Cities that are regularly cited are Las Vegas and Kansas City with parties also interested in Winnipeg and Seattle. Contrary to constant black balling, Balsillie clearly has the money to float a team in Hamilton whilst Oklahoma City has bust a gut on two previous occasions offering tax incentives. Houston has made a move on the previous two NHL expansions also but now look to be outsiders with Indianapolis and Milwaukee who are floated more by talk than any real corporate interest. If Seattle were to fall out of the picture a popular support is building behind any potential Portland bid whilst Quebec City remains a nostalgic candidate.
Paul Kelly head of the NHLPA has been quick to jump on the figures suggesting that looking north would clearly be the way to push the league forward citing the 30 team setup to be ideal. Of course this hints to relocation over expansion and Kelly has been a supporter of Balsillie, if not by name, recently stating:
“I think it would be a huge error not to relocate one of the existing franchises
to Hamilton or Winnipeg"
When speaking to the Toronto Star in early June.On the contrary, the end of last season was abuzz with swirling reports that Expansion plans were to be set in stone, whilst these announcement proved to be unfounded expansion remained at the forefront of rumor mill agendas with the two most likely expansion franchises continuing to be cited as Las Vegas, fronted by multi millionaire film producer and avid hockey fan Jerry Bruckheimer and Kansas City, still backed by AEG and bolstered by the presence of the NHL ready Sprint Centre. This of course would continue in Bettman’vein to force feed hockey into unsustainable markets at a time when the league is becoming increasingly
bloated by such franchises.
Potential NHL Locations:
Las Vegas and Kansas City
Off course, Winnipeg stands out for potential investment due to the previous popularity of the Winnipeg Jets and the recently built MTS centre which hosted a sell out pre season exhibition game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Phoenix Coyotes (the contemporaries of the Jets franchise) in September 2006, however with a seating capacity of just 15,015 for hockey, the arena would require a sizeable expansion. Furthermore, whilst there has been league wide support from such luminaries as Wayne Gretzky, Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk and Gary Bettman himself, Winnipeg audiences have proved resistant to the perceived top dollar costs of modern day NHL tickets. Nevertheless the comparably poor currency exchange between the Canadian and US dollars of the mid 90’s, that was in part the downfall of both the Jets and the Nordiques, has improved notably in the franchises 13 year absence and now looks a better time than any for a return to the great white north especially with the leagues new collective bargaining agreement and salary cap.
Still I am not opposed to a realignment of the league and relocation of some of Bettman’s struggling brainchildren. Hockey was never going to be a good fit for Florida and Arizona whilst Nashville could be as good as buried if Balsillie can surpass hockey politics and become a big money minority investor. Sure an increased number of Canadian teams will partially dilute some existing markets and Hockey Night in Canada income, but in the current financial climate, a mid pack Canadian team, in terms of revenues, will do better than bleed money hand over fist like the Coyotes and the Panthers. There is a hunger for the sport in the North that Bettman’s purported plans for Las Vegas and Kansas City continues to ignore in the face of stone wall facts, sure the initial $300 million will boost league coffers, but the heritage and strength of the game should have some part in Bettman’s long term plan.