2012 should prove to be an interesting year for the National Hockey League. We have the CBA agreement that expires in September and we have a number of franchises that are struggling at the gate (see: Phoenix, Long Island, New Jersey, Florida and Carolina to name a few). It is no secret that the NHL is sinking a lot of funds into teams such as the Phoenix Coyotes and have made advances to teams such as the Devils. The Cap-Era NHL has not done much to control player salaries. Of the four major sports, NHL players receive the largest amount of revenue at an estimated 57% of total revenue. You can bet that Gary Bettman will be looking to reduce this to something similar to what the other major sports have in place at around 48-51%. Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have been slow out of the gate, but Fehr, head of the NHLPA, did make somewhat of a statement when the NHLPA did not approve the proposed realignment that the NHL had proposed in late 2011.
The issues with the Coyotes need to be resolved sooner than later as the NHL cannot simply afford to pay the bills for an extended period. The aforementioned struggling franchises present an interesting issue as there are no immediate plans for expansion (which is a good thing as the league has become watered down with the numerous expansion franchises from the ’90’s). With the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg for the 2011-2012 season, it may be only a matter of time until another franchise or two is to be relocated. Therefore we thought that we would evaluate where the NHL should potentially relocate teams to. This is solely from a fans perspective, but a number of the cities on our list just make good business sense as well as good hockey sense.
Top 10 Cities That Need an NHL Franchise
- Quebec City, Quebec – the Nordiques left town in the mid-nineties only to see the Colorado Avalanche go on to Stanley Cup glory. A new $400 million arena is soon to begin construction in Quebec City and is to be completed by 2015. It makes sense for realignment (whenever that gets settled) and it makes sense for the NHL. The battle of Quebec was one of the most heated rivalries of the 80’s and fans are clamoring for the battle to begin anew. Reports suggest that when the Nordiques left Quebec, Gary Bettman mentioned that the “NHL was losing a big asset”. You have to think that Quebec is the front runner for a relocated franchise. I can see a team like Phoenix or the New York Islanders moving to Quebec City. It is no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when a team relocates to Quebec.
- Toronto, Ontario – another team in Ontario? Yup it totally makes sense with all of the hockey starved fans in Canada’s largest province. Reports suggest that a new arena is being built in Markham but the developers funding the project have stated that this is not for the purposes of a professional sports team but for entertainment purposes. The population base is there and a great rivalry can be developed with the Leafs and Sens. Why wouldn’t the NHL want to relocate to southern Ontario. Well one reason may be because of the Toronto Maple Leafs themselves. Rumors stated that the Leafs were not happy with talks about the NHL possibly moving to Hamilton so it will be interesting to see if the NHL takes a serious look at southern Ontario for an NHL franchise.
- Las Vegas, Nevada – the NHL in Las Vegas? The idea is not that far fetched as you may think. With the large number of Canadians who visit Sin City, the NHL could do very well in Vegas. Las Vegas surprisingly does not have a professional sports team, so the NHL would not be in competition with other major sports although the UNLV teams might have something to say about that. The IHL previously took a test spin in Vegas with the Las Vegas Thunder, so ice hockey does work there. The annual preseason games between the Kings and Avalanche doe very well in Las Veags each September. I would love to see an NHL franchise in Las Vegas, I think a lot of other fans would like to see a team there too. A longshot but maybe not as far out as we think.
- Seattle, Washington – Seattle is a great sports town and has been rumored to be in the running for an NHL expansion franchise for a number of years. Could the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds move up to the NHL? I think that there are a lot worse options out there. Seattle would definitely require a new arena to be home to a new hockey franchise. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has stated that “We’ve had discussions with a group in Seattle,” said Daly, “Certainly people who are interested in having NHL hockey in Seattle. I would rather not get into specifics to be fair to that group, or the process.” Also do not forget that Seattle-Tacoma is the 12th largest TV market in the U.S. Think of the cross-border rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks would make for some lively home games. Could you imagine taking in an NFL and NHL game on the same weekend? It would be a Vancouver (and Seattle) sports fan dream.
- Portland, Oregon – another great hockey town. Did you know that the Portland Winterhawks still hold the Western Hockey League record for single-game attendance? The NHL could work in Portland and frankly if not in Seattle then why not in Portland?
- Hamilton, Ontario – simply for the black and yellow uniforms that would be the rage of the league. ‘Nuff said.
- Houston, Texas – I was watching a game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Dallas Stars earlier this season and there were a mere 6,500 fans in the stands. So one has to think can the lonestar state support a second NHL franchise? There are a lot of Oil barons down there, so you just never know. Personally I don’t think that it would work but you never know.
- Oklahoma City – seems to be another great hockey town and there have been some rumors associated with Oklahoma City. A definite longshot.
- Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – Bill Hunter almost had the St. Louis Blues relocating to Saskatoon in 1983, but Saskatoon is another longshot simply because the population base is not there. If you look at the province’s love affair with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, you will know that people travel from all over the province to attend games. The same would have to happen with an NHL team in Saskatoon. The province as a whole has less than a million people. Not sure if Bettman would have the guts to try a location such as Saskatoon. Well a fan can wish can’t they?
- Indianapolis, Indiana – if the NHL needs a presence in the middle of the US, and if Columbus does not work, why not look at a city such as Indianapolis? Another great sports town, where you might say the “Great One” got his start. Would the NHL’s Indianapolis Racers be a draw? Well they couldn’t be any worse than the crowds seen in south Florida or Phoenix.
There you have it ten cities that the NHL should seriously look at. If relocation needs to happen there are no shortage of cities that are ready, willing and able. There are a few teams in which relocation might be a serious reality if you consider:
- New York Islanders
- Phoenix Coyotes
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Nashville Predators
- Florida Panthers
Frankly the NHL could use two more teams in Canada so that the Canadian teams would make up a third of the league just as they did with the original six and when the NHL expanded to 21 teams in the eighties. Having a third of the teams in the NHL being Canadian seems to be the right balance.