The NHL announced on Wednesday that, come next month, it will begin accepting bids for new franchises. The NHL didn’t say it was planning to actually accept any of the bids, but it’s not likely that the league would make an announcement if it wasn’t planning to expand. This would be the league’s first expansion since 1997 when the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets), Columbus Blue Jackets, and Minnesota Wild and the Nashville Predators joined.
One question regarding this is why? With the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers on the perpetual brink of complete and utter failure, one would think that possible franchise relocation would be first on the list and that those two franchises would be put in a place where there would be a greater chance for success. And it so happens that there are at several cities begging the NHL for a franchise, starting with Las Vegas which is building a hockey arena off of the Strip by the New York-New York and which, after having received permission from the NHL, has commitments and financial deposits in place for over 13,000 season tickets.
But teams relocating to different cities doesn’t really hit the big sexy requirement that the NHL is seeking: huge ass expansion fees — rumored to be around $500 million. LINK. That kind of money, split among the franchises, can help to bail out a lot of bad financial decisions and crappy players contracts. It would also allow the NHL to have two 16 team conferences, and expansion would have more player support since that means more jobs and more NHL contracts for players who have otherwise been stuck in the minors.
Two other cities that have been barking up the NHL tree are Seattle and Quebec City. Seattle doesn’t actually have an arena at the moment, but that didn’t stop the near purchase and relocation of the Coyotes to Seattle several years ago — the NHL found another an owner willing to keep the team in Phoenix at the last minute. And Quebec City, the former home of the Colorado Avalanche, is a city that supported its NHL franchise back in the day, but was deemed to be too small, too Canadian, and lacking in big corporate backing back in the 1990s when the Nordiques split for Denver. However, the NHL’s big southern expansion into the States hasn’t really been that much of a success, so it shouldn’t be a shock to see a team return.
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One city that’s not really been mentioned for a NHL franchise is Houston. Houston was a finalist during the 1997 expansion — Rockets owner Les Alexander’s attempt to buy and relocate the Edmonton Oilers to Houston in the 1990s (along with the expansion bid) was thwarted by a stupid feud with then-Aeros owner Chuck Watson over the use of Compaq Center. And the Toyota Center gives Houston a NHL ready arena. Such a move would also make sense as it would give the Dallas Stars a rival and supposedly help grow hockey in the Texas market. And the AHL Aeros were a successful franchise with decent fan support — the Aeros moved to Iowa not because of lack of fan support but because of unreasonable lease demands for Toyota Center and the lack of another suitable arena in Houston. LINK
But there’s no talk about Houston because the NHL is not coming to Houston. Even if Alexander were to make a bid for an expansion franchise, the odds of success are slight. The Aeros were owned by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, and the Wild owner is liked and respected by fellow NHL owners. The Wild were very unhappy over the way Alexander handled the so-called attempt to extend the Aeros lease with Toyota Center, and it wouldn’t surprise that, if there were multiple cities willing to meet the NHL financial and arena demands, that the Wild would try (and succeed) to sway the vote to those other cities.
Then there’s this: does Alexander even want to own a hockey team? It’s an expensive proposition, so why would Alexander want to pony up the cash to bring a hockey team that could possibly drain support and dollars away from his basketball team? And because Toyota Center is the only NHL-capable arena in Houston, the owner pretty much has to be Alexander because Alexander has shown time and time again that he’s not really willing to share his arena with others — remember, an arena built to house the Rockets, the Aeros, the Comets, and numerous concerts now houses only the Rockets and select concerts while standing idle the rest of the time.
So it’s nice to see that there are groups forming seeking the support to bring a NHL franchise to Houston. It’s not going to happen, though. Not with the NHL already literally set to be the first major sports league to enter Las Vegas and multiple other markets clamoring for a team. It’s a shame because hockey is a great sport, and there’s nothing better than the atmosphere of playoff hockey.