NHL expansion occurred for the 13th time since the original six this offseason. The Vegas Golden Knights take the ice as the league’s 31st franchise on Oct. 6 in Dallas.
Cities are discovering and rediscovering the game through expansion. There is no telling what will work, but in baseball terms, the NHL is hitting for a high average in knowing where hockey needs to be.
The total number of teams has gone from six to 31 since 1967. NHL commissioners have put hockey in 19 cities through expansion that still have teams today. Franchises stretch all across the United States and Canada. However, with the addition of hockey in Vegas, the number of teams is unbalanced.
Where will hockey travel next?
Can it/will it work?
Hockey does not sound right at first in certain areas, which is the first order of skepticism in expansion. It then asks the question of can it and will it work?
The San Jose Sharks became an NHL franchise in 1991 and many had already seen a team (Oakland Seals) fail in the Bay Area. The team notched 28 wins in their first two seasons, but made the playoffs in year three. By year four they were averaging 17,000 fans a night at their home games. The Sharks have been to a Stanley Cup Final, notched six division titles and averaged 17,000+ fans in 18 of 25 seasons. It has worked out just fine.
Central Florida has never been a hotbed for the sport historically. However, the Lightning have changed that narrative to a degree since joining the NHL in 1992.
Their first year saw 10,000 fans on average at games, but as of 2017 we now see an average of 19,000. It took them 12 years to win a Stanley Cup (won in 2004). Three teams (Washington, St. Louis and Buffalo) are still searching for their first after 40+ years.
Las Vegas was awarded with an NHL franchise in 2016 after three failed attempts with pro football and three failed team relocation proposals. Many are curious, but hockey is not new to the city.
Six semi-professional teams have played in Vegas and has played host to an annual preseason game the last 20 years. Forbes recently published a poll where 62 percent of people said they see Vegas as a good home for professional sports. The Golden Knights are the first, but soon the city will be home to two pro franchises when the now Oakland Raiders come to town in 2019.
back where they belong
The North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993 after 26 years in Minnesota. The move was not personal as the team had great success on the ice and in the city. A famous “Norm Sucks” chant pointed at former owner Norm Green ensued after word of the team’s moving. Green faced pressure from his wife who said she would leave him if he did not move the team. The state was without hockey for seven years.
NHL expansion in 2000 saw Columbus awarded with a team (Blue Jackets) and hockey’s return to Minnesota with the Wild. This was the first of two restorations from commissioner Gary Bettman in his current 24-year tenure. Xcel Energy Center has since been sold out for 646 straight games as of April 4, 2017. The NHL is meant to be in the Twin Cities and won’t be leaving anytime soon.
Winnipeg was given an NHL franchise in the 1979 expansion that turned into the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 1996. Another business decision was made that year as the Jets were last in home attendance.
Economic pressures initiated this move. The love and passion for the sport within the community remained. The wholesale city was without professional hockey for 15 years.
Mr. Bettman brought the NHL back to the Manitoba capital in 2011. One writer said “an 0-82 season would not simmer the excitement from the fans” upon their return. The MTS Centre (Jets home arena) has averaged capacity each year since 2011 despite zero playoff wins. The arena is filled at the start of warmups. This too is another area where NHL hockey belongs.
The next destination
There are four divisions in hockey. Three have eight teams while one has seven. Another hockey town will soon be born or restored.
Twenty one of 31 “high profile” NHL players stated that Quebec City should be the next to be awarded a team in expansion. Seattle and Houston are among the other candidates. Seattle is considered “logical” due to its location in the Pacific Northwest (Western Conference is unbalanced) and it would expand the league’s footprint in the U.S.. Houston would expand hockey communities in the South and be placed in the Central (the division with seven teams). There are arguments for each city, but the case for Quebec is the most intriguing.
The Nordiques started play in Quebec’s capital in 1979 before moving to Colorado and becoming the Avalanche in 1995. An issue with expansion at times is the readiness of an arena. This city already has a brand new arena (Videotron Centre) that seats 18,000-plus. It would call for realignment of divisions/conferences, but that would be the least of problems in this future expansion.
Adding another Canadian team would flirt with the idea of an all Canadian division. Expansion is a slow process, but interest and appeal runs deep in figuring out if it will work in any given market. We have witnessed the rejuvenations in Minnesota and Winnipeg. There is little reason to not see that in Quebec City. That community, is one starving for more hockey.
“From Our Haus to Yours”