23 July 2015

Are we getting closer to NHL expansion?

The last time the NHL expanded was before the 2000-01 season in which the league added the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota, bringing the franchise total to 30. That number could soon be expanded potentially with Monday's news that prospective ownership groups from Las Vegas and Quebec City had submitted an application for an expansion team that would hit the ice for the 2017-18 season.

The Las Vegas bid was submitted by a group called Las Vegas Hockey Vision, led by Bill Foley and including the Maloof family, the former owners of the Sacramento Kings. Their application was filed under Black Knight Sports and Entertainment LLC, meaning that a Vegas team would be called the Black Knights.

Canadian telecommunications company Quebecor, the owner of TVA Sports who hold the French-language rights for the NHL, submitted the bid of behalf of Quebec City and they have made clear that their hopes are to resurrect the Quebec Nordiques. The Nordiques have not been a thing since moving in 1996 to Denver and becoming the Colorado Avalanche. That would not be unlike when the Winnipeg Jets were brought back a few years ago when the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated.

Those were the only two groups to put forward a bid, meaning that there was no bid from Seattle, widely seen as one of the favorites in the mix for either an expansion or a relocated franchise. A key issue in why the Seattle bid fell apart was the lack of a singular arena plan in place. The Chris Hansen-led South Downtown project would have only received public funding if an NBA was relocating to the venue. A plan for Bellevue, Washington fell through and the Tukwila group led by Ray Bartoszek is still trying to put a pitch together. A bid for a second team for Greater Toronto also was not entered before the deadline.

What the Vegas and the Quebec proposals had in their favor was that both have arenas under construction: the Videotron Centre in Quebec City, expected to open in September, and a joint MGM-AEG project in Sin City that is expected to open in 2016. Both seem solid bets to get franchises now. Vegas has been all but a certainty to be getting a franchise the last year and change and helps to combat the current conference imbalance. Quebec City does not and also would like to see an improved Canadian dollar but nobody has denied that region's passion for hockey and for getting NHL hockey back, plus the aforementioned arena and a solid ownership group. For what it's worth, beloved commissioner Gary Bettman has said that geography would not be the determining factor in which city would receive a team.

However, hope is not lost for the cities that failed to get an expansion bid in on time. The future of the Coyotes in Glendale is tenuous at best and while the league denies that they are primed for relocation, everyone knows that it is at least on the table. Meanwhile, the Panthers continue to struggle financially and at the box office, leaving them a potential candidate for relocation as well.

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