Apart from awarding San Jose next year’s All Star Game, for me at least, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made two significant announcements at this year’s All Star Game in Tampa Bay; one international (the subject of a future article), and one about the future of the NHL which is the subject of this article. In his polite terms: Seattle submit your bid and get your season ticket drive (like the one Las Vegas held) started and over with as soon as possible.
As I’ve said in a few articles on this blog, once the world learned that the NHL wants Seattle to become its 32nd team, the NHL will not be refunding $650 million back to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. Bettman and the NHL Governors want to welcome them to the NHL Board as soon as possible and only a major catastrophe (like discovering that Bruckheimer and Bonderman share the same sentiments of Pierre Karl Peladeau, the unwanted Quebec City bidder) will stop Seattle. But scooping up that expansion fee may not be the main reason for hurrying things along. In a recent article, I’ve speculated that the NHL wants Seattle over and done with so that they can expand further and possibly solve their two remaining major problems in Quebec City and Phoenix.
I strongly suspect that Houston is already one of the those “done deals” that the Internet and hockey media were announcing before the disappointing attempt at expansion that only brought in Las Vegas. And I have further speculated that by adding yet another American western city as well as Houston, the NHL which wants balanced conferences can then switch the Arizona Coyotes who have probably a 0% chance of getting money to build a new downtown Phoenix arena, the key to their survival, to the east as a revived Quebec Nordiques team, thus cutting out the unwanted Peladeau who has a stack of enemies on the NHL Board. And to follow that up, most likely there will be some kind of NHL realignment, as yet unannounced, probably into an NFL type structure that will allow the NHL to expand easily to 40 teams.
All these potential wonderful events are of course being done behind closed doors, out of the sight of the media and Internet by Bettman and his agents. Out of nowhere came the announcement that Tilman Fertitta, the new owner of the NBA Houston Rockets wants an NHL team as a tenant in his Houston arena. And a few weeks later came the unexpected news that the NHL had given its blessing to Bonderman and Bruckheimer to start getting Seattle into the NHL. Unlike the open attempt to recruit new franchises that ended in the humiliating failure of getting only Las Vegas, Bettman has switched to working behind the scenes and taking everyone by surprise. So a Houston/second American western city expansion and an Arizona-to-Quebec possibility are well within the realm of speculation. And it wouldn’t surprise me that another one of my speculations – Patrick Roy who was happy coaching the Colorado Avalanche for his friend, General Manager Joe Sakic and then suddenly without good reason abruptly quit – will be involved in a revived Quebec franchise with Sakic’s (an ex-Nordique himself) knowledge and blessing.
As a soothsayer, I could be wrong. I’m not infallible like Paul the Octopus. It’s just that what I’ve speculated makes the most sense based on three known facts: The NHL wants to expand to at least 36 teams, probably 40 and it is well known that there are several hungry cities like Seattle, Houston, and Las Vegas that want to join the league under right terms; the NHL wants to realign into a more manageable structure that will allow expansion to 40 teams to take place easily; and the NHL wants Quebec back in the league with a suitable owner and also wants to solve its Phoenix problem one way or the other.
For my theory to be proved, the only real mystery for me is which other American western city wants to join Houston. Here again everything is being conducted behind closed doors so it is difficult to get an accurate picture to what is going on. I’ve narrowed it down to four cities but I could be wrong. In my opinion, Portland is the best American city after Seattle without NHL hockey. There’s talk that San Diego which recently lost its beloved NFL Chargers wants to build a modern arena. It would not surprise me that Bettman, who loves new arenas has already been secretly in touch with this potential San Diego bidder. Oklahoma City which failed to get an NHL franchise in 2000 and instead grabbed the NBA Seattle Supersonics is a good possibility. And there still sits Kansas City with its forlorn new arena awaiting a permanent tenant. Who would be Houston’s western expansion partner? For now I would bet on Portland or San Diego. But I’m not infallible.
And if we want to speculate beyond the current round of four new franchises plus a relocation to Quebec, it would not surprise me that Bettman has secretly been in touch with Hartford, the other former NHL city he visited in 2010 and gave them advice and encouragement about how to get themselves a proper arena and a suitable owner. And once the Quebec problem is settled, in Canada there is always Hamilton or some other southern Ontario city there for the taking. So Seattle get your rump in gear and get this token approval process over with. There are plenty of other delicious morsels on the NHL’s plate and Gary Bettman can’t wait to get at them.