Recently NHL Gary Bettman has not spoken about the possibility of two new expansion teams, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly did comment on it. “It’s not a priority right now, but it’s true that Houston and Atlanta have shown interest.” Then, Ken Weekes, an NHL insider tweeted this on March 5th. It received 1.5 million views, so you know expansion is on NHL fans wavelength.
👀 🤐.@espn @NHL @NHLNetwork @TSNHockey @DKSportsbook #HockeyTwitter https://t.co/g8aLnSVQgJ
— Kevin Weekes (@KevinWeekes) March 5, 2023
NHL Expansion to 34 Teams – Atlanta and Houston
While NHL expansion has been nothing but successful as evidenced by the stellar play of both the Vegas Golden Knights and the Seattle Kraken, it doesn’t mean the league is going to jump back into the expansion waters anytime soon. Both Houston and Atlanta have been mentioned previously as possible new expansion teams. If it does occur, it would bring the NHL to 34 teams. While the present 32 teams makes four divisions of eight teams, adding two more clubs to the mix would distort scheduling and create other issues. It would create two divisions with nine teams, while the remaining two would just have eight.
Another NHL insider, Andy Strickland who is a Bally Sports Midwest rinkside reporter had a different view.
League source on rumors of Atlanta and Houston expansion. They are two cities that have expressed interest but neither of these two are ahead of anyone else, and nothing is happening soon, if at all….went on to say “Not sure these two cities are even at top of our list” #NHL
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) March 6, 2023
Many observers feel that there isn’t enough NHL level talent to suit up 34 teams. That can be debated. The AHL has expanded to 32 and has plenty of talent to make an additional two NHL teams viable.
Other Potential Cities for Expansion Consideration
- Kansas City – The Scouts played just two seasons in 1974-75 to 1975-76. They were a huge failure having only won 27 times over two 80-game seasons. There was excessive talent back then with the competing WHA and the fans weren’t showing up for games. That led to the team being sold in July of 1976. Things have changed since then and the success of the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals has put them on the map. They have an acceptable NHL arena in the T-Mobile Center which holds 17,500 fans. At this point, they could definitely create some rivalry with the St. Louis Blues. They must be considered a favorite to get an NHL franchise.
- Portland – Adding another northwest NHL team may be a bit of overkill. While the rivalries between Portland and the Vancouver Canucks and the newly added Seattle Kraken seems that it’s a no-brainer, it could be that there’s no real reason to add another team to the region. There also isn’t anyone leading a movement to add a team in Portland. They have a good venue in Moda Center which can hold 17,544 for hockey. Just doesn’t seem that Portland would make the cut. Portland has a population of 641,000, only trailing Seattle which has 733,000 residents.
- Quebec City – Always a fan favorite, the Nordiques were very successful in the WHA and were one of four teams chosen to join the NHL. They also got to the playoffs five times out of the seven seasons. After joining the NHL they reached the playoffs nine times in 16 seasons and were in the Final Four twice. While Quebec City is considered a small market, the population has grown to 550,000. There have been many discussions with Bettman about relocating a failing franchise to Quebec City. They too have an NHL size arena, Vidéotron Centre which holds 18,259. The fans are insane for hockey, so they could also be a favorite for expansion.
- Metro Toronto/Hamilton – Hamilton ranks right up there in population of about 800,000. So, could the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders all exist in one condensed area? Unlikely. All of the existing teams would wail endlessly about stealing their fanbase. More than likely adding a team in another area would get priority.
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Why Atlanta and Houston Are Being Considered
Let’s face it both Atlanta and Houston could support NHL hockey, but their past histories don’t help them at all. Atlanta seems to be all excited about the prospect as evidenced by social media.
NHL team coming to Atlanta again…stay tuned. Alpharetta. #wafflehouse #thirdtimeisacharm #like pic.twitter.com/VXHicgV1xa
— BucciOT.Com (@Buccigross) March 3, 2023
The Alpharetta area would need a new arena to play NHL level hockey and this has also been reported as a possibility.
Per my sources: IF hockey returns to Atlanta, the proposal is for it to yes, be a new facility/complex in the suburbs. #NHL
— Maria Martin (@Ria_Martin) March 4, 2023
Some of the attraction to the Atlanta market is it has the largest TV market in the country, per ustvdb.com. And, when it comes to NHL expansion, Bettman sees dollar signs in his sleep. Atlanta may have some strikes against it, but one must admit they would make an intriguing addition to the NHL.
In Houston, they too have been rumored to get an NHL team either via expansion or relocation of a failing franchise. The most rumored team to be heading to Houston has to be the Arizona Coyotes. They have faced numerous challenges mostly from poor ownership. While they have stable ownership now, if their Tempe arena project doesn’t pass in May, they could be looking elsewhere to find a home for their hockey team.
As far as expansion goes, Houston seems to be the hands-down favorite. It would be necessary to team up with Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. Fertitta is still loving the idea of a first-time NHL franchise in the city that ranks fourth in the U.S. in population and whose media market is just behind Atlanta’s at No. 7. Let’s face it, if the NHL wants TV revenue (it DOES) they must consider the Houston market. They too will create an instant rivalry with the Dallas Stars and the “battle of Texas” would be on.
There will always be speculation about NHL expansion. It still seems to be further down the road than some fans think. With the league’s revenue needing to increase, expansion makes perfect financial sense. Expanding from 32 to 34 teams will create another issue which will force the NHL to go up to 36 teams within a reasonable time frame. Will it happen? Who knows? Time will tell. If the salary cap can increase at a more steady pace that will certainly help.
For now, adding Atlanta to the Eastern Conference and Houston to the Western Conference is a start. It could be chancy seeing that the league doesn’t want to add a couple more teams only to have them fail.
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