The Atlanta Thrashers recently moved to Winnipeg, and it's likely that we could see a few more teams relocate in the next two to three years. The Phoenix Coyotes, perhaps? The New York Islanders, if they don't move into Barclays Center? The Nashville Predators? The Florida Panthers?
There is also the rather remote possibility that the NHL could add another franchise. However, unless people start watching the NHL in droves as a result of the NBA lockout, this probably won't happen.
Here are ten cities—three in Canada and seven in the United States—that could see an NHL team.
The Northwestern United States has two Major League Soccer franchises and a professional team in every major sport...except hockey.
Between the antiquated Key Arena in Seattle and the Rose Garden in Portland, the Garden is better-suited for an NHL team. The Garden has hosted hockey and arena football events many times. Additionally, it is currently the home of a Western Hockey League team: the Portland Winterhawks.
Portland, Oregon is one of the largest markets, but the city has only one big-four franchise. The Thrashers actually considered relocating to Portland before deciding on Winnipeg. If the Coyotes stay in the United States, Portland is their best option.
It's no secret that Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie has been trying to bring another NHL franchise to southern Ontario. While there have been proposals to build a second arena in Toronto, there is already an NHL-ready arena in Hamilton: Copps Coliseum. This area also boasts a built-in, die-hard hockey fanbase.
So, why doesn't Hamilton have a team? The Buffalo Sabres have vetoed potential NHL moves to the city because they feel that another team so close by would invade their territory. Hamilton is just under 50 miles from Buffalo as the crow flies; it's 72 miles by automobile. Additionally, Toronto and the Maple Leafs are only 45 miles away.
Frankly, I don't see another NHL franchise in southern Ontario's future; a more likely outcome would be the Sabres playing home games at Copps from time to time.
From 1974 to 1976, Kansas City had a hockey team called the Scouts. Now it has a new arena called the Sprint Center that's very lonely without a tenant. KC is also one of the largest midwestern cities without a hockey team.
What's the problem with Kansas City, then? There may not be a big enough fanbase. The Scouts used to play in half-empty arenas. More recently, the Sprint Center has hosted NHL exhibition games to small crowds.
Kansas City also has a warmer climate than many other NHL cities. It's not Palm Springs, but then again, it's not Duluth.
Wisconsin has strong youth and college hockey. Could it move up to an NHL franchise?
Wisconsin has MLB, NBA, and NFL franchises. It is also a cold-climate state with a strong hockey following already. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers and the Milwaukee Admirals, an AHL team, are both popular.
Why isn't there an NHL team in Wisconsin? First of all, Bradley Center is a terrible arena, despite being big enough to house an NHL franchise. Secondly, Milwaukee reportedly turned down the possibility of an expansion team in the 1990s. If a team, such as the Coyotes, is desperate for a new market, or if Milwaukee finally gets a new arena, it should jump higher on the list of potential sites.
Houston is the largest city in the United States or Canada without a hockey team. The Toyota Center is fairly new and has hosted the Houston Aeros, an AHL team, since its opening. Despite the large market and a viable arena, I doubt Houston will be seriously considered as an NHL site; too many Sunbelt teams have failed in recent years.
Even the Russians think it's weird that Quebec City doesn't have a hockey team.
The Nordiques played in Quebec City before they moved to Denver. Now, Quebec City's Colisee Pepsi is outdated. However, in February 2011, Quebec City announced plans to build a new NHL-sized arena and hopefully bring an NHL team back to the city.
There are only 700,000 people in the Quebec City metro area, but it is more than 50 miles from another NHL team. Especially considering the fact that Quebec City is building a new arena, it would be an ideal site for an NHL team.
Salt Lake City is a small market, but it is very much a winter-sports city. Salt Lake City did host the 2002 Winter Olympics and has many high school and club hockey teams. And with regard to market side, consider SLC's NBA team, the Utah Jazz, which has better attendance records than teams in much larger markets.
There is some debate about whether EnergySolutions Arena is suitable for hockey. If it was good enough to host the largest crowd in minor league hockey history, it should be good enough for the Coyotes or the Predators.
We now come to the third and final Canadian city on this list. Some would say Regina or Saskatoon could also host an NHL team, but with the Jets in Winnipeg, the Prairie Provinces are covered in terms of hockey. Keep in mind that Saskatchewan isn't exactly a huge market. There are only 200,000 people in the Regina area and 250,000 in Saskatoon, which are separated by 150 miles of farmland.
On the other hand, the Maritime Provinces have been aching for an NHL team. The Halifax Metro Centre is a bit undersized, but there have been proposals to expand it or build a new arena, which would likely lead to an NHL team in Atlantic Canada.
I agonized about my final two choices. For the second city in a warm climate, it came down to Las Vegas or Atlanta. Popular sentiment has always leaned toward Vegas, the largest city without a professional sports team.
There are four main reasons why Vegas would not be suitable for an NHL team. First of all, the warm-weather factor. Secondly, Las Vegas is only a medium-sized market, and it's taken a hit with the foreclosure crisis. Thirdly, there are several territorial conflicts, as there are already two teams in Los Angeles and one in Phoenix. Lastly, there is the issue of sports betting. Every time it looks as if a team will move to Vegas, another betting controversy arises.
Atlanta, a much bigger, stabler, and less-controversial market, seems like a more sensible choice. That said, Atlanta has lost two NHL teams, so Vegas it is.
Again, I agonized over this choice. Obviously, Atlanta is out for the reason I mentioned in the previous slide. Hartford has been discussed as a potential NHL site, but it's less than 150 miles from four hockey teams. The only franchise that I could see moving to Hartford is the Islanders, and only then if the XL Center is replaced.
Therefore, my final choice is Seattle. It is the third-largest American market without an NHL team, after Houston and Atlanta, and the largest in a cold climate. While population and climate are important, there are two limiting factors for Seattle: the fact that Key Arena is not a good arena for anything, and the fact that Seattle is fairly close to Vancouver.