If NHL Expansion Was Based On Rivalries…

This a fun article which little corresponds to reality. Expansion in any league is a hot topic and as this is a hockey blog I’ll limit this to the NHL. Though I have written articles on this blog in the past about which countries should have their standard of play raised to improve international hockey. And even expanding Canada’s junior CHL leagues would be fun.

For this article I’m going to throw logic out the window. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s and offered them reasonable terms for readmission (No mention then of a $500 million expansion fee and $10 million “consideration fee”). These included a great fan base, a suitable owner, and a proper NHL fee. For this fun, imaginary article I am going to pretend that all the expansion choices meet all three of his demands. I am also going to make the assumption that the NHL will realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences with 4 Divisions each and each will have 4 teams to start with. This makes it easier to expand to 5 teams per division (40) and even 6 teams to a division (48).

I am also going to put some limits on this expansion. First, some teams already have their best ever rival in the NHL. There are the New York teams; Calgary and Edmonton; Tampa Bay and Florida; the two Los Angeles teams and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. There will be no better rivals added to them, though some of the new teams might develop a rivalry with them. Second, some teams will not be given a new rival. They may not be near anybody who is currently big enough yet. And third, teams will be only limited to one new rival, so Montreal will not get both second Montreal and Quebec, San Jose will not get both San Francisco and Portland, etc.

The latest team that was actually added to the NHL was Las Vegas, which in theory could be the best-ever rival of Phoenix, two desert teams. The question is will there be an Arizona team in the future? This potential rivalry could be killed at birth. I am making the assumption that Arizona will still be around. But here are some of the best NHL rivalries that have yet to be realized. There is no special order in this list though what I consider to be the best unrealized rivalries are at the top.

1. Montreal Canadiens Vs. Quebec

This was the best rivalry in the NHL before it came to an untimely end, so it was an easy choice to list it first. The NHL could also bring back the old Montreal Maroons who folded in the Great Depression, but the growth of Quebec City and its intense rivalry with Montreal when it joined the NHL after being a WHA team gives Quebec priority. All Canadians and probably all the NHL Board want Quebec back, now that it has built the Videotron. Bettman has to resolve the Quebec ownership problem as soon as possible to get this feud going again.

2. Boston Bruins Vs. Hartford

This rivalry never really got off the ground because Hartford seldom had a good team because of its ownership and arena problems. But Hartford-Boston for the championship of New England is a natural. Hartford plans to update the XL Center and if they can find a suitable owner, a new Hartford team should no longer be a weak sister. This rivalry has yet to see its better days.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Hamilton

Whenever Toronto plays Hamilton in the CFL, it is said that there is usually at least one fist fight in the stands. Can you imagine what would happen if Toronto and Hamilton became NHL rivals as well? This potential great rivalry is being held up because Toronto and Buffalo will not share the rich southern Ontario market. But one of the next 9 NHL expansion teams HAS to be a new southern Ontario team. Bettman should be reigning in the NHL Board to set a suitable compensation package for Hamilton and get one of the best rivalries in Canada, one to rival Montreal-Quebec and Calgary-Edmonton going.

4. Vancouver Canucks Vs. Seattle

This has the potential to be the best cross border rivalry in the NHL. Buffalo-Toronto has never really taken off all these years but that may change with Americans Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel now leading their teams. Vancouver has never really had a top rival all to itself. It has rivalries with Calgary and Edmonton, but still plays second fiddle to the championship of Alberta. In baseball and football, Seattle has been mostly by itself. So it could be a promising experiment to give them each other for the championship of the northwest coast. The NHL wants Seattle in, in fact they were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. Right now Seattle is stuck at the arena issue but if it is resolved, they would become the leading western city to get an expansion franchise.

5. Nashville Predators Vs. Memphis

An interesting experiment, the battle between eastern and western Tennessee for the championship of the state. The Predators, after being a precarious NHL franchise may finally have turned the corner as a credible NHL market, with their recent visit to the Stanley Cup Final. Giving them a state rival might consolidate things. It’s worth taking a chance on.

6. Chicago Blackhawks Vs. Second Chicago

Is Chicago big enough for two teams? MLB seems to think so. They now play each other every year since Inter-league play was introduced. Right now Chicago’s main rival was traditionally Detroit, but the Redwings moved to the Eastern Conference and seldom play the Blackhawks any more. So giving Chicago an inner city rival might work.

7. St. Louis Blues Vs. Kansas City

The battle of Missouri seldom happens. In football, St Louis was placed in the NFC and Kansas City in the AFC. Now St. Louis has lost its team and it may be a long time before it comes back. In baseball, the cities finally play each other with introduction of inter-league play. There was also a memorable World Series in 1985. But Kansas City-St. Louis still has to take off in any sport and hockey has the chance to ignite this sleepy feud.

8. Dallas Stars Vs. Houston

In baseball, Houston was having attendance problems so they switched a traditional National League team to the American League just so Houston could play the Texas Rangers more frequently. In football, the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys only play each other once every four years. In basketball, Dallas has a significant rivalry with both Houston and San Antonio. The NHL definitely wants Houston, the largest American city without a hockey team in the league. The Dallas Stars have no real rivalry with anyone so bringing Houston into the NHL would fill a big hole.

9. San Jose Sharks Vs. San Francisco

Right now San Francisco is building a new arena but like the unsuitable Barclay’s Center, it may be only good as the new home for the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. There is no talk of getting an NHL team for San Francisco, but MLB and the NFL (until the treacherous move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas) believed that the Bay area could support two teams. But these cities seldom play each other though there was a World Series between San Francisco and Oakland. Regular games between San Jose and San Francisco could lead to a promising NHL rivalry.

10. Washington Capitals Vs. Baltimore

Washington seldom plays Baltimore in both MLB and the NFL so a real rivalry between these close American cities has yet to take off. Hockey has the opportunity. Actually another possible experiment for Washington would be to give Norfolk Virginia a team. But Baltimore has always been a great sports city though it has never tried NHL hockey. The NHL could be the beneficiary of a seldom-tired rivalry.

11. Winnipeg Jets Vs. Saskatoon

In the CFL, Saskatchewan was always Winnipeg’s best rival despite the Blue Bombers having to be moved back and forth between the Eastern and Western Conferences as occasion merited. Saskatoon is one of Canada’s fastest growing smaller cities so a Saskatchewan regional team, within 20 years might be a feasible possibility in the long term.

12. Minnesota Wild Vs. Milwaukee

In the NFL, Minnesota-Green Bay is one of the league’s best rivalries. Right now, Minnesota’s best rival might be Chicago but Chicago’s best rival was always Detroit until they switched conferences. Minnesota-Milwaukee has the same promise as Minnesota-Green Bay. It’s an experiment worth trying.

13. Raleigh Hurricanes Vs. Charlotte

In hockey and football, they call the team Carolina. Only basketball goes by the city name of Charlotte. The NHL’s team is located in Raleigh, not North Carolina’s largest city, and has been having attendance problems, probably because they have not iced a competitive team for a long time. Giving them a state rival would be an interesting experiment, one that might save the franchise.

14. Buffalo Sabres Vs. Rochester

This will never happen, at least for a very long time. Buffalo versus Rochester for the championship of upper New York State might become a great rivalry. It only occurs in lacrosse. But Buffalo will not share northern New York State with Rochester any more than it wants to share the southern Ontario market with Hamilton. Maybe in the very distant future when the population of Buffalo is 5 million and the population of Rochester is 3 million, it could happen for the NHL.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets Vs. Cleveland

For this rivalry to occur, Columbus has to finally become a credible NHL city, the NHL has to finally forget the horrible memories of the Cleveland Barons, and the city of Cleveland itself finally has to be willing to support a team at the top level of hockey, not just the Lake Erie Monsters. Nobody is going to take a chance in the Death Valley of hockey, Ohio-Indiana. For that reason, nobody is going to take a chance on either Cincinnati or Indianapolis as a rival for Columbus too.

There are 15 potential great rivalries waiting to happen in the NHL. That’s 15 more teams giving the NHL 46 teams, two less than the symmetrical 48 for an even 8, 6- team Division league. So to round out the NHL I’m going to nominate Portland and second Montreal…


15 thoughts on “If NHL Expansion Was Based On Rivalries…

  1. I like your list I see couple of others though.

    4. Seattle – Vancouver
    it also could be Portland – Vancouver I know you already know that Its still quite close to Vancouver.
    7. St. Louis vs KC I agree Also KC is kinda the little brother in baseball. They are the cross state rival and other than when we really played them. There really isn’t bad blood it’s more of a “Oh look they think they’re going to make the playoffs, Good for them.” Now they are a very good team and they desire the respect they have earned. Also KC and St. Louis played a game in the NFL called the Governors Cup. So they played a rivalry game yearly with them.
    8. Houston – Dallas
    Houston didn’t leave the NL due to bad attendance. It was a condition to selling the team to a new owner. Houston was in the NL Central and one too many teams and the AL west was one short of a team. So the team sale was had a condition of moving to the AL west. Otherwise I agree it could fill a huge hole for the other and help fill seats.
    9. San Jose
    Could also go the route of Oakland if the GSW leave for SanFran or again Portland. Again either one would fill a huge hole for the other for a rival
    10. Washington
    I like your idea of Norfolk, VA. Baltimore -Washington has been done and it like you said just doesn’t really happen. They play in baseball and football and people talk about how close they are but I don’t think of them as rivals.

    15. The CBJ and Cleveland.
    Well I had an idea while looking at a map and Cleveland is too close as is Cincinnati. But I saw a cities that’s big on sports. Baseball and Basketball. Louisville,KY. It’s a little further than Cincinnati and that might help as well could be a good rival to Nashville or 3rd try Atlanta team(J/k on that Atlanta one)

    Also Memphis would make a good rival for the St. Louis blues its very close and the MLB St. Louis Cardinals AAA Memphis Redbirds play there.

  2. Thanks for replying Josh. I’ll go over your comments one by one.

    1. Seattle-Vancouver.

    I could live with Vancouver-Portland just as well, though Seattle would be Vancouver’s best rival. Portland would at least be tied with Calgary and Edmonton as Vancouver’s best rival until Seattle came along. But who would be Portland’s best rival? Vancouver or San Jose? Or Seattle and San Francisco if the NHL expands there.

    2. St. Louis-Kansas City

    From your comments, it sounds like a St. Louis-Kansas City rivalry really hasn’t caught fire in any sport, probably because they don’t play each other very often. Maybe regular meaningful games, especially in a physical sport like hockey will ignite something.

    3. Dallas-Houston

    They have a battle of Texas in basketball and now baseball. I agree with you that regular and playoff cross-state games would increase interest in hockey.

    4. San Jose-san Francisco
    Oakland had a team in the original 1967 NHL expansion but the sport never became popular and the franchise was shifted to Cleveland. I think San Jose-San Francisco is more glamorous than San Jose-Oakland, so that will be the route followed. But is the new San Francisco arena suitable for hockey?

    5. Washington-Baltimore

    This is like St. Louis-Kansas City. It really hasn’t been tried. Baltimore played Washington for a while in the American League, but Washington always had bad teams so that blunted things. And in the NFL, Baltimore and Washington seldom played each other. I think like St.L-KC, they have to play each other regularly to get an intense dislike of each other. Norfolk which has never had any major league teams is a fun idea to try. And would Norfolk be Raleigh’s best rival if Charlotte did not get a team?

    6. Memphis-St. Louis

    It’s nice to know that Memphis would get another good rival besides Nashville. I don’t think it would be better than the championship of Tennessee or the championship of Missouri. But the battle of the Mississippi River could lead to an intense rivalry.

    7. Columbus-Cleveland

    If Ohio-Indiana were a hot-bed of hockey, this rivalry would have been started long ago. But if you have read my two articles about Cleveland on this blog, the NHL cannot forget its horrible experience in Cleveland in the 1970s. Cleveland has the population size and the arena to make a go in hockey, but nobody can forget the past. And besides Columbus it has a basketful of good rivals; Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago plus possibly Baltimore and Washington. It’s a shame that because major league hockey is mysteriously unpopular in Ohio-Indiana, that this natural rivalry cannot occur.

    • Another could be OKC and Dallas.
      Also St.Louis and Chicago have a rivalry that covers many sports. We really hate Chicago. And Chicago really hates us. One of the most sad days of my life is when Cleveland couldn’t come back and keep the 108 year streak going. Chicago Vs. Chicago .North siders vs the south side has been done and I think that the sox could leave and most of the city wouldn’t notice. Heck they one the World Series in 2005. And many of the city and many news places commenting that Chicago had not won a world series since 1908. When the city had won a world series a little over a decade. In American cities if there is 2 teams in a city one always gets screwed. However I think Milwaukee would also substitute as it is a city ripe for hockey a separate city and very close to Chicago. only 1½ hours away. The north and south sides are only 20 minutes away from each other.
      Another could also be San Diego for Arizona(5hr drive) or LV nearly 5 hour drive. They have very good attendance for an AHL team with nearly 9k in attendance and that’s almost as good as the record in Hershey Bears.

  3. I think Houston or another Texas city would be Dallas’s best rival, Josh, though Oklahoma City would be a top rival with any Texas city. Who would be Oklahoma City’s top rival? I would pick Colorado because the Avalanche don’t have a state rival so they might as well take Oklahoma because they wouldn’t have a state rival either. An Oklahoma team would have lots of good rivals including any Texas city, Phoenix and Las Vegas, Colorado, a new Kansas City team and your own St. Louis.

    I agree with you. Since joining the league in 1967, Chicago has always been St. Louis’s best rival, but the Blackhawks would say that their best rival is Detroit. There is also Minnesota and the possibility of Milwaukee. Get Kansas City into the NHL and get a cross-state rivalry going, all to yourselves. Colorado could also be a top rival for St. Louis. They have an intense rivalry in the NFL with another Missouri team, the Chiefs.

    I never mention San Diego though they have the population to be an NHL team. But how deep are their roots in hockey? Their minor league figures that you mention are impressive. They would also have to build a proper arena and find an enthusiastic owner like Bill Foley. For now, I would take San Diego as a surprise bid, a city I would not take seriously unless I saw them actively building a proper arena and a serious would-be owner appeared.

    • I never thought of San Diego till we are talking about St. Louis , Oakland , Cleveland and Baltimore. What do all these cities have in common. The NFL decided that another city was better. Baltimore and Cleveland both have have a team return. So I thought I would look to see if they have a AHL team and they do. Also that team the Gulls are new like 2 seasons so they might want to wait a couple a years on that one but I thought it was an interesting idea.

    • I do some homework and the current home the The San Diego Gulls holds 12k for hockey okey a little tight for hockey. Then I do a Google search for NHL San Diego what do I find. There is a plan to build a 18k capacity arena. In hopes of luring an NHL team or expansion. So clearly I am not the first to think this. Reasons they list it could be a good idea. Attendance only second to the Hershey Bears. LOL


      Also during the 90’s and early 2000 I looked at the Red Wings as the chief rival to the Blues the Blackhawks were terrible for most of 50 years. The Red wings seemed always to beat the Blues in the 2nd or 3rd round. Chicago was never in the playoffs are quickly eliminated.
      Defiantly a fun thought on how and where to put new teams. Also the Gulls were in a city 2 seasons back Norfolk, Va and same team half of the attendance. So maybe Norfolk isn’t the best idea.

      • Josh, if San Diego builds a proper arena and then finds an owner with the money, they become an instant contender for an NHL franchise. 9,000 fans in a 12,000 seat arena for minor league hockey isn’t bad but is it enough to convince the NHL and just as important, a suitable owner who believes in a San Diego franchise? As is shown in Kansas City, building an arena isn’t enough. No investor stepped forward to bring either an NHL or NBA team to Kansas City. They just don’t trust the market enough and Bettman’s $500 million entry fee was a further deterrent. Will that be the same in San Diego which is even less likely a hockey market than Kansas City?

        In San Diego’s favor, they are a western city and adding them to the NHL would allow the league to finally realign into an NFL structure with a symmetrical 32 teams. For that reason alone, San Diego would be looked on with favor by the NHL. And they would have good rivals with Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

        You are right about the Blackhawks being a bad team for a long time until Jonathan Toews came along. But from the days of the “original 6”, Detroit was always considered to be Chicago’s best rival. But that might change because Detroit wants to be in the eastern conference and won’t play Chicago so much any more. And to take their place, right now I would nominate either St. Louis or Minnesota. A future Milwaukee team would be a top rival, but probably a second Chicago team might be the best.

      • I totally agree it was interesting that I mention it and it turns out people in the area are think the same. Also with the Chargers moving north to play in a soccer stadium. That will free up money for a winter sport for the area.

  4. Thank goodness the NHL does not treat its franchises like the NFL does, Josh. Maybe one of these other cities will get an NHL team like St. Louis. Oakland and Cleveland are both failed NHL cities but Baltimore and San Diego might work.

    • I totally believe that the reason that St. Louis got the winter classic was due to the Rams leaving. And Bettman thought it was a good way to increase hockey in the city.

  5. I’m glad the Blues got the Winter Classic. I don’t think they got it because the Rams left but like you said, it is a good way of increasing interest in hockey in the St. Louis area.

    • True and St. Louis had attempted to get a Winter Classic or a Stadium series game for a while but I think that might have been the kicker to go ahead with it.

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