Quebec City, Seattle and Portland are usually the three cities mentioned when it comes to further NHL expansion. However, Houston should probably be added to that short list. Houston is one of America’s fastest-growing communities and already has a huge fan base for sports with the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball, the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer and the NBA’s Houston Rockets. There would also be a natural NHL rivalry with fellow Texans, the Dallas Stars
Of course, Houston was home to the Aeros of the old World Hockey Association (WHA) from 1972 to 1978 with some of the sport’s most famous players suiting up such as Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty. The Aeros were one of the most successful clubs in the WHA, but weren’t admitted to the NHL when the two leagues merged in 1978. The Houston Aeros were resurrected between 1994 and 2013 though and operated in the International Hockey League until 2001. They then joined the American Hockey League until relocating to Des Moines in 2013 and becoming the Iowa Wild, a farm team of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
But with the Houston Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander hoping to sell the NBA franchise, there’s a chance the city could eventually be awarded an NHL team. Alexander attempted to relocate the Edmonton Oilers down to Houston in the 1990s, but was rebuffed by the NHL as it wanted the franchise to stay in Edmonton if it was sold. Alexander approached the NHL once again with a huge offer for the Oilers and promised to keep the club in Edmonton for three years. He then wanted the league to promise him a franchise for Houston in the future. The Oilers solved their financial problems with local support though and remained in Alberta.
While the Houston Aeros played in the city before the new Toyota Center was built, the hockey team shared facilities at the Summit with Alexander’s basketball team the Rockets. At the time, the Aeros were owned by Chuck Watson and his hockey team was given the best options for home games before the Rockets. Alexander wasn’t too happy about this and he attempted to relocate to a new arena, but Watson wouldn’t allow him to break his lease contract at the Summit.
Once the lease ended, the Toyota Center was built and opened in 2003 with the billionaire Alexander as a controlling owner. The Aeros eventually moved in, but Alexander raised the rent for the hockey team in 2013 and when they failed to reach an agreement the hockey team moved to Des Moines. Alexander also had a clause written into the Toyota Center lease which stated that an NHL franchise couldn’t play in the arena unless it was owned by him. Therefore, Alexander would either have to be the owner of an NHL franchise in Houston or give it permission to play at the Toyota Center.
The NHL wasn’t pleased with the clause in the contract and it forgot all about Houston as an expansion city. However, the 72-year-old Alexander is reportedly tired of all the head games and now apparently wants to sell the Rockets. He paid $85 million for the basketball club in 1993 and it’s now valued at $1.65 billion. If Alexander decides to relax his control of the Toyota Center the NHL would consider putting a franchise in Houston as it’s America’s fifth-largest metropolitan area. However, unless Alexander has mellowed, it seems as the final word on allowing an NHL team into the Toyota Center still rests with him.