Potential National Hockey League expansion
The National Hockey League (NHL) has undergone several rounds of expansion and other organizational changes during its nearly 100-year history to reach its current thirty teams: twenty-three in the United States, and seven in Canada. Prospective owners have sought franchises for other cities, but the NHL has repeatedly asserted that it is not planning any expansion or franchise moves. In 2012, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated, "we're not planning on relocating. We're not planning on expanding. Anyone who wants a franchise really is out of luck for the foreseeable future. [...] If at some point we're in the business of relocating or expanding, we're going to open it up because the number of people and the number of places that want franchises is a fairly lengthy list." The league made an exception in the case of Winnipeg, Manitoba with Bettman repeatedly having stated a desire to return to the city; the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg for the 2011–12 NHL season.
- 1 Expansion sites in Canada
- 2 Expansion sites in the United States
- 3 Possible relocation candidates
- 4 Expansion into Europe
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Expansion sites in Canada
The potential of adding additional franchises in Canada had been an ongoing source of controversy for the NHL in recent years as numerous groups proposed expanding the league into a new Canadian city, or purchasing a struggling American franchise and relocating it north; to a certain extent, these issues continue even after the awarding of a seventh franchise to Winnipeg. Quebec City and the Golden Horseshoe area of Southern Ontario are most frequently proposed as locations for new Canadian teams, as was Winnipeg prior to the announced relocation of the Thrashers. Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie has made several significant attempts to bring a team to Hamilton, including a $242.5 million offer in 2009 to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes, immediately after the team filed for bankruptcy protection. Balsillie's efforts have been resisted by the NHL during commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure. Balsillie's latest efforts[when?] include a public relations campaign based around Canadian nationalist feelings and the perception that the NHL is "anti-Canadian".
History of Canadian franchises (1967–present)
Throughout the history of the NHL, attempts to bring franchises to Canadian cities have caused points of contention. Vancouver's rejected bid for one of six new franchises added in 1967 outraged Canadians, who felt they had been "sold out". Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson stated that "the NHL decision to expand only in the U.S. impinges on the sacred principles of all Canadians." Three years later, the Vancouver Canucks joined as the league's third Canadian franchise. The 1979 defeat by a single vote of a merger agreement between the NHL and the rival World Hockey Association that would have resulted in three Canadian WHA franchises (the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets) joining the NHL led to a mass boycott of Molson products across Canada. In a second vote, the Montreal Canadiens, owned by Molson, reversed their position, allowing the Oilers, Nordiques and Jets to join the NHL for the 1979–80 NHL season (along with the New England Whalers, who would be renamed the Hartford Whalers). The Calgary Flames became Canada's seventh franchise in 1980, relocating from Atlanta.
There was considerable upheaval amongst Canadian franchises in the 1990s. In 1992, the NHL returned to Ottawa, while a potential expansion into Hamilton failed. However, the declining value of the Canadian dollar at that time, coupled with rapidly escalating salaries, placed hardships on Canadian franchises. As a result, the Nordiques and Jets left Canada, becoming the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 and the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 respectively. Fears persisted up to the 2004–05 NHL lockout that the Flames, Oilers, and Senators could follow suit. The financial fortunes of Canada's teams rebounded following the lockout: Canada's six franchises represented one-third of NHL revenues in 2006–07, primarily on due to the surging value of the Canadian dollar.
In May 2011, True North Sports and Entertainment, an ownership group with the support of billionaire David Thomson, 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and moved the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This was the first franchise relocation since 1997 and the first new Canadian franchise since the Ottawa Senators entered the league in 1992. At the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, it was announced that the team would be named the Jets.
Current views on Canadian expansion
Former National Hockey League Players Association executive director Paul Kelly has repeatedly argued in favour of bringing a new team to Canada. In early 2008, he described the Canadian market to The Palm Beach Post: "The six Canadian franchises do so well, they pack the buildings, get great TV, great revenue streams. If you put another team up there, be it in Nova Scotia or Hamilton, it would be more of the same." Prior to the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke in favour of another team in Canada, stating he has spoken with NHL owners in the past about bringing a new team to southern Ontario.
A study published in April 2011 by the University of Toronto's Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation concluded that Canada can support 12 NHL teams, twice the number it had at the time of the study, including second franchises for Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Hamilton was also a candidate for expansion in 1990, being one of the favorites, but it lost out to the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning. Hamilton's bid group attempted to negotiate the $50 million expansion fee; a condition the NHL rejected. While it was speculated that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres did not want an NHL team in Hamilton due to territorial competition, former league president Gil Stein has denied that was the case.
BlackBerry founder and co-CEO Jim Balsillie has made several attempts to purchase an existing NHL team with the purpose of bringing it to Southern Ontario. He signed an agreement in principle to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins for US$175 million on October 5, 2006. Penguins' majority owner Mario Lemieux agreed to the sale after struggling to gain support from local governments to build a new arena. Balsillie's purchase agreement offered to help finance a new arena, but also contained a stated intention to relocate the team to Hamilton or Kitchener-Waterloo if no deal on a new arena could be reached. Balsillie later retracted his bid, claiming that the NHL had placed conditions on the sale that he was not comfortable with, including a commitment to keep the team in Pittsburgh under any circumstances.
Balsillie then reached an agreement to purchase the Nashville Predators for $238 million on May 24, 2007, and began a season ticket campaign in Hamilton a week later intending to prove that the city was capable of hosting an NHL team. Thousands of fans purchased tickets, however the sale again fell through a month later when Predators owner Craig Leipold terminated the agreement. The Predators were later sold to a group of ten investors, led by Nashville businessman David Freeman, who promised to keep the team in Nashville. Leipold accepted $40 million less from Freeman's group than Balsillie offered, and later ended up as the majority owner of the Minnesota Wild.
During the 2008–2009 NHL season, the future of the Phoenix Coyotes was on shaky ground as the team expected to lose as much as $45 million, and the league had to step in to assist with paying the team's bills. Coyotes' managing partner Jerry Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early May 2009, and immediately afterwards, an offer by Balsillie to purchase the team was made public. The NHL challenged the Coyotes' ability to file for bankruptcy, claiming that as a result of the financial support the league had been offering the franchise, the league itself is in control of the team, and that Moyes did not have authority to act as he did.
Balsillie's launched public relations campaign aiming at igniting Canadian nationalistic feelings and the perception that Bettman has an anti-Canadian agenda, including a website. His bid to purchase the Coyotes failed as the bankruptcy judge ruled his offer did not meet the NHL's rules on relocation.
The Hamilton Spectator reported on May 9 that a Vancouver-based group led by Tom Gaglardi was planning to make a bid to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the team to Hamilton in time for the 2010–11 NHL season. This never materialized, and the idea was eventually rendered moot by the Thrashers' sale and relocation to Winnipeg. Gaglardi later purchased the Dallas Stars and, to date, has kept the team in Dallas.
Under NHL rules, an expansion or relocation of a team to Hamilton could potentially be blocked by the Buffalo Sabres or the Toronto Maple Leafs, because Copps Coliseum, the likely venue for a Hamilton NHL team, is located less than 50 miles from the Sabres' and the Leafs' home arenas. Roughly 15% of the Sabres' business comes from residents of the area of Ontario between Hamilton and Buffalo, and the Sabres or the Leafs could require "an enormous indemnification payment" to allow an additional team to be established within a 50-mile radius.
An unnamed bidder made a bid for the Sabres in February 2011, offering $259 million for the team to move it out of Buffalo, which would either mean the team would relocate to Hamilton or it would clear the way for another team to make such a move. The bid was rejected in favor of an offer from Terrence Pegula, who planned to keep the team in Buffalo.
A popular choice for a new Hamilton team is the Tigers, the name of an NHL team in the 1920s (a team whose successors eventually led to the modern Sabres franchise that opposes its establishment). However, that name is very similar to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats football team, whose name is derived from a Hamilton Tigers football team. While two professional teams sharing names is not unheard of in professional sports, any Hamilton franchise would need to seek permission from the Tiger-Cats to use the Tigers name to avoid any trademark disputes.
Greater Toronto Area
Although Toronto is already home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, its suburbs have been mentioned as potential sites for NHL franchises, under the logic that Toronto is the largest metropolitan area in Canada and can support two NHL teams. Unlike other potential expansion markets, a new arena would need to be constructed, and most of the proposals for a new Toronto area team include a new arena along with them.
In April 2009, a group of businessmen met with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to discuss the possibility of bringing a second NHL franchise into the Toronto area, most likely in Vaughan, Ontario. Despite the talks, Daly reportedly stated the NHL is "not currently considering expansion nor do we have any intention or desire to relocate an existing franchise."
In June 2009, a group headed by Andrew Lopez and Herbert Carnegie proposed a $1 billion plan for a second Toronto team, called the Legacy, to begin play no earlier than 2012. The group announced a plan for a 30,000 seat arena, half of which would be priced at CA $50 or less. The arena would be situated in Downsview Park in the north of the city. Twenty-five percent of net profits would be given to charity.
In 2011, a proposal surfaced to build a multi-purpose 19,500 seat arena in Markham, Ontario, north-east of Toronto, that could be used for an NHL team. The CA $300 million arena is to be part of an entertainment complex and could be ready as soon as 2014. The company behind the proposal, GTA Sports and Entertainment, is headed by W. Graeme Roustan, who was convicted of statutory fraud for an arena deal in Houston, Texas. Roustan, a Montreal-raised private equity investor whose firm Kohlberg & Company purchased Bauer from Nike, was also the chairman of Bauer.  The proposed location for the arena is near the Unionville commuter train station on land owned by Rudy Bratty, chairman and CEO of Remington Group, an organization that is charged with the development of Markham's downtown.
As to the likelihood of getting a team, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly met with the group and advised them that, "For purposes of their analysis, they should assume it will never happen." Daly denied further reports made in August 2014 regarding a second team for the Toronto area.
Quebec City has been home to two NHL hockey teams. The first, the Quebec Bulldogs, lasted from 1878 to 1920, after which they moved to Hamilton, Ontario. The second, the Quebec Nordiques, called Quebec City their home from 1972 to 1995, at which point they moved to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche.
President and founder of the Kontinental Hockey League Alexander Medvedev stated his interest in purchasing an NHL team for Quebec City, saying that it is "strange" there is no NHL team there. Medvedev said he shelved plans to buy a North American team after NHL representatives told him that the league would never allow a Russian to own one of its clubs.
In October 2009, Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and former Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut regarding a team. Bettman stated that Quebec City could be considered as a candidate for an NHL team provided it build a new arena and a team were for sale. In September 2012, construction started on an 18,000-seat arena in Quebec City, the Quebecor Arena, the cost of which (CA $400 million) is split equally between the provincial and municipal governments. The arena is planned to be completed in September 2015.
In May 2011, Labeaume stated that Pierre Karl Peladeau, then-president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., was in talks with the NHL regarding a franchise in Quebec City. He has since become a politician for the Parti Québécois, a sovereignist political party in the province. In September 2012, then-Quebec premier Jean Charest (whose government had invested in the new arena) claimed that the political aspect might hinder Quebec City's chances of getting the Nordiques back, saying that Bettman might be less likely to allow a team to move if sovereignists were in power. According to Sports Illustrated, the league is wary of the Quebec sovereignty movement because of concerns that it could destabilize the Canadian dollar. However, Mayor Labeaume insists that Péladeau's involvement in politics will hinder neither the management of the new arena nor the negotiations over the return of the Nordiques.
In March 2014, news broke that former Canadian prime minister and vice-chairman of Quebecor Brian Mulroney had also gotten involved with negotiations. Labeaume pointed out that Mulroney and Bettman had been negotiating directly for some time, and that "Mr. Bettman is a businessman. The Quebec sovereignty project will not bother him."
In July 2013, ex-Nordiques coach Michel Bergeron accused Bettman of arranging a Glendale City Council vote concerning the relocation of the Arizona Coyotes, although the team would have more likely moved to Seattle. Bergeron called it "an obvious lack of respect and I find it disgusting," and claimed that Bettman is averse to moving teams out of the United States.
Prior to the 2011–12 NHL season, an exhibition game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning was played at the Colisée Pepsi, the former home of the Nordiques. The Canadiens were well received despite being from rival Montreal. Montreal was also scheduled to host the Carolina Hurricanes at the Colisée Pepsi in 2012; however, that game was canceled due to the lockout.
Bill Hunter, the founder of the Edmonton Oilers, had an agreement to purchase the St. Louis Blues and move the team to Saskatoon as the Saskatoon Blues in the 1982–83 NHL season; however, the NHL (who did not want to leave the St. Louis market) vetoed the sale. Faced with the prospects of either having to allow the sale or contract the franchise, the league found an owner (Harry Ornest) willing to keep the team in Missouri and, in an eleventh-hour deal, preserved the Blues in St. Louis, where they remain. Saskatoon again bid for a franchise during the league's early 1990s expansion, but the bid was considered a long-shot and was withdrawn before the league made its final decision.
A proposal from Ice Edge Holdings to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes would move a portion of the team's home games to Saskatoon in an effort to maintain the team's viability in its main home in Phoenix, similar to the current Bills Toronto Series arrangement in the National Football League; the group, had it bought the team, was ready to go forward and had leased Saskatoon's Credit Union Centre for five home games in the 2009–10 season. The group was believed to lack the funds to buy the team outright, but remained in contention as potential minority owner until May 2011, when it pulled out of negotiations. Some members of the Ice Edge group later joined the ownership group led by Canadian businessman George Gosbee who ultimately purchased the Coyotes and kept them in Arizona.
On Ice Management, an ownership group backed by auto racer, former Moncton Wildcats owner, and former professional hockey player John Graham, is backing a long-shot bid to bring the NHL to Saskatoon.
An exhibition game was played prior to the 2011–12 NHL season at the Credit Union Centre, whose capacity is 15,195 (fewer than all NHL venues other than Winnipeg's MTS Centre). The Chicago Blackhawks faced a split squad of the Edmonton Oilers losing 4–2 to Edmonton. A second game in Saskatoon that would have seen the Winnipeg Jets take on the Boston Bruins in October 2012 was postponed to September 27, 2013 due to the lockout. The Calgary Flames were scheduled to host the Ottawa Senators in Saskatoon in another preseason game in September 2013; that game led to speculation that the city may host the Flames if the team's regular arena, the flood-damaged Scotiabank Saddledome, did not complete its repairs in time for the 2013–14 season. In the end, repairs were completed on a compressed schedule, and the Saddledome reopened in September 2013.
Expansion sites in the United States
Several cities in the United States have been mentioned in the media as possible future sites for new or relocated NHL teams. In December 2007, organizations from Kansas City, Las Vegas, Houston, and Seattle presented their proposals for a franchise to the NHL's Executive Committee. Other possible locations include San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Portland, Hartford, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Norfolk, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
The five largest metropolitan regions without NHL franchises are (in descending order of population) Houston, Atlanta, Seattle-Tacoma, San Diego, and Baltimore. Cleveland, Houston and Atlanta have previously hosted major professional hockey teams. During the 1970s, Cleveland was home to the Cleveland Barons (the former Oakland Seals), which failed to draw fans or revenue, and was merged with the Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) after two seasons. The Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association (WHA) existed from 1972 until 1978, where they won two Avco Cups and enjoyed a large and loyal fanbase. The Atlanta Flames joined the NHL in 1972 and played in the city for eight years before being moved to Calgary in 1980 and becoming the Calgary Flames. The Atlanta Thrashers played in the NHL from 1999 to 2011, until its move to Winnipeg for the 2011–12 season.
Houston (Toyota Center), Atlanta (Philips Arena), Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena), and Portland (Moda Center) have arenas capable of hosting NHL games, although Atlanta has had two failed NHL franchises while Cleveland (which also had a failed franchise) is unlikely to receive a team due to its close proximity to Columbus, only two hours south of Cleveland via Interstate 71. Other arenas specifically designed for NBA franchises such as San Antonio's AT&T Center, Seattle Center Coliseum in Seattle, Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena, and Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena have low seating capacities for a prospective NHL team, although San Antonio also has the Alamodome. The New York Islanders intend to move to Brooklyn's Barclays Center in 2015, an arena specifically designed for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.
Seattle has a long hockey history. The 1917 Seattle Metropolitans were the first American winners of the Stanley Cup, but folded in 1924, while the Seattle Totems played in the borderline-major Western Hockey League from 1944 until the WHL's dissolution in 1975. As of 2012, the Puget Sound region's highest level of hockey is the Canadian major juniors: the Seattle Thunderbirds (based 20 miles south of Seattle in Kent) and Everett Silvertips (25 miles north of Seattle) play in the Western Hockey League.
The KeyArena is less than ideal for NHL in terms of capacity and sightlines, due to a 1994 renovation that made the arena basketball-specific for the arena's major tenant, the now-relocated Seattle SuperSonics; the league has stated that the Coliseum would be "a difficult arena for hockey." That played a major factor in the departure of the Seattle Thunderbirds, a major junior hockey team, from the same buildings, owing to problematic sightlines caused by a scoreboard that is off-center in a hockey configuration.
The Tacoma Dome, a multi-purpose stadium that has hosted NHL exhibition games, could function as a temporary facility, though issues with the facility include its distance from Seattle (30 miles), poor sightlines, awkward (and largely temporary) seating configuration, absence of icemaking facilities, and a general lack of modern amenities. The city of Tacoma is studying a possible renovation of the Dome to meet major league standards.
In April 1974, both Seattle and Denver were conditionally granted NHL franchises. Seattle's never came to fruition because of the Western League's instability (according to season ticket promotions, the team would have kept the WHL name of Totems). A Seattle group made a bid on an expansion franchise in 1990, but it failed over the financial terms the NHL demanded. The SuperSonics basketball team managed the arena and would not offer a share of suite revenues considered necessary for the NHL team's success. The businessmen who wanted to operate the potential NHL team were unwilling to pay the $50 million expansion fee imposed by the NHL, and their bid was rejected.
An unnamed Seattle group expressed its interest to the NHL in 2007. In 2011, the NHL acknowledged that there was interest expressed by a group in Seattle for a team. Multiple reports suggested Chicago Wolves owner and businessman Don Levin had expressed interest in building a new arena in nearby Bellevue that could host an NHL team.
On February 16, 2012, a plan was announced to build a new arena in Seattle's SoDo district just south of Safeco Field. An investment group, headed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, is proposing to seek a return of the National Basketball Association (NBA) to Seattle after the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and is interested in possibly having an NHL team as well. The configuration of the proposed arena would be able to accommodate hockey, unlike KeyArena. The arena would be built as a public-private partnership between the City of Seattle and Hansen's group. Hansen's group would invest $290 million and the public sector (city and county) $200 million. The project will not proceed without the confirmed purchase of a professional team as the arena's tenant. Hansen's group has purchased all the land that makes up the arena site. Commenting later that day, NHL Commissioner Bettman stressed that the NHL has no plans for expansion or relocation. Levin has spoken to Hansen and expressed his interest in being involved as the owner of the NHL franchise that would be the tenant in the arena. Levin has also expressed his interest to Bettman.
On September 11, 2012, it was announced that the Seattle City Council had reached an agreement with Hansen to build an arena in Seattle's SoDo district. The agreement calls for a $40 million transportation fund, $7 million to upgrade KeyArena, an option for the city and county to sell the arena at the end of the 30-year lease period, and a personal financial guarantee from Hansen if the arena's finances fall short. Shortly afterward, on September 24, it was reported that Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz and team president Patrick LaForge visited Seattle, sparking rumors of the Oilers relocating to Seattle.
On June 16, 2013, it was confirmed that the Phoenix Coyotes would be moving to Seattle if an arena deal between the team and the City of Glendale was not reached. Ray Bartozek and Anthony Lanza would purchase the franchise for $220 million and immediately begin operations in Seattle for the following season. However, on July 3, 2013, the Glendale City Council narrowly voted 4–3 to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale.
Greater Houston is the largest market in terms of both city proper and metro population, in North America without an NHL franchise. The area ranks second in the nation with 22 based Fortune 500 companies, only behind New York City, which has 45. However, the city has a very warm climate and very little hockey culture (a factor in Houston native and dual citizen Tyler Myers's decision to represent Canada in international competition instead of the United States).
Professional ice hockey dates back to 1946 in Houston with the establishment of the Houston Skippers. This was followed by the Houston Apollos, the Houston Aeros of the WHA and the Houston Aeros of the AHL. The WHA Houston Aeros were an original member of the World Hockey Association. From 1972 to 1978, the Aeros twice won the AVCO World Trophy and featured the first father/son combination to play together in professional hockey, Gordie Howe and his two sons Mark and Marty. The Aeros, despite being a successful franchise, were left out of the NHL-WHA merger and were forced to fold in 1978. Another team also named the Aeros, of the American Hockey League (AHL), played at Houston's Toyota Center from 1994 to 2013; the Aeros were unable to negotiate a lease extension, leading to the team's departure from Houston.
As part of the lease agreement between Toyota Center (which is NHL capacity, with 17,800 seats in its hockey configuration) and the Houston Rockets, only an NHL team owned by Les Alexander, owner of the Rockets, is allowed to play at the Center. The Rockets have twice explored the purchase of an NHL team for the building, with the closest attempt being Alexander's purchase of the Edmonton Oilers in 1998 which was thwarted when a local ownership group came together and matched his offer. According to comments made by Harris County officials, (Harris County owns the Center) there is no current interest in an NHL team. The other arenas in Houston with the capability of hosting an NHL team are The Summit, although that building has been sold to a megachurch and has been decommissioned as a sports venue, and the vacant Astrodome.
Kansas City, Missouri has hosted NHL hockey before. The NHL Kansas City Scouts played in Kemper Arena from 1974 until 1976. The team averaged only 8,218 in attendance per game in the 17,000 seat arena, leading to the team's sale and relocation to Denver to become the Colorado Rockies. Professional hockey continued at the arena in the form of the minor league Kansas City Blues, followed by the Kansas City Blades and the Kansas City Outlaws.
Kansas City opened an NHL-ready arena named the Sprint Center in 2007. The arena is managed by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which owns the Los Angeles Kings, among other sports interests. In 2007, when the Pittsburgh Penguins faced financial troubles and no prospect of a new arena, the president of AEG offered to relocate the team to Missouri to play in the new Sprint Center rent-free and to become managing partners in the facility. The Penguins, however, remained in Pittsburgh and got their new arena in 2010. In 2009, the New York Islanders played the Los Angeles Kings in a pre-season game at Sprint Center. The game was poorly attended, ending speculation that the Islanders would move to the arena. The Sprint Center hosted another pre-season game of the Los Angeles Kings; this time versus the Penguins, in September 2011. As AEG already owns the Los Angeles Kings, it would not be allowed to own another NHL team under NHL rules. The pre-season game between the Penguins and Kings was a sellout, drawing 17,544 fans.
Ice hockey interest in Las Vegas dates back to 1991, when the first ever outdoor game in the NHL's modern era was held in Las Vegas, with the Los Angeles Kings facing the New York Rangers outside Caesars Palace in the preseason. The minor league Las Vegas Thunder professional ice hockey team operated out of the Thomas & Mack Center from 1993 until 1999 when the team's lease of the facility expired. Several of the team's players eventually played in the NHL.
Every year since 1997 (except the lockout year of 2004), Las Vegas has hosted Frozen Fury, a pre-season competition between the Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche at the 16,800 seat capacity MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Although the NHL Awards ceremonies are held in Las Vegas, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said it "has nothing to do with" it being a potential relocation or expansion spot. The media had speculated openly about a plan involving the Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to Nevada.
Rumors of a Las Vegas expansion team surfaced again in August 2014, with particular emphasis on a new indoor arena being constructed in the city as a joint venture between Anschutz Entertainment Group and MGM Resorts International, and reports by The Province that a Las Vegas team was a "done deal". However, deputy commissioner Bill Daly has denied claims that the NHL had plans to expand.
- No ownership group had publicly come forward with a proposal to place a team in the area.
- Large portions of the Las Vegas-area workforce work evening or overnight shifts, making it questionable as to whether a team could attract enough fans to sustain itself in the area.
- Burnside added that "the notion that Vegas casinos would buy large blocks of tickets to give away to fans runs against casino practice, which is to keep patrons in your own building rather than send them elsewhere."
Possible relocation candidates
As of 2013, there are no immediate candidates for relocation.
For a time, the leading candidate for relocation was the team then known as Phoenix Coyotes (now the Arizona Coyotes), who have been unprofitable since their relocation to the city in 1996 and eventually went bankrupt in the late 2000s. The league actively resisted selling the team to interests that would have relocated the team out of Arizona and made numerous efforts to sell the teams to owners that had intended to keep the team in the state, even going so far as to convince the eventual owners of the Winnipeg Jets to buy the Atlanta Thrashers instead of returning the Coyotes to their original home in Winnipeg. None of the numerous prospective owners the league had hoped would buy the team and keep it in Arizona would follow through on their sale until 2013, when IceArizona purchased the team.
Another team that had been the subject of relocation rumors was the New York Islanders, who have seen dwindling attendance at the aging and undersized Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. In 2012, the Islanders signed a 30-year agreement to remain in the New York metro area by moving to the still-undersized but much more modern Barclays Center in 2015.
In August 2014, Florida Panthers owner Doug Cifu admitted that the team's current unprofitable business model isn't sustainable long-term in South Florida, leading to speculation of the team moving despite having a lease at the BB&T Center through 2028. The Panthers, who have among the lowest average attendance in the NHL, are already in the Atlantic Division, which would make them an easy candidate to move to Quebec City and thus no realignment would be needed, though they are also being mentioned as a candidate elsewhere.
Expansion into Europe
Speculation as to NHL expansion to Europe took place as far back as the 1960s. David Molson, then-owner of the Montreal Canadiens, stated that he looked forward to a "world playoff" for the Stanley Cup. In 1969, Clarence Campbell, president of the NHL, was quoted as saying "It is conceivable that the Stanley Cup will be played for in Moscow in the not too distant future. When it does, the World Tournament as we know it will just disappear ... The game will continue to expand."
While no specific European cities have been named in recent years, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has stated in 2008 that expansion into Europe is a possibility "within 10 years time." In August 2010, the IIHF president René Fasel stated that he would strongly oppose any expansion by the NHL into European markets. Time zone complications would also be an obstacle.
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