Thursday, May 26, 2011

Winnepeg's Back, Who's Next?

With the seemingly imminent relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, here’s a quick look at some of the most intriguing sites for future NHL relocation/expansion, ranked from most to least deserving. Included in the descriptions are my estimations of the region’s chance at getting a team, and the most likely arrival time of the potential NHL franchise.

1. Quebec City – Bigger metro population than Winnipeg, long history of hockey and the city is definitely chomping at the bit to get back into the NHL. They have a population which could support a team, as a slightly bigger city than Winnipeg. From the buzz I hear from sources around the NHL it’s highly likely that the next team relocated will be heading north of the border. Communications company Quebecor recently put up a significant chunk of dough for a new stadium with the hope of luring a NHL franchise to Quebec City ($200 million for future naming and stadium operation rights). There are significant obstacles to overcome before the Nordiques return, but anticipate this happening in relative short order. CHANCE OF HAPPENING 75-90%; MOST LIKELY ETA: 2013

2. Hartford/Southern New England—Hartford is the 33rd most populous combined statistical area in the US and the 45th most populous metropolitan area in the US. Hartford is probably the city in Southern New England most likely to get a team, given the history of the Whalers, the fact that it lies just outside the metropolitan areas of both Boston and New York, and its significant (if unimpressive) population. There is a considerable movement in the area to see the Whale return. Other alternatives in New England include Providence (larger pop. than Hartford but would get more protestations from the Bruins), Worcester (like Providence but even less alluring) and Portland, ME (population equivalent to Winnipeg and/or Quebec with decidedly less hockey-rabidity). CHANCE 30-40%; ETA: 2016

3. Seattle – Home of the first ever American club to win the Stanley Cup (the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917), home of the Seattle Thunderbirds WHL franchise and a history of several other whl franchises and members of the PCHA, which was a major professional hockey circuit involving hockey forefather Lester Patrick among others. Despite its proximity to the Canucks, Seattle is a major city (12th CSA and 15th MSA) which could readily support a NHL franchise in my opinion, particularly with the absence of a NBA franchise and the relative mediocrity of the Mariners and Seahawks. But with little public incentive to build a hockey-friendly arena, America’s best bet for successful hockey expansion is a long way off. CHANCE 75-85%; ETA: 2021

4. Milwaukee – Milwaukee isn’t a huge city, but as the 27th CSA, 39th MSA they more than meet the minimum requirements. Wisconsin has a rich collegiate and high school hockey history, and the AHL’s Milwaukkee Admirals averaged a respectable 6,000+ fans during the 09-10 season, a very respectable number. The major impediment to a team coming to Wisconsin is the veritably ancient Bradley Center, which would need to be significantly renovated or replaced to lure a franchise to the Badger State. CHANCE 20-30%; ETA: 2025

5. Portland, Oregon – Like Seattle, has a long and rich hockey history including former membership in the PCHA, the Portland Rosebuds were a game away from the Stanley cup in 1916. The Portland Winterhawks of the WHL have been playing for over thirty years. With the Blazers’ recent ineptitude and no other professional sports franchises to compete with, it’s a nearly ideal situation in Oregon. Portland (20th MSA) isn’t quite as populous as Seattle, so I doubt it would receive a team ahead of them. The Rose Garden is already capable of hosting hockey, as the WHL’s Winterhawks are already tenants. CHANCE 10-20%; ETA: 2031

6. Hamilton/GTA –Tremendous hockey history and enough population to support two teams, only problem is getting the go-ahead from the Maple Leafs. Hamilton is the smallest city in Canada capable of supporting a NHL franchise, in my opinion. With a metro population just north of 650k, and potential territorial challenges from franchises in Buffalo and Toronto, Hamilton is anything but a sure thing. Another option for the NHL is to plant a second franchise within the Greater Toronto Area, a city that could without a doubt support a second team. I am completely in favor of putting another team into this hockey-hungry region, but it remains to be seen if the TMLs will allow it. CHANCE 50-60%; ETA: 2021

7. Atlanta – While the thought of two failed hockey franchises in Georgia’s capital would make any mogul seeking to bring a third to the Peach State think twice, I feel that within three decades, there will be an NHL team in this city. Atlanta has seen exactly two wins in playoff games, and it goes without question that neither the Flames nor the Thrashers achieved a single postseason series victory while in Hotlanta. If a franchise was willing to make the commitment to the region and was not marred by franchise in-fighting or mismanagement, the sport-loving people of ATL would surely support a team. With one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the US and Canada, Atlanta needs only a push in the right direction to become a thriving hockey-town. Don’t hold your breath as it will take a while. CHANCE 10-20%; ETA: 2036

8. Kansas City, MO – As the 22nd most populous combined statistical area and the 29th most populous metropolitan statistical area and a NHL-ready arena in the Sprint Center and its position, one would think that KC represents an ideal situation for the league. However, with a minimal history of professional and amateur hockey, a healthy NFL and resurgent MLB franchises, I feel that KC will likely remain the threat that ownership groups use to exact concessions from local governments and taxpayers and as an also-ran in expansion fights. The Kansas City Scouts drew just over 8000 fans per game during their two-season history. If they are granted a NHL team, expect it to happen sooner than later, while the Sprint Center is under a decade old. CHANCE 10-20%; ETA: 2016

9. Houston – If the NHL is dead-set on trying to expand further in the Sunbelt, then Houston presents them with a good opportunity. It’s currently the largest metropolitan area in the US and Canada without a NHL franchise. The AHL’s Houston Aeros have received a consistent attendance of around 6,000 per game over the past five seasons, which would seem to indicate the presence of a decent hockey following in the fourth largest city in the US. While a NHL franchise would need to more than double that (and achieve success through a decent TV deal) it seems like awarding a team to Houston is not that far-fetched. I would think the feasibility studies alone would take at least half a decade, so don’t expect the Houston Colts any time soon. CHANCE 15-35%; ETA: 2021

10. Las Vegas – Big city with a professional sport vacuum, host of several NHL awards ceremonies. Potentially huge market for the NHL given the absence of major sports and the big money available here, combined with the fact that Vegas is one of the fastest growing big cities in the US – the metropolitan area growing by 40% in the past ten years alone. The city has little hockey history, including a current ECHL team and a former member of the now-defunct IHL and Nevada is a state not exactly known for its hockey appreciation. A new arena would need to be in the works if the NHL is to come to Sin City, but the MGM Grand Garden Arena could work as an interim rink if necessary. It’s by no means a sure bet, but then again, what is in Vegas? CHANCE 20-40%; ETA: 2020

Other Possibilities include: Indianapolis, IN; Cleveland, OH; Cincinnati, OH; Baltimore, MD; Sacramento, CA; San Francisco/Oakland, CA; London, Ont.; Salt Lake City, UT

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