL Center). The arena opened in 1975 and was extensively renovated from 1978 to 1980; following the roof collapsing from the weight of snow after a snowstorm. Discussion of a replacement arena dates back to 2006 when the Pittsburgh Penguins were rumoured to be moving to Hartford after negotiations on a new arena was not coming forth in Pittsburgh. The arena has been home to an AHL team since the Whalers left in 1997. The arena is in need of repairs or replacement. Discussions would indicate that if the arena were to be replaced it would possibly be started and completed within a two year timeframe. The Carolina Hurricanes were also mentioned as possibly moving back to Hartford if a new arena were built and ready to go, as the most mentioned site for the arena is the site of the present arena. The closeness to four other NHL teams would potentially be an issue with the Boston Bruins and the three greater New York teams all being within a couple of hour drive of the city. The city was briefly mentioned as a possible destination for the New York Islanders as a temporary home if the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was to be renovated to stay as the home for the team. The Webster Bank Arena was also mentioned as a temporary home for a team as the arena as it is twenty five years newer than the XL Center.
Possible relocation candidates
As of 2015, the leading candidate for relocation was the Arizona Coyotes. The team has been unprofitable since its relocation to the Phoenix metropolitan area in 1996, and went bankrupt in the late 2000s. The league actively resisted selling the team to interests that would have relocated the team out of Arizona, and made numerous efforts to sell the team to owners that had intended to keep it in the state. The league convinced the eventual owners of the Winnipeg Jets to buy the Atlanta Thrashers instead of returning the Coyotes to their original home in Winnipeg.
None of the numerous prospective owners the league had hoped would buy the team, and keep it in Arizona, followed through on their sale until 2013, when IceArizona (a group led by George Gosbee) purchased the team. Within a year of that sale, IceArizona spun off the team to hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway. The Coyotes' lease on Gila River Arena was revoked in June 2015 due to concerns the lease was illegal under conflict of interest laws. The Coyotes intended to fight the revocation in court. The team had indicated that if it cannot stay at the Gila River Arena, it could move back to downtown Phoenix and the Talking Stick Resort Arena. On July 24, 2015, the Coyotes announced that Glendale City Council had enacted an agreement allowing the Coyotes to stay in the Gila River Arena for the next two seasons. With the arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights, the Coyotes will have a geographic rival within the Pacific Division and is believed will help the Coyotes long-term viability much like the Anaheim Ducks helped the Los Angeles Kings long-term.
Another potential relocation candidate is the New York Islanders, whose three-way split of a single metropolitan market with the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers is unique among the major sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The Islanders' move from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to Barclays Center in 2015 failed to increase attendance, which dropped 11 percent from the previous season. As Barclays Center was not originally constructed to accommodate an NHL team, its capacity of 15,700 seats is low for the league, and 1,500 seats have an obstructed view. In addition to the attendance woes, the team's television ratings are also the lowest of the three New York metropolitan area teams and are in steep decline. The Islanders' new owners, who took over operations in July 2016, are initially seeking an in-market move, hoping to build a new arena adjacent to Belmont Park Racetrack in Elmont, New York with cooperation from the New York Mets and funding from the owners of their rivals, the Rangers.
Expansion outside Canada and the United States
Speculation about NHL expansion to Europe took place as far back as the 1960s. David Molson, then-owner of the Montreal Canadiens, stated that he looked forward to a "world playoff" for the Stanley Cup. In 1969, Clarence Campbell, president of the NHL, was quoted as saying "It is conceivable that the Stanley Cup will be played for in Moscow in the not too distant future. When it does, the World Tournament as we know it will just disappear.... The game will continue to expand."
Although no European cities have been named in recent years, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has stated in 2008 that expansion into Europe is a possibility "within 10 years' time." In August 2010, the International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel stated that he would strongly oppose any expansion by the NHL into European markets. Time zone complications would also be an obstacle.Also there has been talk about an NHL team in Mexico City which is the largest metropolitan area in North America and has hosted NBA and MLB games.Why not the NHL?
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