The NHL is going to add a team to the Western Conference at some point.
(Let’s leave Quebec City out of this discussion, despite being the only other city to bid in the last round of NHL expansion, falling short while Las Vegas got a franchise. First, because one assumes they’d be in the East, despite their desperation to land a franchise. Second, because this is primarily about expansion and we still hear that Quebec is your relocation failsafe, going forward.)
We all assume it’s going to be Seattle, whenever Seattle gets its arena issue sorted out – the Key Arena refurbishment is a huge step forward – because that will add clarity to the ownership search, seeing as how no one stepped up with a bid during the most recent round of NHL expansion.
Portland has many of the same geographic and demographic advantages as Seattle, without having about a dozen other sports entertainment options draining the bank accounts of prospective fans. They’re on the radar, too, after the Arizona Coyotes reportedly toured the Moda Center during their arena strife back home.
Houston has always enticed the NHL as well. The Toyota Center is built to house a hockey team. But with Les Alexander selling the Houston Rockets, does that help or hurt the effort? Some believe he was the best owner available for a team, some feel clearing him out of the picture makes it more likely the NHL does business in Houston.
Then there’s Kansas City.
Sweet, beautiful Kansas City.
The place with the Sprint Center, which opened in 2007 searching for an NHL team to play in the cold and 10 years later is happy to host Coldplay when they’re in town. For the last decade, teams used Kansas City as a relocation threat in negotiations with local governments.
No one moved. Kansas City remains an ECHL town at the moment.
The question is, could that change?
ESPN.com spoke with Lamar Hunt Jr., son of the legendary Kansas City Chiefs owner, who owns the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks. His message is clear, if a little derivative of a baseball stadium in a cornfield: It you build it, maybe they’ll come?
In other words, the seeds of hockey need to be planted before an NHL franchise can bloom there. The minor league team must continue to thrive. Youth hockey needs to boom. Kansas City feels like it needs to make the demographic case to get the NHL’s attention, without the immediate geographic (the Pacific Northwest) or unique (Las Vegas) appeal of other NHL expansion dance partners.
To wit, Bill Daly told ESPN.com:
“In evaluating potential locations for NHL teams, we typically look at three things: One, whether the market has or is building a suitable arena facility; two, the demographics of the market and whether they suggest an ability to support an NHL franchise; and, three, whether there is qualified and interested ownership to own and operate the franchise. While the Sprint Center certainly checks off the first of those boxes, the other two issues remain a work in progress.”
The last “thing” is obviously up to the Board of Governors, i.e. the gatekeepers of the old boys club. The second “thing” is what Kansas City would have to prove to the BoG to get a sniff of expansion.
Of course, spending $500 million on an expansion team isn’t the only way to get an NHL franchise. But after a decade of acting as the NHL’s unofficial price inflator for teams teasing relocation, we imagine Kansas City isn’t waiting around for that to actually happen.
Where do you think the NHL should go next for expansion?
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