Following the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft, speculation is running rampant on which city could get an NHL team next.
The NHL has grown from six to 31 teams since the first round of expansion in 1967. Prior to Vegas joining the league in 2017, the NHL hadn’t expanded since 2000 when they added Columbus and Minnesota.
Which city could get an NHL team after Seattle? Here are the top five candidates:
1. Quebec City, Quebec
While Quebec is the perfect fit for an NHL team, the NHL is more likely to put a team there via relocation as opposed to expansion. As recently seen with the ESPN deal, the NHL prioritizes their TV revenue and would find placing a team in a big US market more beneficial. Nevertheless, is there a city craving an NHL team more than Quebec? The answer is probably no.
Firstly, a team in Quebec would even out the number of Canadian teams to eight, making divisional realignment more of a possibility. Secondly, the location and tradition would create instant rivalries with many of the Canadian teams like Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. Lastly, thanks to the Videotron Center, whichever team would land in Quebec would already have an NHL caliber arena to call home. Not to mention, the desire of many NHL fans to see the rebirth of the Nordiques and their iconic jerseys.
Pros: Passionate fanbase, NHL ready arena, nostalgia surrounding Nordiques, instantaneous rivalries, even number of Canadian teams
Cons: Small market, likely low TV revenue
2. Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford is another city that has history hosting a well-known and liked NHL team. Much like Quebec City, it doesn’t stand out to the NHL given the relatively low population numbers compared to bigger cities on this list, as well as the past two expansion cities. However, bigger cities like Bridgeport, New Haven and Stamford are all less than two hours away. Furthermore, Hartford’s combined statistical area (csa) population is just shy of one and a half million people, which can easily support an NHL franchise.
While Hartford would have no competition with any other sports outside of the college arena, local AHL teams could cause a bit of an issue. While Bridgeport is unlikely to severely dampen an NHL team’s success in Hartford, the Wolfpack, currently based in Hartford, would likely have to relocate to allow for success at both the NHL and AHL level. On a positive note, the current home of the Wolfpack, the XL Center, provides for a NHL-ready arena.
Pros: Passionate fanbase, Whalers nostalgia, NHL ready arena, TV revenue
Cons: AHL team proximity, smaller market
3. Houston, Texas
Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, making it the largest city currently not sporting an NHL team. With over 2.3 million residents calling Houston home, there is no doubt in Houston’s ability to support an NHL team. The Toyota Center, once home to the Houston Aeros hockey team, provides an NHL ready arena that holds over 18,000. Not to mention, another Texas team will undoubtedly start an instate rivalry much like the one in Pennsylvania between the Penguins and Flyers.
Furthermore, as the NHL attempts to grow the game, expanding their presence down south to such a large market allows them to cast an even wider net geographically. The presence and rivalry should also help to bolster youth hockey in the area. It will also help the game’s overall popularity down south. As far as the league is concerned, having such a large US market like Houston should cause a major jump in TV revenue alongside the large increase in fandom that would come with another team in Texas.
Pros: NHL ready arena, large market, TV revenue, instant rivalry, growth down south
Cons: Potential success in southern market
4. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
There’s no doubting the popularity of ice hockey in Wisconsin given the continued success of the Badgers and youth hockey in the area. With Milwaukee already hosting three of the four major sports, hockey would be a great addition to a historic sports city. After seeing the support given to the Bucks throughout their championship run, there is no reason to believe Milwaukee couldn’t successfully support an NHL team. Not to mention, the location is prime for midwestern rivalries with teams like the Wild, Red Wings, Blues and Blackhawks.
Best fans in the league. pic.twitter.com/t5gxyMXNbX
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) August 2, 2021
Furthermore, an NHL team would likely improve and increase the youth hockey in Wisconsin while putting more of a spotlight on the state as a whole. Alongside the Badgers, Wisconsin would have the opportunity to thrust themselves into the “best state for hockey” conversation. The Golden Gophers and Badgers rivalry has potential to get stronger alongside a Wild and Milwaukee rivalry given the hatred that already exists between the Vikings and Packers.
Unfortunately, though, the Fiserv Forum is not an ideal location to serve an NHL team. The owners have already shot down the idea of adding another tenant. Not to mention, the scheduling nightmare of trying to squeeze a professional basketball team, D1 college basketball team (Marquette) and full-time NHL team into one arena.
Pros: Great hockey market, potential to illuminate Wisconsin as major hockey state, midwestern rivalries
Cons: Ability to host NHL team in Fiserv Forum, potential need for brand new arena, timeline for franchise
5. Kansas City, Missouri
As many people are aware, this was very close to be the landing spot in a move that would have seen the Pittsburgh Penguins go to Kansas City in 2007. Nevertheless, the Penguins stayed and Kansas City went without hockey. Like most of the other cities mentioned so far, Kansas City also has an NHL ready arena in the T-Mobile Center. Clearly this makes for a lot less headaches, as well as a stronger bid.
While Kansas Cities metropolitan statistical area (MSA) comes in at over two million, the population of Kansas City alone is still shy of half a million. With that said, the low population and potential for small crowds is a reason the NHL moved on from the Scouts in 1976. Furthermore, outside of the Chiefs, the other major sports teams in Kansas City (Sporting KC & KC Royals) appear to draw relatively uninspiring crowds. On the other hand, like with Houston, another in-state rivalry could be beneficial in drawing more interest to both the teams and the game.
Pros: NHL ready arena, in-state rivalry
Cons: Low population, potentially low crowds, small market
6. Hamilton, Ontario
7. Salt Lake City, Utah
8. Portland, Oregon
9. San Diego, California