NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants to expand (in all the wrong places).


“To the extent our board makes a decision that expansion is something they’ll consider or pursue, which they haven’t yet, as an initial matter we have to look West first due to the geographic alignment of our teams,” said NHL’s number two man Bill Daly, at the All-Star Game’s State of the NHL address from Gary Bettman.

“We have fourteen teams in the Western Conference, sixteen teams in the East,” said Daly. “That’s an imbalance that we’ll want to remedy.”

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  • That kind of announcement leaves traditional hockey cities like Quebec City once again out in the cold. No chance of an expansion for a team that would likely be the re-born Nordiques. But no worries hockey fans, the NHL front office had other cities in mind.

    “I really have nothing new to report that I haven’t previously reported. Las Vegas is getting ready to launch the season ticket campaign, and we continue to get interest from others including Seattle. Their mayor visited and we had a nice chat.”- Gary Bettman on potential NHL expansion cities

    Let’s turn back the clock to early last month. That’s when the last Board of Governor’s meeting took place. At that point, billionaire businessman and investor Bill Foley approached the league to see if he would be allowed to ascertain if a NHL franchise in Las Vegas was feasible. The Board had no problem with him exploring the possibility of expansion there.

    “There is no formal expansion process,” said Bettman when asked about the meeting by the media. “There is no vote that was taken today. There is no vote that was contemplated. We don’t have an agreement to sell anybody an expansion franchise. However, the interest that we are getting from Las Vegas has raised lots of questions about the market itself and the interest level in supporting a professional team in Las Vegas.”

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    So, while Bettman prattles on, Foley has begun the process of trying to find potential season ticket holders for a team based in Sin City. Well, that makes no sense to me. When I think hockey towns, Las Vegas is near the absolute bottom of my list. (San Juan, Puerto Rico and Mexico City are lower than Las Vegas, but I’d rather not give Bettman any ideas.)

    “Bill [Foley] asked to do it, so we could get a sense as to whether or not the market would support the grassroots level, if you will, franchise. He has to make those judgments,” said Bettman at the All-Star break. “My guess is the campaign kicks off in February. If he’ still running it in next October, my guess is tickets didn’t sell so quickly. If he’s able to get to a number that makes a lot of sense and shows a great deal of enthusiasm in 2-3 weeks, we’ll have a better sense of the market.”

    So by that line of conversation, we have to consider Las Vegas in play. Seattle is still too vague to be considered a possibility, but Bettman is living proof that stranger things have happened.

    Why not Quebec City? They have the fan base. A loyal, fanatical, hearts-in-the-game fan base. If a season-ticket campaign started there, you would have the numbers the validate moving forward. They have a NHL-ready stadium ready to go. It would add another French-Canadian team to the NHL. It makes perfect sense, so why not?

    The answer: Gary Bettman doesn’t like being wrong.

    Let’s look at the entire mess of the Phoenix(now Arizona) Coyotes. Four years in receivership. The league tossing hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain in order to keep hockey in the desert. Refusing to sell the team to anyone who may have had an inkling of moving the franchise away from the Sun Belt. Bettman had planted his flag in Arizona, and come hell-or-high water, he was committed to the Coyotes staying in Arizona.

    Bettman wants teams in non-traditional markets. He’d love Vancouver to have a nearby rival, and Seattle fits the bill perfectly. (Let’s just forget that the only team that hated the Montreal Canadiens more than the Boston Bruins was the Quebec Nordiques. That’s a plug-and-play rivalry that would demand media attention.) Las Vegas would be another future money pit (I mean glorious opportunity to play hockey in ninety degree weather), and if it means another lockout over lost revenues, Bettman is the man to make that kind of magic happen.

    Finally, the NHL just moved Detroit out of the Western Conference. I doubt the league would go “Oops!” and move them back to the West.  Bettman approved the conference shift, and the last thing he wants to do is admit error and switch things back (no matter how much sense it would make for there to be a Quebec City or heavens forbid, a second Toronto franchise).

    Once again, a good hockey city gets denied over one man’s desperate attempt to prove a theory.