Friday night will mark the beginning of a bittersweet end for hockey fans in Houston when their Aeros host the Grand Rapids Griffins in the first game of their 2013 Calder Cup playoff run.
Friday’s faceoff will come on the heels of the parent Minnesota Wild confirming that they will pluck their prospects out of the Toyota Center and bring them closer to home in Iowa for the 2013-14 season.
Could this create an opening for the NHL? There are certainly enough reasons to put it on the table.
Houston is in slim company with San Diego as the only cities exceeding one million in locals but lacking an NHL franchise.
Similarly, the state of Texas has multiple teams in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, yet the Dallas Stars have always been the NHL's lone Lone Star State representative.
With two recent developments on the Houston sports scene, as well a couple in the NHL, there may be no more opportune time than the present to pursue a change in that regard.
One of those occurrences concerning the city is the Aeros’ impending departure and the other is the transfer of baseball’s Astros from the National to American League, which took effect this season.
There will eventually come a day when the Astros and the Texas Rangers, A.L. tenants throughout their existence, are each good enough to whip up a compelling intrastate rivalry between Texas’ two largest markets. If Houston had an NHL franchise, that team could lock twigs with the Stars to do the same on the ice.
Besides the size and shape of the city in question, some impending outside developments in the hockey world underscore Houston as a worthy candidate.
Texas product Seth Jones was recently ranked at the top of the Central Scouting Service’s final pre-2013 NHL draft projections. Although he hails from the Dallas area, his inevitable selection at or near the top of the draft will symbolize a boost in momentum for the state’s interest in the sport.
Speaking of momentum, Jones will enter the league after a radical shift in the landscape results in a 16-team Eastern Conference of two eight-team divisions and a pair of seven-team sectors in the 14-team Western Conference.
Naturally, one of the topmost drawbacks in this realignment is the fact that there will be unbalanced divisions and conferences after the NHL had a smooth distribution of six, five-team divisions from 2000-01 to this year.
If that evenness is to be restored, the most savory way is to expand to two additional Western teams, as opposed to contracting out east and thus robbing players, coaches, executives, employees and fans.
Assuming the 30 current teams can stay in place, Houston ought to be one of the front-runners to join in a division with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. The other division―featuring Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver―could target the likes of Portland and Seattle as the home of its eighth franchise.
Or, if expansion is eschewed, another market’s loss could be Houston's gain, particularly if the Phoenix Coyotes as we know them cannot be saved.
Kansas City, Portland and Seattle have all been mentioned as possible Western Conference destinations if the Coyotes do not remain in Arizona. All are also implicitly viable candidates if expansion to 32 teams is ever explored.
Now that the Aeros are on their way out of Texas, it is only fair to let Houston enter the lottery as well.