Cities That Should Have an NHL Team
Hockey is not a regional sport. That's an unfair label slapped on the sport in the United States.
Hockey is more than, say, Minnesota's sport. More than Canada's sport.
Case in point, the Vegas Golden Knights. In their expansion season, they captured the imagination of sports fans everywhere by going to the Stanley Cup Final. During the playoffs, Golden Knights games became the hottest ticket in Sin City.
At the moment, the NHL doesn't have plans to expand after 2020. Vegas was the league's 31st franchise, while Seattle is scheduled to hit the ice in 2020.
But the relocation of a pre-existing NHL team is always a possibility for future hockey hotbeds.
If the NHL can be a smash hit in the desert, it can be popular anywhere. All you need is a fresh sheet of ice.
With that in mind, the NHL should consider putting teams in these 24 cities.
The NHL has not only failed once in Atlanta. It's failed twice here.
The Flames played in Atlanta from 1972 to 1980 before moving to Calgary. The Thrashers lasted from 1999 to 2011 before moving to Winnipeg.
But Atlanta remains a top 10 North American metropolitan area population. That's always going to be tempting.
It's also worth noting that Atlanta has never enjoyed a successful NHL team. In 19 years of NHL action, the city has seen just two playoff victories.
Could a Vegas-like postseason run ignite Hotlanta?
One of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, Austin is ripe for the taking for a major league sports franchise. In fact, the Texas state capital is the largest U.S. city without a major league sports team.
Hockey isn't new here either. The Dallas Stars' top minor league affiliate, the Texas Stars, have carved out a niche in Austin for almost a decade.
The NHL was hip enough to get to Las Vegas first. Why not Austin?
Naturally, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas garnered the highest local ratings for the Capitals' Game 5 Cup-clinching victory in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps surprisingly, Baltimore trailed the competing cities.
But maybe that isn't so surprising: At times in the 1960s, a minor league hockey outfit, the Baltimore Clippers, would outdraw the NBA's Baltimore Bullets. Charm City was thought by many to be a favorite to receive an NHL expansion franchise for the 1967-68 season, before arena hang-ups derailed that bid.
Today, continued arena issues and the proximity of the Washington Capitals make a Baltimore NHL team unlikely. But there's good reason to believe that Charm City could support an NHL team.
The WHA's Cincinnati Stingers didn't draw great, but they drew well enough to be the only one of the WHA's five expansion teams to last until the league was disbanded in 1979.
Today, the East Coast Hockey League's Cincinnati Cyclones are about to enter their fourth decade of existence.
Cincinnati also is the center of Ohio's largest metropolitan area, the Cincinnati–Middletown–Wilmington combined statistical area, which has supported the MLB's Reds and NFL's Bengals for generations. NHL hockey would fill the void between the end of the NFL season and the beginning of spring training.
From the Cavaliers to the Browns to the Indians, Cleveland boasts some devoted sports fans.
So even though the NHL has already failed once in Cleveland — the Barons played there from 1976 to 1978 — the city deserves another chance.
It doesn't hurt that Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavs, is NHL ready.
The capital and largest metropolitan area in Nova Scotia, Halifax's 400,000-plus population undoubtedly would embrace an NHL team. Nova Scotia, along with Saskatchewan, are the two most-populated Canadian provinces without an NHL franchise.
Relatively smaller than other Canadian provinces, Nova Scotia's love of hockey is large, as proven by the NHL stars who hail from here, like Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, and Al MacInnis.
Hamilton is one of only nine metropolitan areas in Canada with a population over 700,000. The other eight have or have had modern-era NHL teams.
The Hamilton Tigers played in the NHL from 1920 to 1925.
Hamilton has had close calls getting an NHL team recently. Businessman Jim Balsillie, on three occasions, made agreements in principle to purchase an NHL team, with the ultimate intention of moving them to Southern Ontario. Each time, he was rebuffed.
Hamilton also features an NHL-ready arena in FirstOntario Centre.
However, territorial rights issues would have to be resolved with the nearby Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres.
Even though the NHL left in 1997, the Hartford Whalers brand still resonates among hockey fans.
A couple years ago, ESPN asked of the Whalers, "The most beloved team that no longer exists?"
While the Hartford metropolitan area is numbered at just over a million, the city would embrace another NHL franchise in a heartbeat.
Tickets for November 2018's Winnipeg Jets-Florida Panthers games — the fourth set of NHL regular-season games in the Finnish capital — sold out in just five minutes.
From Jari Kurri to Teemu Selanne to Patrik Laine, Finland has been producing NHL superstars for decades. There's no doubt an NHL team would flourish here.
The same could be said about Finland's neighboring country, Sweden. Can you imagine the intensity of a Helsinki-Stockholm NHL rivalry?
"I would put an NHL team here tomorrow," said Tilman Fertitta, the new owner of the NBA's Houston Rockets, in October 2017.
Fertitta was referring to the NHL-ready Toyota Center, opened in 2003 for the Rockets. And the Dallas Stars, just four hours away, offer a natural in-state rivalry.
The largest media market in the United States without an NHL team, Houston boasts a metropolitan area of over 6 million people. That's a lot of potential hockey fans.
A 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky, then a member of the World Hockey Association's Indianapolis Racers, notched his first professional goal at Market Square Arena in 1978.
This wasn't the franchise's only claim to hockey fame: In 1976-77, the Racers led the WHA in attendance, outdrawing more traditional hockey markets like New England, Quebec, Winnipeg and Edmonton.
Indianapolis is the third-most populated city in the Midwest, so there's certainly a fanbase large enough to cheer on an NHL franchise. It also has a hockey-ready arena in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the NBA's Pacers play.
In 2007, the Pittsburgh Penguins seriously considered moving to Kansas City.
The newly opened Sprint Center was a chief attraction.
“Kansas City has never been entirely off our radar screen,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly in 2017.
The league has this sentiment, even though Kansas City is another place where the NHL has failed once. The Scouts skated there from 1976 to 1978.
There's little interest in hockey in Mexico City.
But frankly, you could've said the same about hockey in Los Angeles a few decades ago, too.
As the largest metropolitan area in North America — and relatively convenient for travel — Mexico City has attracted MLB, NBA and NFL games.
Why not the NHL one day?
The Nashville Predators' top minor league affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, have held down the hockey fort in Milwaukee in various leagues since 1970.
In terms of attendance, they've had consistent success.
But for the NHL, dreams of capturing the city's imagination like the Green Bay Packers would have to be the goal. A just-opened NHL-ready area, Fiserv Forum, which currently hosts the NBA's Bucks, also could prove to be a lure for the NHL.
The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) is considered the world's second-best league after the NHL.
Full of passionate fans and deep-pocketed owners, the KHL also has been a pioneer in placing teams in far-flung countries, such as Finland and China.
It sounds like a fantasy now, but could an NHL-KHL super-league merger happen one day?
At the outset of their 11th season in Oklahoma City, the NBA's Thunder never have failed to sell out a game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. That's a staggering 343 consecutive sellouts.
While hockey has never been a huge hit in Oklahoma City, the city certainly has proven that it could support a major league franchise. Chesapeake Energy Arena also should be able to take on a hockey team quickly, as they hosted the Central Hockey League's Blazers from 2002-09.
An NHL-ready arena? Check. The Moda Center has hosted the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers since 1995.
A billionaire owner in the wings? Check. Paul Allen has been sniffing around NHL teams for years.
A large metropolitan area? Check. At over 2 million and growing, Portland can accommodate more than one major sports team.
Before the 2018 Winter Olympics, Reuters completed a survey which answered the question, "How many registered hockey players does a country have per 100,000 people?"
The answer wasn't Canada, which boasted 535 registered players per 100,000. It was the Czech Republic with 812 registered players per 100,000.
In the same survey, Reuters also concluded that the Czechs dealt with the most crowded rinks, with just one rink for every 420 players. This was far above Finland, which was second with one rink for every 121 players.
Obviously, NHL expansion beyond North America isn't happening anytime soon. But if and when it does happen, the league will find a hockey haven in the Czech Republic's capital.
Even though the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado in 1995, Quebec City hasn't given up on its dream to host an NHL franchise once again.
The city has gone as far as constructing its own NHL-ready arena, opening the Videotron Centre in 2015.
Lead project designer Kurt Amundsen noted the 18,100-capacity venue was built "with the intention of them securing an NHL team in the near future."
In its heyday, the Nordiques-Montreal Canadiens rivalry was one of the league's most heated. The province of Quebec would love nothing more than to see it fired up again.
Salt Lake City
The host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City is a winter sports haven.
So why not the NHL?
The NBA's Jazz have flourished in Salt Lake City since 1979, proving SLC's ability to support a major league franchise. The Jazz play in Vivint Smart Home Arena, a facility that has housed pro hockey outfits like the Salt Lake Golden Eagles and the Utah Grizzlies.
Utah also is an untapped state for the NHL. The closest NHL competition, the Vegas Golden Knights, is a six-hour drive away. The Salt Lake City–Ogden–Provo combined statistical area consists of over 2.4 million, more than enough to support an NHL team.
There's every reason to believe that the City by the Bay — just like it's gotten behind the Giants, Warriors and the 49ers — could get behind the NHL in a big way.
The Warriors are moving to the Chase Center in Mission Bay in 2019. Could an NHL team be next?
About an hour south of San Francisco, the San Jose Sharks have been a hit in South Bay for over 25 years, so there's also the potential for a fierce San Francisco-San Jose hockey rivalry.
As far-fetched as it might be for the NHL to expand to Europe, expanding to Asia must be considered a pipe dream.
That said, the NHL has shown clear interest in the Asian market. From 1997-2000, the league sent teams to Japan for regular-season games. In 2017, they sent teams to China for the first time for exhibition contests.
If the league were ever to expand to Asia, Sapporo might be a logical destination. Located in snowy northern Japan and host of the 1972 Winter Olympics, at 1.9 million, it's the most populated city in Hokkaido. The prefecture also hosts two of the oldest professional hockey teams in Asia, the Oji Eagles, established in 1925, and the Nippon Paper Cranes, established in 1949.
The Saskatoon metropolitan area, made up of just 295,095 residents, according to the 2016 census, would be the NHL's smallest metropolitan area.
But there's no doubt that hockey-mad Saskatoon, the largest city in the province of Saskatchewan, would adore an NHL team. According to 2013's "The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan," more than 490 NHL players have been born in the province, the highest per-capita output of any Canadian province.
That passion almost lured an NHL team in 1983. The St. Louis Blues were sold to Bill Hunter, who intended to move the team to Saskatoon, before the league vetoed the sale.
There's zero doubt that Toronto could support another NHL team.
In 2009, the Toronto Observer published a story about a Maple Leafs fan who had waited 44 years — and counting — for season tickets. That's a rare passion.
Like Hamilton, however, territorial rights issues would have to be resolved with the Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres.