Potential National Hockey League expansion: Wikis

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The National Hockey League (NHL) has undergone several rounds of expansion and other organizational changes during its nearly 100-year history to reach its current number of thirty teams: twenty-four in the United States, and six in Canada. A number of potential owners have sought a franchise for other cities, though as of September 2009, the NHL is not planning any expansion or franchise moves. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated "we're not planning on relocating. We're not planning on expanding. Anyone who wants a franchise really is out of luck for the foreseeable future. [...] If at some point we're in the business of relocating or expanding, we're going to open it up because the number of people and the number of places that want franchises is a fairly lengthy list. "[1] As of September 2009, however, with the league having difficulty securing a lease for the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes, the league acknowledged that it might be forced to move the franchise somewhere.[2]

Contents

Expansion into Canada

Copps Coliseum in Hamilton was built in 1985 with the hope it would help lure an NHL team to the city.

The potential of adding a seventh franchise in Canada has been an ongoing source of controversy for the NHL in recent years as numerous groups have proposed expanding the league into a new Canadian city, or purchasing a struggling American franchise and relocating it north. Winnipeg, Manitoba and the Golden Horseshoe area of Southern Ontario are most frequently proposed as locations for new Canadian teams. Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has made three significant attempts to bring a team to Hamilton, most recently with his $242.5 million offer in 2009 to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes, immediately after the team filed for bankruptcy protection. Balsillie's efforts have been resisted by the NHL during commissioner Gary Bettman tenure. Balsillie's latest efforts include a public relations campaign based around Canadian nationalist feelings and the perception that the NHL is "anti-Canadian". A second group from Vancouver is interested in purchasing the Atlanta Thrashers and relocating the team to Hamilton.

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Background

History of Canadian franchises (1967–present)

Throughout the history of the NHL, attempts to bring franchises to Canadian cities have caused points of contention. Vancouver's rejected bid for one of six new franchises added in 1967 outraged Canadians, who felt they had been "sold out". Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson stated that "the NHL decision to expand only in the U.S. impinges on the sacred principles of all Canadians."[3] Three years later, the Vancouver Canucks joined as the league's third Canadian franchise.[4] The 1979 defeat by a single vote of a merger agreement between the NHL and the rival World Hockey Association that would have resulted in three WHA franchises join the NHL led to a mass boycott of Molson products across Canada. In a second vote, the Montreal Canadiens, owned by Molson, reversed their position, allowing the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets to join the NHL for the 1979–80 NHL season.[5] The Calgary Flames became Canada's seventh franchise in 1980, relocated from Atlanta.[6]

The 1990s saw considerable upheaval amongst Canadian franchises. The Ottawa Senators joined the league as an expansion team in 1991, beating out a competing bid from Hamilton. However, the declining value of the Canadian Dollar, coupled with rapidly escalating salaries placed hardships on Canadian franchises.[7] As a result, the Nordiques and Jets left Canada, becoming the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 and the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 respectively. Fears persisted up to the 2004–05 NHL lockout that the Flames, Oilers, and Senators could follow suit. The financial fortunes of Canada's teams rebounded following the lockout: Canada's six franchises represented one-third of NHL revenues in 2006–07, primarily on the back of the surging value of the Canadian dollar.[8]

Current views on Canadian expansion

Former National Hockey League Players Association executive director Paul Kelly has repeatedly argued in favour of bringing a new team to Canada. In early 2008, he described the Canadian market to The Palm Beach Post: "The six Canadian franchises do so well, they pack the buildings, get great TV, great revenue streams. If you put another team up there, be it in Nova Scotia or Hamilton, it would be more of the same."[9] Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also spoken in favour of another team in Canada, stating he has spoken with NHL owners in the past about bringing a new team to southern Ontario.[10]

Hamilton

Hamilton mayor Jack MacDonald attempted to lure the Colorado Rockies to Hamilton in 1980, an effort that ended when he lost his re-election bid.

Hamilton was also a candidate for expansion in 1991, being one of favorites, but it lost out to the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning.[11 ] It is frequently speculated that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres did not want an NHL team in Hamilton due to territorial competition. Years later, the Leafs have dropped their opposition likely as the Greater Toronto Area was large enough to accommodate both teams, but the Sabres remain against due to the smaller-market status of Buffalo.

Jim Balsillie has been at the centre of three attempts to bring an NHL team to Southern Ontario.

Research in Motion founder and co-CEO Jim Balsillie has made numerous attempts to purchase an existing NHL team with the purpose of bringing it to Southern Ontario. He signed an agreement in principle to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins for US$175 million on October 5, 2006.[12] Penguins' majority owner Mario Lemieux agreed to the sale after struggling to gain support from local governments to build a new arena. Balsillie's purchase agreement offered to help finance a new arena, but also contained a stated intention to relocate the team to Hamilton or Kitchener-Waterloo if no deal on a new arena could be reached.[13] Balsillie later retracted his bid, claiming that the NHL had placed conditions on the sale that he was not comfortable with, including a commitment to keep the team in Pittsburgh under any circumstances.[14]

Balsillie then reached an agreement to purchase the Nashville Predators for $238 million on May 24, 2007, and began a season ticket campaign in Hamilton a week later intended to prove that the city was capable of hosting an NHL team.[12] Thousands of fans purchased tickets, however the sale again fell through a month later when Predators owner Craig Leipold opted to terminate the agreement.[15] The Predators were later sold to a group of ten investors, led by Nashville businessman David Freeman, who promised to keep the team in Nashville.[16] Leipold accepted $40 million less from Freeman's group than Balsillie offered, and later ended up as the majority owner of the Minnesota Wild.[17]

During the 2008–2009 NHL season, the future of the Phoenix Coyotes was on shaky ground as the team expected to lose as much as $45 million, and the league had to step in to assist with paying the team's bills.[17] Coyotes' managing partner Jerry Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early May 2009, and immediately afterwards, an offer by Balsillie to purchase the team was made public.[18] The NHL challenged the Coyotes' ability to file for bankruptcy, claiming that as a result of the financial support the league had been offering the franchise, the league itself is in control of the team, and that Moyes did not have authority to act as he did.[19]

Balsillie's launched a public relations campaign aiming at igniting Canadian nationalistic feelings and the perception that Bettman has an anti-Canadian agenda,[20] including a website.[21] His bid to purchase the Coyotes failed as the bankruptcy judge ruled his offer did not meet the NHL's rules on relocation.[22]

The Hamilton Spectator reported on May 9 that a Vancouver-based group led by Tom Gaglardi is planning to make a bid to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the team to Hamilton in time for the 2010–11 NHL season.[23]

Under NHL rules, an expansion or relocation of a team to Hamilton could potentially be blocked by the Buffalo Sabres, because Copps Coliseum, the likely venue for a Hamilton NHL team, is located less than 50 miles from the Sabres' home arena.[24] Roughly 15% of the Sabres' business comes from residents of the area of Canada between Hamilton and Buffalo, and the Sabres could require "an enormous indemnification payment" to allow an additional team to be established within a 50-mile radius.[24]

A popular choice for a new Hamilton team is the Tigers,[25] the name of an NHL team in the 1920s.

Toronto

Proposed Toronto Legacy logo

In April 2009, a group of businessmen met with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to discuss the possibility of bringing a second NHL franchise into the Toronto area, most likely in Vaughan, Ontario. Despite the talks, Daly reportedly stated the NHL is "not currently considering expansion nor do we have any intention or desire to relocate an existing franchise."[26]

In June 2009, a group headed by Andrew Lopez and Herbert Carnegie proposed a $1 billion plan for a second Toronto team, called the Legacy, to begin play no earlier than 2012. The group announced a plan for a 30,000 seat arena, with 15,000 for tickets of a price of $50 or less. The arena would be situated in Downsview Park in the north of the city. Twenty-five percent of net profits would be given to charity.[27]

Winnipeg

The Winnipeg Jets left Canada in 1996 to become the Phoenix Coyotes. Since that time, the return of the NHL has been an ongoing issue in the city. As Winnipeg Arena's limited ability to generate revenue was cited as a reason for the Jets' departure, the opening of the 15,015 seat MTS Centre in 2004 has fueled calls for the return of the NHL to the city. "When we lost a team we didn't have a (suitable) facility. That was one of the reasons the economics didn't work here," said Mark Chipman, chiarman of True North Sports and Entertainment, which operates the MTS Centre and the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose.[28] As the MTS Centre is smaller than any current NHL arena by nearly 2,000 seats, NHL commissioner Bettman has questioned if the arena is large enough, though he did not rule out expansion to Winnipeg.[28] The goal of bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg has thus far been a grassroots movement, as no potential owner has emerged with a desire to operate a team in the city.[29]

In court filings related to the May 2009 filing by the Coyotes for bankruptcy protection, Bettman stated his belief that "if the team did return to Canada, it would be to Winnipeg."[30]

Quebec City

Alexander Medvedev, the president of the KHL, Russia's professional hockey league, has stated his intention to purchase an NHL team and move it to Quebec City, saying that it is "strange" there is no NHL team there.[31] Medvedev said he shelved plans to buy a North American team after NHL representatives told him that the league would never allow a Russian to own one of its clubs.[32]

Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, on October 10, 2009 talked with NHL officials, regarding the return of the Nordiques. Bettman said this in October, 2009, that he would consider Quebec City as a possible home to an NHL team if it followed through on plans to build a top arena and if a team were for sale.[33]

Expansion into the United States

The Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO

Several cities in the United States have been mentioned in the media as possible future sites for new or relocated NHL teams. Of these, the most prominent and oft-mentioned are Kansas City and Las Vegas. The New York Islanders are said to have relocation in mind to the new arena in Brooklyn or a site near Citi Field. Other possibilities include San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Portland, Houston, Hartford, Seattle, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Cincinnati.[34][35][36]

The five largest metropolitan regions without NHL franchises are (in descending order of population) Houston, Seattle, San Diego, Cleveland and Orlando. Houston (Toyota Center) and Cleveland (Quicken Loans Arena) have NHL-ready arenas. Both Cleveland and Seattle have history with major professional hockey: the Seattle Metropolitans were the first American winners of the Stanley Cup, but folded in 1924, while the Seattle Totems played in the borderline-major Western Hockey League from 1945 to 1975. During the mid 70s, Seattle was even granted a conditional franchise that never came to fruition because of the league's instability (like other WHL markets that got NHL teams, it would have likely also been named the Totems). Cleveland, during the 1970s, hosted the Cleveland Barons (the former Oakland Seals), which failed to draw fans or revenue, and was merged with the Minnesota North Stars after two seasons.

Other cities, such as San Antonio (AT&T Center) and Salt Lake City (EnergySolutions Arena), have arenas that are specifically designed to house an NBA team, but would be too small for the NHL. If the NHL were to relocate or expand to such locations, these arenas would have to serve as temporary venues while a proper facility was construsted.

Kansas City

In 2007, when the Pittsburgh Penguins faced financial troubles and no prospect of a new arena, the president of the Anschutz Entertainment Group offered to relocate the team to Missouri to play in the new Sprint Center rent-free.[37] The Penguins, however, remained in Pittsburgh. In 2009 rumors arose that the New York Islanders may in turn move to Kansas City due to the Islanders owner Charles Wang expressing regret about buying the team, coupled with the facts that no new arena plans are in sight and that the Islanders were scheduled to play a pre-season game in September in Kansas City.[38] After the Islanders played that game in a half-empty Sprint Center in Kansas City, it appeared that the Kansas City plans may not have much momentum, and the Islanders are fielding offers from other cities beginning October 3.[39]

Las Vegas

Despite the fact that the 2009 NHL Awards Ceremony were held in Las Vegas, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said it "has nothing to do with" it being a potential relocation or expansion spot.[40] However, a plan involving the Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer exists to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to Nevada.[41]

Expansion into Europe

While no specific European cities have been named, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has stated in 2008 that expansion into Europe is a possibility "within 10 years time."[42]

References

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  2. ^ Baum, Bob (2009-09-05). Ice Edge CEO says bid alive, Coyotes auction nears. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
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  18. ^ Rovell, Darren (2009-05-05). "Phoenix Coyotes file for bankruptcy, NHL unaware of terms?". CNBC. http://www.cnbc.com/id/30589391. Retrieved 2009-05-09.  
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External links


Simple English

The National Hockey League (NHL) has gone through many rounds of expansion and other organizational changes during its nearly 100-year history to reach its current number of thirty teams: twenty-four in the United States, and six in Canada. A number of owners have sought a franchise for other cities, though as of September 2009, the NHL is not planning any expansion or franchise moves.


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