NHL Expansion Candidates

NHL Expansion is once again a hot topic around the league, particularly among hockey fans and stakeholders at potential locations. In some of the scenarios, fans and media are talking like potential expansion sites are a done deal. Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his right hand man Bill Daly have been quoted in recent interviews, saying that none of the rumors are true. In fact Bettman clearly stated during the All Star break, that they were not in a position to expand at this time, and any talks of team relocation were completely untrue. However, we all know the league is bound to confidentiality and will not divulge its plans until they are 100% confirmed.
As hockey fans, we love to speculate about this topic, especially when some of the potential destinations may be near and dear to our hearts, and may bring a team to a nearby community. Even though the league has stated there are no imminent plans for another team, we all know there is a list of front runners, and some cities that have a dream, but no real chance of getting a team. When evaluating potential locations, we have to understand league priorities. Bettman has stated that the first criteria is being in the west, since there are currently 14 teams in the Western Conference, and 16 in the East. This creates an unfair advantage as western teams have greater odds of making the playoffs, which has huge financial implications. Expansion in the west also reduces the imbalance in travel schedules between the conferences. The league has wanted a US based TV deal for years, so expansion into more US geographies increases the likelihood of securing that elusive US TV deal.
#1 Seed is Las Vegas due to a very strong and financially solid ownership team lead by William Foley. The team would land in the new 20K seat facility being built by MGM resorts and AEG (Owners of the LA Kings) to be completed in 2016. The league, the fans and even the players are stoked to have a team in Sin City, the number #1 tourist and convention destination in North America. As Foley states, LV is not just a tourist destination any more, there are 2.2M residents working not just in hospitality, but a variety of industries. In Las Vegas there are no other major professional sports franchises to compete with, however locals and tourists do have a multitude of other entertainment options, and if the team struggles on the ice, one wonders if the local fan commitment would be sustained in a desert based community. Foley has obtained permission from the league to conduct a ticket drive, this is a key indicator that the league is very serious about this ownership bid. Las Vegas is also in the west.
#2 Seed is Quebec City due to the new 18,482 seat Quebec Amphitheatre scheduled for completion in 2015. Taking the approach, build it and they will come will definitely aid the Quebec City bid, but they still need to solidify an ownership group. Currently Quebecor, would be the first choice, with a possibility of a partnership. Quebec also has community support in its favor, as there is no doubt the team would be well supported for the long haul, as it is with the other seven Canadian franchises. Also, working in Quebec‘s favour is the new 12 year, 5.2B TV deal the league now has with Rogers, who will want to see more Canadian content for their money, so they can sell more TV packages. One big hurdle for the Quebec bid is being located in the east. If there was an expansion in the east, Columbus or Detroit would have to move back to the Western conference which is very unlikely. The other possibility for Quebec would be if an Eastern team wants to relocate, or sell due to financial struggles. The obvious candidate here is the Florida Panthers, who last year sought financial aid from local governments to offset 25M per year in losses. Florida will always be Football, Baseball, and Basketball first and hockey will always struggle. Move this team to Quebec City, there will be a natural synergy with Dale Tallon, Gerard Gallant, and even Roberto Luongo. The Panthers would be loved in Quebec City.
#3 Seed is Seattle due to its North West coast location which balances the conferences, and brings exposure to a region where there is not a US based team currently. However, Seattle does not have a NHL ready arena in place, being built or even approved. There is currently a bid to bring an NBA franchise to Seattle, and if that happens the City has committed to building an arena. Seattle has been flaky about using taxpayer dollars to fund venues in the past, and there is not an NHL ownership bid in place in Seattle, so even though the league would like to place a team in Seattle, I do not for see this happening anytime soon.
There is a long list of hopefuls, but these are bids that are a long way from serious consideration by league for various reasons. Markham/GTA has expressed interest but has no arena in place. Hamilton are also interested, but the aging Copps Coliseum no longer meets NHL standards. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres cannot veto, but both would oppose these bids, plus they are in the east, so lots of hurdles to overcome. Kansas City and Milwaukee have also rumbled about NHL teams, but have arena and ownership issues to address before being seriously considered. 

The league is a lot more diligent now about their vetting process, due to a long list of past failures. Each time a team folds & relocates it costs the league and the owners millions of dollars. In the short term, there are only two locations that are ready for a team, Las Vegas and Quebec City, both of which will be great locations for NHL hockey.

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