With the NHL openly testing the relocation waters, it got us thinking. They haven’t been afraid of expansion in the past, and with the uneven balance between the conferences, could be looking to do so again. WIth that, our NHL staff writers give their thoughts on where the league could look for host cities to potential expansion.
The NHL is once again open to an expansion team in Atlanta. They have tried two previous times to expand out to The A, and both times failed. They first tried in 1972 with the Atlanta Flames, who relocated to Alberta in 1980 to become the current day Calgary Flames. The league tried again in 1999 with the Atlanta Thrashers, who also relocated in 2011 to revive the Winnipeg Jets. After successful expansions to Vegas with the defending champions Golden Knights and to Seattle with the Kraken, rumors are starting to say Atlanta is next on the league’s list of expansion cities in a possible “third time’s the charm” move. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there is no interest to expand at the moment, but hockey back in Atlanta seems to be a likely future.
With NHL expansion talks in Atlanta picking up, let's take a look at other potential locations for a franchise. The city of Québec in Canada deeply misses their old franchise, the Québec Nordiques. Starting their inaugural season in 1979, the franchise played in Québec for 16 seasons, with the 1994-95 season being their last. Some of their well known players were Joe Sakic, Peter Stastny, and Mats Sundin. The Nordiques made nine playoff appearances, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 1984-85 season. For how often they made the playoffs, it seemed the city had a stable future in Québec. But with no money to build a modern rink and offers from COMSAT to buy the franchise, it was sold after the 1994-95 season. The Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche. If the NHL were to add another franchise to its league, Quebec would be an obvious consideration, considering its past success both on the ice and in its market.
The question isn’t whether Quebec or Atlanta should field a hockey team, but why Houston is the best option. Besides the fact that it’s a desert town, in a death valley like enviornment, Houston already houses other major sports franchises in the Rockets, Astros and Texans. Adding a hockey team to a town where other major sports franchises already found a home, would only be a positive for the NHL and the growth of hockey as a whole. Also, a Houston franchise would lock in the major sports in Houston into a natural instate rivalry with the Dallas Stars, something that both Vegas and Seattle didn’t have when they came into the league. The one commonality between all of the best options, is market size. Arizona holds a tight market for hockey, with a team in the desert not having the best results in terms of performance in their history, but the opportunity to add another franchise in this kind of market instead of moving one is valuable to the game of hockey, and creates a unique opportunity to have more people and more fans drawn to the game.