The last couple of days have seen a lot of speculation and rumors in regards to a possible NHL expansion. Four cities have been named for possible NHL teams as early as the 2015-16 season. While I’m sure the league is interested in generating more buzz about themselves (not to mention rake in a billion plus dollars in fees.). While the league ‘officially’ shot down the expansion plan earlier today, there may have been enough truth in the earlier report. The league could have very well been looking at these cities for a potential expansion. I’d like to take a look at the four cities named and show how feasible or just plain viable those suggestions are.
City #1 – Las Vegas, Nevada. Great! More hockey in the desert! What could possible go wrong?
I think it is pretty safe to say the last time the NHL attempted hockey in the desert it sort of blew up in their faces. Four years of receivership and a franchise that was hemorrhaging money. A league commissioner who was so dedicated (some can make a fair case for obsessed) to keeping another team in the Southwest he rejected acceptable offers to move the team out of Arizona. While history has an ugly track record when it comes to repeating itself, there are other concerns that make Las Vegas a bad idea.
Let’s start with the lack of an arena. At the moment, there is a privately funded arena being assmebled in Las Vegas, but anything but the most expensive and most modern arena just wouldn’t cut it in a city that defines ‘excess’. The league has yet to line up an individual or group that can put out that kind of investment on what would be a very serious gamble. Sure, it’s great to gamble in Vegas, but do you really want to roll the dice with two hundred million dollars of your money on the table? The city of Las Vegas is in rough financial shape. Foreclosure rates on properties are near 33%. The city couldn’t afford to take that kind of gamble either. Just shoving a team out west in order to balance the Conferences is just plain dumb. It would make more sense to send the Red Wings back over to the West than sign a team for that purpose.
City #2 – Seattle, Washington. Let’s finally give the Vancouver Canucks fans someone local to riot over.
Seattle is a better choice than Las Vegas. There are still considerable problems in the Seattle deal. There is no arena that would be suitable for hockey at this time. NHL #2 man Bill Daly spoke to the Seattle Times about expansion and was doubtful about expansion there.
There are more than one groups who would like to own a team in Seattle, but without (at least) a two hundred million dollar investment, it’s not going to happen. Even if the money becomes available, there will be years of red tape in Seattle as every possible study will be done to make sure that the existence of the new stadium won’t affect the lives of a particular species of otter or grunge band. It’s clear that Bettman wants more American franchises. While it does make good business sense to expand in the US, there are viable Canadian cities that would make better choices.
City # 3- Quebec City, Quebec. Vive les Nordiques! (encore)
Quebec City is probably the best choice of the four cities on the list. Quebec. The city was once home to the Quebec Nordiques. Nordiques and fans of the Boston Bruins took time of their mutual enmity to stand united in their universal loathing of the Montreal Canadiens. The Nordiques folded up shop in Quebec back moved in 1995. (They now exist as the Colorado Avalanche.) At the time, they weren’t making ends meet and didn’t have a modern arena. A new NHL-grade arena is currently under construction and will be up and running by September 2015.
Quebec has a shopping list of competent business leaders and financiers who are willing to get in line to bankroll a NHL franchise. I dare say that province could probably take up a collection from the citizens and make it happen. Quebec is the vibrant center for Canadian hockey, and it would be reckless not to expand there. It would also silence certain critics who would like to see more Canadian teams in the NHL. My only concern with a Quebec squad is that there would be a team that might entice Bruins center Patrice Bergeron to move back home.
City # 4 – Toronto, Ontario. Blue Leafs, Red Dollars.
If Quebec is the soul of Canadian hockey, then Toronto is its wallet. The Maple Leafs are a billion dollar franchise. There has been talk of a second Toronto team bouncing around for the last five years. The city of Markham (which is only 12 miles/ 19 kilometers away) attempted to acquire the investment capital to build a new arena. The plan to include public funds went to a vote last December and got shot down by their city council. So, unless some one in Toronto is willing to part with some spare loonies (estimates place the cost of the arena between 25o to 325 million dollars(CAN).), this expansion is likely doomed as well.
There is also the small matter of the team in town. The Toronto Maple Leafs likely would certainly have an issue with another team in the neighborhood. It’s a shame though. Ontario loves hockey, and they would be all too willing to accommodate another franchise. They would certainly love to see one of their teams make the playoffs more than once in a decade.