The decision for NHL expansion has reached a critical stage Tuesday with the league’s executive committee reportedly meeting in New York City.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston first reported the meeting Tuesday morning.
The executive committee consists of owners from the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals.
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is the committee chair.
In a news conference before the start of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league could expand by one or two teams, defer expansion or decide that the NHL will not expand.
The recommendation by the executive committee will be put to a vote for the June 22 NHL’s Board of Governors at their meeting before the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
“It's been an ongoing process, as you can tell. There's a lot of different issues that are related to expansion and potential expansion. A lot of those issues aren't solely in either the applicant's control or the NHL's control. A lot necessarily involve input from third parties,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “The timetable is what the timetable is. I think we've made really good progress, and that's why we hope to at least have more guidance by the 22nd of June. But it's not been a quick process certainly.”
With all that in mind we take a look at the NHL's current options with expansion.
Expand for 2017-18 by one or two teams
Bill Foley, who leads the Las Vegas expansion bid, has gone through all the necessary requirements to have a team ready for 2017-18. He has a beautiful new arena in the heart of the strip that’s ready for action. He has plans for a practice facility in Summerlin. He hit 14,000 season ticket deposits.
Both the NHL and Foley appear to want the same thing – to be the first to bring a major pro sports team to Las Vegas.
Quebec City is also ready for an NHL team – with a brand new arena. But the league has been lukewarm on the market for expansion.
Quebecor chairman Brian Mulroney has continuously lowered expectations and there’s a sense the league would prefer Quebec City as a relocation option for a struggling market. In the recent past the NHL relocated the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg and that has paid dividends with a high level of fan support and stable ownership.
The NHL has said it’s not worried about issues with the Carolina Hurricanes ownership. But having a ready-made market like Quebec City could help alleviate any potential trouble with the Hurricanes or other teams that could struggle in the next year or two. Then again Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos is on the executive committee to recommend expansion.
The one-team expansion scenario for this round seems to make the most sense, if the NHL decides to expand.
Foley had said a report he would pull his bid if the team wasn’t awarded in 2017-18 was “bad info.”
But he clearly has a timeline and seems to favor the earlier options.
"I thought we'd have the team in no time," Foley said in a February story with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "It just shows you how naive I was."
The NHL has been understandably cautious with this decision. The league’s choice to expand into the Sun Belt in the 90s grew the game immensely in non-traditional areas. But several of those franchises have struggled financially at times in their histories.
The Thrashers moved, the Nashville Predators were almost moved to Hamilton, Ontario before local ownership stepped up and purchased the team. The Florida Panthers were rumored to move for some time before Vincent Viola’s attempts to stabilize the team’s business.
Another year could give the league time to make sure it has everything in place in Las Vegas so it will work. Even though the NHL has continued to shoot down rumors of Seattle expansion, another year could also enable the NHL to survey that market and make time for a bid from there to materialize.
What is the negative of deferring expansion?
Giving up some market momentum to the NFL's Oakland Raiders if they move to Las Vegas for the 2017 season.
This would leave, at least one $500 million expansion fee on the table. It would prevent several new player NHL jobs from opening and new NHL team jobs.
The league has come this far with their expansion process, and even created rules for a possible draft. It’s hard to believe the NHL won't expand. But Bettman has been patient with the expansion decision and it’s clear he wants to make sure all the financials work.
The NHL’s bottom line has been strong in recent years with three teams being valued at over $1 billion and forecasted revenues of over $4 billion. If expansion is the right business decision then the league will expand. If it’s not, the NHL is in good shape to stay at status quo.
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