Unless you are a rich man from Hartford, Connecticut that has the money and plan to restore the Hartford Whalers in a new NHL size arena, the NHL will not be interested in you very much at this time. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their teams in the 1990s in 2010 and promised them readmission if they met certain terms. Winnipeg is back and once Bettman manipulates Mario Lemieux into fronting an acceptable Quebec City bid, the Nordiques will rejoin the NHL.
So except for Hartford, the NHL is unlikely to talk to eastern bidders who want an expansion team. Though if you are from Hamilton or Baltimore and you knock on his door with $500 million in your hand, you might still be able to twist his arm and get him to reconsider.
But the NHL wants to balance up its conferences after restructuring (see the previous article I wrote about the new NHL structure) and shift either Columbus or Detroit and maybe Nashville back to the east. So right now its priority is to admit two new western teams.
For this article, let’s speculate who is out west and might want to help the NHL out of its current dilemma and become the 33rd and 34th NHL teams providing they too have at least $500 million to spend. This is my own personal ranking of the candidates.
Strengths: Excellent fan base, Deep roots in Canadian Junior Hockey, First American city to win the Stanley Cup
Weaknesses: No NHL arena and dithering and bungling about it, No up front keen investor like Bill Foley, Bungled its front running status during the current expansion joining Hamilton and Houston as number 1 candidates who failed to get an NHL franchise, Can’t decide whether to join the NHL or NBA
Rivals: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, new Portland and San Francisco teams
Seattle is an overwhelming winner if it ever gets its act together about a new arena and which league it wants to join. But it blew its chances during the current expansion and nothing has changed so any city can grab this leader’s team once again.
Strengths: Largest North American city without hockey, NHL wants the city in badly especially aa a rival for Dallas
Weaknesses: Failed WHA city, Failed in earlier expansion bid joining Hamilton and now Seattle as a front running bidder not to get a team, NHL does not like Houston’s arena, No gung-ho owner like Bill Foley, uncertain fan base
Rivals: Dallas, Arizona, St. Louis, Colorado, Las Vegas, a new Oklahoma City and Kansas City team
The NHL would bend over backwards if Houston would only get its act together. I only rank it number 2 because the NHL wants it so badly. But the obvious indifference to the NHL makes it easy to drop in the rankings.
Strengths: Deep roots in Canadian Junior hockey, great arena, great fan base
Weaknesses: No gung-ho bidder likes the NHL’s terms
Rivals: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, new Seattle, San Francisco/Oakland teams
The NHL was hoping that Portland would put in a bid during the current expansion but any potential bidder refused to consider the $500 million expansion fee as being not congruent with the true value of an NHL team. Portland with its NHL size arena is probably the best western city for expansion right now.
Strengths: Deep roots in hockey, great fan base, new Milwaukee arena is NHL ready
Weaknesses: No enthusiastic NHL owner has appeared
Rivals: Minnesota, Chicago, Winnipeg, occasional games with eastern team Detroit, new Saskatoon team
Milwaukee would jump ahead of the top three western teams if they could find an enthusiastic owner. It is an overwhelming winner if the city could ever get an NHL franchise.
5. Oklahoma City
Strengths: Upstart city failed to get an NHL expansion team so they grabbed the NBA Seattle Supersonics instead and made a success of them, Enthusiastic fans over minor league hockey
Weaknesses: Can the current arena accommodate hockey?, No potential owner has appeared
Rivals: Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Colorado, Arizona, Las Vegas, new Kansas City and Houston teams
Oklahoma City is the best dark horse city for getting an NHL team. The sports fans there want to prove they are a big league city and so far with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA they have proven it. But until they find a good owner and resolve the arena issue, they remain a long shot.
6. Kansas City
Strengths: Great new arena seeking a tenant in both the NHL and NBA
Weaknesses: Failed NHL franchise, Uncertain fan base, Potential bidders denounced the NHL’s greedy terms
Rivals: St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas, Colorado, Arizona, Nashville, Las Vegas, new Houston, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City teams
Uncertain fan base is just not trustworthy. Kansas City has hosted pre-season NHL exhibition games with either great or lousy attendance depending on who was playing. Kansas City once briefly had an NHL team in the 1970s but it did not last long. The new arena is excellent but no potential owner has appeared and the fan base makes it unlikely to really seek a team at such a price.
7. San Francisco/Oakland
Strengths: Success of the San Jose Sharks, The bay area is big enough to support two teams
Weaknesses: Failed Oakland team in the 1970s, Potential new arena is being considered only for NBA Golden State Warriors and not the NHL, No supportive owner has appeared
Rivals: San Jose, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vancouver, new Portland and Seattle teams
San Francisco seems more enthusiastic about basketball than hockey since a potential new arena never mentions a new NHL team. For now the NHL is quite content to leave San Jose as the only team in the bay area.
Strengths: Enthusiastic fan base for a provincial, regional team for the whole Province of Saskatchewan, Same spirit that keeps the CFL Roughriders afloat, One of the few provinces in Canada that is prospering, Saskatoon is one of the fastest growing small cities in Canada, Where are you Ice Edge?, Ineptitude of its western rivals
Weaknesses: The Canadian dollar, Saskatoon despite its recent growth is still a small city, New arena would have to be built within a few years
Rivals: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, a new Milwaukee team
Despite its small size, the Ice Edge group made a serious bid to get the Phoenix Coyotes and play some of their games in Saskatoon. Gary Bettman invited them to resume contact in the future. Regina is getting a new stadium for the CFL Roughriders so why not an NHL arena for Saskatoon? There was talk about putting a WHA team in Saskatoon in the 1970s. The Canadian dollar is a weakness but Gary Bettman is not letting it stop him from bringing back Quebec and he’ll listen to Ice Edge again if they can come up with the cash and solve the arena problem. And if their western rivals remain so inept, this could be the mouse that roared, and steal an NHL franchise from under their noses.