The NHL is coming to Seattle for the 2021-22 season to give the league an even 32 teams. The 32nd NHL franchise allows the league to host eight teams in each division. Doing so, it seems that chances are very slim that we could see another expansion franchise anytime in the near future. Most likely, the only way we could see an NHL franchise in a new city would be from relocation. Ottawa and Florida continue to struggle with attendance in their current markets without a set plan to fix the issue. Could we see a potential relocation from either of these franchises? Below, we've listed out a few potential targets that may be able to handle an NHL franchise.
Wisconsin is one of the few states in the U.S. that is historically known as a hockey market. The University of Wisconsin is one of the most successful NCAA hockey organizations in terms of attendance, winning, and producing NHL players. Milwaukee has never been home to an NHL franchise, but they have been the home of American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals for over 40 years. The Admirals have an average attendance of 5,400 which ranks them 22nd in the American Hockey League. The team plays out of UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, which seats 9,600 for ice hockey. This venue is far too small and outdated to host an NHL team. A Milwaukee NHL franchise could look into playing at the Fiserv Forum, a brand new venue completed in 2018 for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. The arena seats 17,300 for basketball and was constructed to accommodate an NHL sized ice surface as well.
Greater Toronto Area/Mississauga
The Greater Toronto Area is often mentioned as a possible location for an NHL franchise. The city has an enormous population of 2.6 million and is considered the hockey capital of the world. If the New York area can handle three NHL teams, why can’t Toronto handle two? Bordering city Mississauga seems to be a perfect location as it has a 828,000 population of it’s own. It’s population shows that Mississauga is bigger than both Winnipeg and Vancouver, which both currently hold NHL franchises. Similarly to Seattle, Mississauga is currently only home to the Mississauga Steelheads of Canadian Junior Hockey’s Ontario Hockey League. The biggest problem with Mississauga as a location for NHL expansion is the lack of a facility. There currently is no existing arena or any plans to create one that supports an NHL franchise. A big time investor would need to step up in order to create a new arena for an NHL team in the Greater Toronto Area. At the same time league owners may be hesitant to approve Mississauga, as they would heavily take away from the Toronto Maple Leafs enormous fan base.
Quebec City, Quebec
An ideal situation for an NHL franchise could be back to a city that previously lost their team to relocation, Quebec City. The city, along with Montreal based media company, Quebecor Inc., completed an 18,000-seat arena in late 2015 in hopes to receive an NHL franchise. The emergence of this arena has provided what is one of the biggest hurdles of having a city receive a team. The question as to whether or not the city has a large enough fan base to support a team has also already been answered in the past. The city hosted the Quebec Nordiques of the NHL from 1979 to 1995, until the franchise relocated to Denver. During those active NHL years in Quebec City, the team was able to keep their barn over 90% full each night on average. The city has been desperate to get a team back ever since ownership relocated. Quebecor Inc. even paid $10 million to the NHL in order to make a bid with Las Vegas for an expansion franchise in 2015. Quebec City and Las Vegas were the only cities to submit bids to league, with Las Vegas receiving the lone approval. Reasons for the NHL's denial to Quebec seem to have derived from the low Canadian dollar.
Texans have proven that they love their hockey. This year's Winter Classic in Dallas saw a sellout crowd of over 85,000 fans. Houston is the fourth largest city in the entire U.S. and is still almost four hours from Dallas. Houston also already has a more than viable arena in the Toyota Center, current home to the NBA's Houston Rockets. With a massive population and plenty of corporate partnership opportunities, it seem like Houston would be an ideal fit for the NHL.