Nobody cares about a United States census as far as NHL expansion is concerned because there are too many large American cities without NHL hockey to count. But for Canada with its limited population, the results of the 2016 census that were released on February 1, are critical.
First the established NHL cities in terms of metropolitan population. The only change in rank is that Calgary has now jumped ahead of Ottawa and is now Canada’s 4th largest city. More importantly, Toronto is nearly 6 million and Montreal just over 4 million. So reestablishing the Toronto Toros and the Montreal Maroons again is feasible if an arena can be built and a suitable owner found.
At the secondary level, Quebec is firmly established as Canada’s 7th largest city, finally getting over 800,000 residents. It confirms that it is the logical Canadian city to get a new NHL franchise. Surprisingly, Winnipeg which had been in the doldrums in terms of population growth for some decades, has nearly kept up with Quebec’s growth and now has over 775,000 residents. But Hamilton, which was once close to both Quebec and Winnipeg, has dropped back from them both, but still showed significant growth to nearly 750,000. So a Hamilton team, especially when it is remembered that it can draw fans from significant mid-size cites like Kitchener, London, St. Catharines, and other sizeable southern Ontario towns is probably a feasible choice right now for a second new Canadian NHL franchise.
Long term? Well for a third southern Ontario team if you don’t want to choose both Hamilton and second Toronto, Kitchener leads the way followed by London, St. Catharines, and Oshawa. It would be nice to consider a Maritime team in Halifax which is finally over 400,000, but how wealthy is the Maritime region? British Columbia would likely get a second Vancouver team before it would get a Victoria franchise because the latter city does not grow very much. And the province of Saskatchewan’s growth was disappointing, though in the long term, a Saskatoon or Regina regional franchise is probably feasible.
For those who follow the CFL, the only other professional sports league with a major stake in Canada, if stadiums can be built and suitable owners found, it is a no-brainer to put a team in Quebec City and maybe try experiments in Kitchener and Halifax.
As far as NHL expansion is concerned, Quebec, Hamilton, second Toronto, and second Montreal could all be established right now. In my opinion, Quebec and Hamilton should be granted NHL teams tomorrow. They would be suitable gifts from the NHL on Canada’s 150th birthday.