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Cities That Could Be Next To Get An NHL Team

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With the NHL’s recent addition of the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights, the league now boasts a robust 32 teams, well beyond the Original Six.

When expansion rumors come up, fans and city inhabitants begin to imagine their city’s new team logo, name, and of course- roster. Well, expansion is coming, the question is, is your hometown in line to get an NHL franchise? These are the most likely candidates…

Quebec City, Quebec

quebec city
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The former home of the Quebec Nordiques, Quebec City has been pining for a new NHL team since the team broke fans’ hearts by relocating to Colorado in 1995. Whenever talks of a new expansion team arise, Quebec City is on the short list of potential destinations.

The league generally prefers an American expansion team to a Canadian one, due to the population size and financial draw. But it would certainly make citizens of Quebec City thrilled to see another rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens.

Hartford, Connecticut

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Quebec City isn’t the only city on this list that would love to see a team come back after having been relocated Hartford was the home to the Whalers from 1979 until 1997, before they moving to North Carolina to become the Carolina Hurricanes. 

One aspect that makes Hartford attractive now is its proximity to Bristol-based television partner ESPN, which recently started a contract to televise NHL games for the next seven years. However, Hartford does not have a huge population, and is also the home of the AHL’s Wolfpack, which may be a lot of competition for a small market. 

Houston, Texas

houston texas
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Commissioner Gary Bettman has made no secret about expanding into the less traditional markets in the United States, such as Las Vegas for example. Given the massive size of Texas, it only makes sense to want to add to the state’s hockey population.

The Dallas Stars, which emerged from the defunct Minnesota North Stars in 1993, have seen great success. Given the size of its population, and the popularity of the former AHL team Houston Aeros, which relocated in 2013, Houston is a very wise candidate for expansion.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Milwaukee makes a ton of sense for an NHL team to call home. Aside for the healthy fan bases that the Green Bay Packers have less than 2 hours away and the recent NBA champion Bucks, there is also the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. It’s actually a surprise that there hasn’t been a Milwaukee team already. 

The state also is home to one of the renowned hockey programs in the U.S. at the University of Wisconsin. If Milwaukee would get a team, natural rivalries between the nearby Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild would be a no-brainer.

Kansas City, Missouri

kansas city
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Kansas City has very nearly gotten its second chance at an NHL franchise multiple times. Whenever the league talks expansion, Kansas City is on the short list of potential destinations.

Despite their previous expansion failure with the Kansas City Scouts lasting from 1974 until 1976, the pieces actually fit, though its proximity to St. Louis may be an issue. The city though, does have NHL-size arena ready to house a potential team. If the NHL continues expansion in the near future, Kansas City could be next up on the list.

Hamilton, Ontario

Hamilton, Ontario
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With the popularity of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it only begs to reason that the league would want to capitalize on the sheer size and scope of the Ontario province. Nearby Hamilton, Ontario has come up more than a time or two in talks for a potential expansion site.

There are questions about whether the area would embrace a second team. That said, the population and rabid Maple Leaf fan base could garner attention to a Hamilton-based startup.

Cleveland, Ohio

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Cleveland is another of the “been there before” potential destinations. The Barons were originally a relocation of the California Golden Seals, who moved after part of the original expansion process didn’t pan out. After 1976 – 1978 in Cleveland, the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars). They have had an AHL team off and on throughout the decades with some success.

Cleveland has always been a football town first and foremost. Even when the Cavaliers and Indians were chasing championships, the heart of the city lay with the Browns, despite their lack of success. So Cleveland may be a bit of a long-shot for another chance at a franchise. 

Salt Lake City, Utah

skiing
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Salt Lake City has already gotten its feet wet when it comes to hosting some NHL games, with some preseason games having been played in the Utah Jazz’s home arena. The push West makes sense for a lot of reasons, especially in the wake of the additions of the Seattle Kraken and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

The area has a lot of highly-populated cities that are quite near each other, like Greater Vancouver. While it has only recently become a destination of interest, it could be one gaining steam should the league look to keep going out West. 

Indianapolis, Indiana

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The former home to the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers, this is one of those potential sites that makes sense on paper. With its Midwest location, a hockey team in Indianapolis could lead to a good rivalry between nearby teams such as Columbus, Chicago, or Detroit.

The question remains whether the city has the capacity to welcome a third major team after the NFL’s Colts and the NBA’s Pacers. The Midwest has been a very much boom-or-bust territory for the league in the past, with Cleveland and Kansas City having short-lived teams, so it’s hard to know what a team in Indiana would be received. 

Portland, Oregon

portland oregon
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Portland getting a team may be less of a potential option now that nearby Seattle has been given a franchise. But the home base of Nike and the city that is growth can’t be overlooked as a possible destination, either.

The Pacific Northwest roots would be great for creating cross-border rivalries with Vancouver while continuing American expansion. Portland may end up being one of those cities that winds up on the backburner for a while behind other, more popular candidates.

San Diego, California

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California has already experienced its fair share of expansion thanks to the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and the San Jose Sharks. The odds of more teams coming to California is pretty unlikely before some others on this list, but San Diego could be an ideal target down the line. 

That said, it is a tougher sell given that the team recently saw the NFL’s Chargers move to nearby Los Angeles. The fan base in San Diego is made up mostly of transplants and getting support for a local hockey team could be tough.

San Francisco, California

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If you are going to aim for expansion, why not aim for the one of the biggest cities in the United States? San Francisco fits that bill with millions of potential fans residing in the greater Bay area, though the price to live there has gotten steep. 

The problem that San Francisco faces is the same one facing San Diego, however. There are already three California-based franchises, with the San Jose Sharks being extremely nearby. This makes it unlikely there would be room for another team in Northern California, despite the size of the Golden State. 

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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The potential for expansion has to feel stronger in Canada for the country that invented the sport. While there are seven team in Canada, there is still plenty of untapped potential in the Great White North.  Cities will be more likely to accept an NHL bid because hockey is a way of life in Canada.

With the popularity of the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary in nearby Alberta, it would only beg to reason that Saskatchewan would want a team. It would join Hamilton and Quebec City on the short list of potential Canadian cities vying for a team of their own. 

Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Like Saskatoon and Hamilton, the desire for Canadian expansion would likely be cheered by Canadian citizens. And like Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia is a province that has yet to have an NHL franchise.

Nova Scotia is less populated than just about any of the other provinces with teams, which presents obvious issues, in terms of securing a strong, loyal fanbase. Of the major Canadian contenders for a franchise, Halifax may be at the bottom of the list.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati, Ohio
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This one is a bit more of a reach than some of the other cities on the list. Cincinnati, despite being in Midwestern Ohio, is thought to be more of a southern territory, given its close proximity to neighboring Kentucky.

There is already a minor hockey team there in the Cyclones, so it begs to reason how an NHL team would fair. Still, with only an NFL and MLB team in town, there might be room for a third professional group.

 Greater Toronto, Ontario 

toronto
Photo: Unsplash.com/Maarten van den Heuvel

Hamilton may not be the only Toronto-area destination being looked at. Toronto may be comparable to big American cities like New York or Chicago, and may have the sheer size and popularity to prop up a second franchise.

There are a few potential destinations within the Greater Toronto area, some of which even have arenas ready to go. No doubt that if the league wants to expand in Canada, they will look to the Toronto area for potential destinations.

While we’ve done a dive into future cities that may see an NHL team down the road, let’s take a look at some of the expansion the league has already done thus far. We’ll see that, while exciting, not all expansion moves end up proving to be worthwhile, for the city or the NHL…

Seattle Kraken – Joined 2021

Photo: Twitter.com/seattlekraken

The Seattle Kraken, NHL’s newest expansion team, kicked off play at the beginning of the 2021-22 season. It is far too early to tell how they will do, but hockey fans are thrilled about this new prospect as the league adds another West Coast team.

Having been approved in December 2018, the team revealed its name and branding in the summer of 2020 to eager anticipation. They became the first pro hockey team in Seattle since the Seattle Totems of the WHL.

Vegas Golden Knights – Joined 2017

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With Seattle joining the league, the Vegas Golden Knights have now been relegated to second-newest team, having  joined during the 2017-18 season. The Golden Knights were the first major pro sports team to call Las Vegas its home.  

The Knights amassed a ton of picks and other assets before stepping foot on the ice, which is how they were able to make the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season. Teams perhaps wary of being fleeced didn’t make deals with the Kraken so readily, leaving them with fewer assets at the start.

Nashville Predators – Joined 1998

nashville predators
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Brought into the NHL in time for the 1998-99 season, the Nashville Predators took a while to get off the ground. But of the more recent expansion franchises prior to Las Vegas, they are one of the most successful.

In 2017, they notched their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals under their belt. They have also been among the handful of contenders in the Western Conference each year, putting together a consistently solid lineup in many of the 20+ years they’ve been in the NHL.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Joined 2000

columbus blue jackets
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It hasn’t been the greatest history for the Columbus Blue Jackets since their arrival in the league in 2000. Their longtime face of the organization, Rick Nash, drafted 1st overall in 2002 – eventually moved on from small-town Columbus to the huge market of New York. The team is rebuilding again with the more recent departures of stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.

It wasn’t until the 2018-19 season that they finally won their first playoff series, for instance. During their time in the NHL, the Blue Jackets have mostly hovered around average.

Minnesota Wild – Joined 2000

minnesota wild
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After losing the North Stars earlier in the 1990s, the State of Hockey would finally get a team back in 2000, the same year that the Columbus Blue Jackets joined. The history of the Wild and Blue Jackets are largely interchangeable, though the Minnesota has made it to the playoffs 10 separate times since the team’s arrival. 

The Wild haven’t had many players to be excited about since Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu. But Russian superstar and almost-Rookie of the Year Kirill Kaprizov, has gotten the attention of fans. Some consider him to be the most electrifying player in franchise history, and has the town talking about possibly contending.

Expansion Doesn’t Mean Success

thrashers
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While recent expansion is going just well enough for most of the franchises mentioned, it hasn’t been a universal success. Perhaps the most glaring example comes from Atlanta – twice.

The Flames would move from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980, just 8 years after joining the league. The Thrashers, who started in 1999, wound up relocating to Winnipeg just 12 years later. It’s unlikely Atlanta will host another team again.

Winnipeg Jets –  2011

winnipeg jets
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Sometimes the league realizes that it has made a mistake or two. Perhaps the biggest examples of this was the relocating of the Winnipeg Jets. The franchise started out as an addition from the WHA, joining the NHL in 1979, only to move to Phoenix in 1996.

The league tried worked on rectifying the experiment when Atlanta Thrashers were floundering, and saw the opportunity to bring hockey back to Winnipeg. Since their return in 2011, they have become a contending team in the Western Conference with a rabid following.

Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes – 1996

Winnipeg to Phoenix
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While Winnipeg is thrilled to have their team back, the original iteration of the Winnipeg Jets saw themselves fall victim to relocation. They were one of the four teams to jump from the WHA in 1979, and like the other teams other than the Oilers, the Jets would find their way out of town in the mid-1990s.

The team would relocate to Phoenix to become the Coyotes prior to 1996, where they have remained. The Coyotes have struggled with low attendance and ownership issues over the past 2 decades, and have had its lease in Glendale, Arizona terminated at the end of 2021. Despite the CEO of the team’s adamance that they are staying in Arizona, rumors grow that the next relocation on the horizon. 

Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes – 1997

Hartford to Carolina
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Another of the WHA teams that joined in 1979, the Whalers adopted went from being named “New England Whalers” to “Hartford Whalers” as a compromise to not step on the fanbase of the nearby Boston Bruins. During their time in the NHL, they would only have three winning seasons, with one playoff series win to show for it.

With attendance issues throughout their tenure, the Whalers would move at the end of the 1996-97 season, relocating to Raleigh, North Carolina, becoming the Carolina Hurricanes. To add salt to the wound, the Hurricanes would capture a Stanley Cup in 2006, less than 10 years after moving. 

Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche – 1995

Quebec to Colorado
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For a long time, there was enough room in Quebec for more than the Canadiens. The Nordiques’ arrival in 1979 gave made a natural rivalry for the league’s king in Montreal.Unfortunately, that rivalry was pretty one-sided.

The Nordiques were close to last for many years, earning the first overall pick in the NHL Draft in three straight years, with none of those picks being on the roster within three years of their draft. The team would ultimately move to Denver prior to the 1995-96 season, becoming the Colorado Avalanche, and would capture the Stanley Cup in their first season there, as well as another in 2001.

Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars – 1993

Minnesota to Dallas
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Given that Minnesota’s nickname is the State of Hockey, one would have assumed that the North Stars would be a smashing success. And for a time, they were a popular fixture within the state, but inevitably only lasted about 25 years before the North Stars would move elsewhere.

Things just didn’t work out in Minneapolis. Despite drafting American-born superstar Mike Modano to lead their charges, the North Stars would eventually relocate to Dallas prior to the 1993-94 season, where they have since remained. Modano would lead the Stars to a Stanley Cup in 1999, the franchise’s only title.

Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils – 1982

Colorado (Rockies) to New Jersey
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Kansas City is often brought up for a potential future NHL destination, but they already got their shot in 1974. The Scouts were one of two teams to join the league in 1974’s expansion.

By 1976, the Scouts moved to Colorado to become the Rockies and just six years later, the team would move again, this time to New Jersey. While the newly-christened New Jersey Devils struggled for the first five seasons there, they eventually saw success. They would have a streak of making the playoffs 13 years in a row between 1997-2010 and win a trio of Stanley Cup titles in that time, led by Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur.

Anaheim Ducks – Joined 1993

Anaheim Ducks
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Though it may sound surprising, the Ducks were a Disney creation from the start. That’s right, they came into being because of the 1992 The Mighty Ducks film that became so popular. It was only after Disney sold the team in 2005 that they changed their name from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the Anaheim Ducks.  

Nearly right away, they became an exciting team to watch in the 1990s, thanks to the tandem of superstars Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. When it comes to expansion teams, they’ve seen more success than most, with many playoff teams to show for it, and a Stanley Cup win in 2007. 

Florida Panthers – Joined 1993

Florida Panthers
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In addition to the Anaheim Ducks, 1993 saw the NHL add the Florida Panthers. The Panthers looked like the next great success story, making the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche in 1996. That year may have been the peak for them, however.

Since then, they have not won a playoff series, and have continuously finished at the bottom of the standings. Their management has made questionable trades and the team has been discussed as being on the verge of relocation several times. Behind the Coyotes, they would be the next likely candidate to find a new home. 

Ottawa Senators – Joined 1992

The Senators
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Diehard hockey fans know that Ottawa has had multiple forays in the NHL. The Senators existed in the early part of the 20th Century before ultimately folding, and then being reborn again in 1992.

This newer iteration of the Ottawa Senators didn’t have many winning seasons for a while. They rose to prominence in the mid-2000s, ultimately making a Stanley Cup Final appearance, but losing to Anaheim in 2007.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Joined 1992

Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo: Pinterest.com/Amanda

Joining the NHL in 1992 along with the Senators were the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like many expansion teams, they were historically bad for the first decade they were in the league. But they have certainly had one of the greatest success stories of expansion teams. 

They managed to capture the 2004 Stanley Cup before the league went into a labor lockdown. They have most recently won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, looking to become the first team to three-peat since the New York Islanders’ teams of the 1980s. 

San Jose Sharks – Joined 1991

San Jose Sharks
Photo: Pinterest.com/Timmy Hernandez

The San Jose Sharks started off the massive decade of expansion that was the 1990s, becoming the first West Coast team after the Kings and Seals joined in the ’70s. While the Sharks opened the floodgates for more teams to enter the league, like many new teams, they didn’t see success for more than their first decade in the league. 

After the rough start though, the Sharks became a force be reckoned with in the latter half of the 2000s, remaining in contention for the Stanley Cup for the better part of a decade. Ultimately, though, they have made one appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since they joining the NHL.

Los Angeles Kings – Joined 1967

Wayne Gretzky
Photo: Pinterest.com/Dan Barker

The Los Angeles Kings were the first team on the West Coast, having joined with the initial expansion beyond the Original Six in 1967.  The Kings had a lot of middling success throughout the 1970s and most of the 80s, but their popularity would change dramatically with “The Trade.”

When the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, landed in southern California in 1988, the hockey landscape there was forever changed. While the team failed to win a Stanley Cup during the Great One’s tenure, it did manage to capture a two titles in three years at the start of the 2010s.

Beyond The Original Six

bobby hull
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In 1967, the NHL doubled in size going from six teams to twelve overnight. Some of the teams became stalwarts of the league. Unfortunately, one of those teams, the Oakland Seals (later California Golden Seals) would not see much success, and would undergo color, name, and logo changes during their six years in the Bay, before relocating to Cleveland for two years before completely folding. 

While the league growing meant that traditional rivalries between the Original Six teams, such as the Red Wings and Blackhawks, would have less frequency, it brought about newer rivalries such as between the Pennsylvania teams of the Penguins and Flyers. 

Philadelphia Flyers – Joined 1967

the flyers
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The Philadelphia Flyers became one of the pillars of the league that emerged from the initial expansion of 1967. It didn’t take them long to find success, either. By the mid-1970s, the Flyers had managed to dethrone the juggernaut Montreal Canadiens, winning back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975.

The Flyers have remained one of the league’s most popular franchises, often displaying a bad-boy attitude along the way. They’ve made several Stanley Cups since the 1990s, but are still looking to recapture the glory days of the 1970s, however.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Joined 1967

Jaromir Jagr
Photo: Pinterest.com/JasonC ツ

The Pittsburgh Penguins were another new team in 1967. They have had an up-and-down history, having mostly toiled for the first nearly-two decades of existence before grabbing a guy named Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick in 1984, changing the franchise forever. 

Lemieux, a Czech phenom named Jaromir Jagr, and a strong team overall captured Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 but that didn’t stop the franchise from nearly going bankrupt. Mario came to the rescue again, as one of the owners, and the team drafted the Next One in Sidney Crosby. Since then, the Penguins have won three titles in fifteen years and have been popular since.

St. Louis Blues – Joined 1967

St. Louis Blues
Photo: Pinterest.com/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The St. Louis Blues have become another crucial addition to the league since joining in 1967. The Blues made the Stanley Cup Final in their first three years, though had failed to capture the crown.

In 2019, after over 50 years in the league, they managed to capture the first title in franchise history. Though they don’t have the popularity or population of some of the Original Six teams, the Blues have remained steadily popular during their time in the league.

New York Islanders – Joined 1972

New York Islanders
Photo: Pinterest.com/ESPN

The Islanders have one of the more unique histories in the NHL. They came into the league as part of the 1972 expansion and, within a decade, became a juggernaut, winning four consecutive Stanley Cup championships to start the 1980s.

Since their heyday of the 1980s, they have struggled to see much success. They were among the worst teams in the NHL for nearly three decades, with several tumultuous ownership situations along the way. In the last few years, fans of been more hopeful as they have made the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons.