Talking about expansion is practically a cottage industry in hockey, but now it's getting real again. According to Chris Johnston, the NHL will announce the formal opening of the expansion process after today's Board of Governor's meeting in Las Vegas.
And guess which city has the inside track?
For us here at THN, Las Vegas is the obvious favorite. Potential owner Bill Foley has done all the right things so far and even collected deposits for 11,500 season tickets. The city has a brand-new arena being built, it's a top 50 television market in the U.S. and as an added bonus, the franchise would play in the Western Conference – currently two teams behind the East.
The city has a population of more than 600,000 people, not to mention an endless stream of tourists to the gambling and entertainment mecca.
Next on the list would be Quebec and Seattle. Quebec has the arena, they have the potential owner in Quebecor (full disclosure: The Hockey News is owned by TVA, which is owned by Quebecor) and the city has a rich history thanks to the old Nordiques.
Seattle on the other hand is a more coveted market for the NHL and would be a natural fit out West (bet we know how Vancouver would vote on that entry). The arena is still an issue, but there is definitely money in the tech-savvy Northwest city.
From there, you drop to another tier featuring Toronto 2, Portland and Kansas City. Some have rinks, some have huge fan bases, some have ownership possibilities, but there is work to be done in all locales. It should also be noted that expansion is not the only avenue to get a team in these markets – given the shifting sands in Arizona, relocation is also a distinct possibility in the future.
One thing to watch for is the starting date for a potential expansion team or two: Mark 2017-18 on your calendars, as that season represents the NHL's 100th anniversary and increasing the empire would be a nice-looking add to the festivities.
But if Las Vegas is the front-runner, the franchise will need a name. Here are some options, from the serious to the…in Vegas parlance…long shots.
Black Knights – Foley has said in the past that he likes this name, which references the West Point military academy, whose NCAA teams go by the moniker.
Wranglers – Used by the ECHL team that used to rep the city, it's a good fit and a little less on-the-nose than 'Gamblers.'
Vultures – This is just a cool name and the carrion-fuelled birds are native to the area.
Thunder – The name of the International League team that once prowled the city, the Thunder gave us Radek Bonk and even housed Alexei Yashin temporarily.
Desert – This is a terrible name. I only put it on the list as a warning for any marketing/branding exec hired by the team who wants to "think outside the box" and "shake up the paradigm."
Other possibilities that are way better than Desert: Rattlers, Aces, Wolves, Rough Riders, Outlaws