The National Hockey League recently confirmed receiving two applications for expansion franchises. One was from businessman “Bill Foley for a franchise in Las Vegas, Nevada, and one from Quebecor for a franchise in Quebec City.”
Bids were expected from three groups in Seattle, Washington and the Greater Toronto Area, but none were submitted before the deadline on July 20, 2015. That was noted in the league’s press release, suggesting those groups lacked confidence in their efforts to secure an arena and their ownership capability.
That line raised eyebrows among some pundits, who suggested the league was sending a shot across the bow of the aspiring owners in those cities. There’s some speculation the NHL brain trust is upset that Seattle couldn’t submit a bid, as it screws up the league’s hopes of adding two Western Conference franchises, leaving Quebec City open for a relocated team.
Whatever the feelings at NHL headquarters, they made it clear they will focus on the bids from Foley and Quebecor. That doesn’t mean Seattle and the GTA won’t get NHL franchises at some point. Once their arena issues are resolved, they could submit bids if the league still seeks destinations for expansion or franchise relocation.
For the time being, the league will determine if the bids from Foley and Quebecor are strong enough to move on to Phase 2 of the application process, which is expected to be determined by August 4.
There was some speculation bids could come from Portland, Oregon and Kansas City, Missouri.
Since the late-1990s, Portland often popped up in media speculation as a location for an NHL franchise. Those rumors usually center upon billionaire Paul Allen, who owns the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and their arena, the Moda Center. While Portland seems a viable spot for an NHL team, Allen has never seemed very interested in owning one.
The bidders from Las Vegas and Quebec City have two key factors in their favor. They apparently can afford the expensive expansion fees, and have venues ready to house NHL franchises in time for the league’s centennial season in 2017-18.
Expansion to Las Vegas appears a certainty. The NHL wants to expand its brand in the Western United States. Vegas lacks a big-league sports franchise, giving the NHL an opportunity to have that market to themselves.
Quebec City is a natural choice, and an opportunity to bring the NHL back to a city it abandoned for Denver, Colorado 20 years ago. Moving there expands the number of NHL markets in Canada to eight, and resurrects a passionate rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens.
Those markets aren’t without potential issues. Flagging attendance for southern-US franchises in Glendale, Arizona; Raleigh, North Carolina and Sunrise, Florida will give rise to skepticism over the sensibility of putting another NHL franchise in America’s Sun Belt. There’s also concerns over the transient nature of a portion of Vegas’ population.
Quebec City’s metro population of over 765,000 (as of 2011) will make it the league’s second-smallest market. Other concerns include language, high taxes and the declining value of the Canadian dollar.
Assuming both cities receive NHL franchises, it will maintain an imbalance between the Eastern and Western Conference. Quebec City will become the league’s 17th Eastern franchise, while Las Vegas will be its 15thWestern club.
If the NHL opts to hold the expansion line at 32 teams, it could mean moving one of its current Eastern franchises into the Western Conference. Having already shifted Columbus and Detroit into the Eastern Conference during a divisional realignment two years ago, it won’t sit well with the owners of either club if their team is shifted back to the Western Conference.
If the Carolina Hurricanes or Florida Panthers continue struggling in their current markets, one of them could be moved to Seattle once that city finally constructs a new arena.
Should the NHL expand by two teams by 2017, there’s a belief among some NHL fans that expansion fees will provide an immediate boost to the salary cap. However, expansion fees aren’t considered hockey-related revenues (HRR), meaning that the combined $1 billion will be divided among the established 30 NHL owners. Any impact from the addition of those two teams upon HRR and the salary cap won’t be felt until after their inaugural seasons.
Critics (most of whom tend to be in so-called “traditional NHL markets”) who feel the league has become watered-down because of expansion surely won’t like this. Most of their sniping will be aimed at Las Vegas, as the traditionalists will be thrilled to see the Nordiques resurrected in Quebec City.
Regardless of which city eventually gets a franchise, or the potential impact upon the conferences, league revenue and quality of play, it’s a certainty the NHL ranks will swell by two teams before the end of this decade.