With the subsequent releases of the 2013-14 NHL schedule and the new divisional alignments, many in the hockey world were left puzzled as to why the new Eastern Conference had 16 teams while the Western Conference was left with 14. Could commissioner Gary Bettman finally be looking into an expansion that would make the NHL a 32-team league by adding two new Western Conference teams? According to a Seattle-based report, the league still has a great amount of interest in putting a team in Seattle.
While the Phoenix Coyotes appear destined to stay in Glendale for the time being, Seattle seems determined to find another prospective hockey team. Mitch Levy, a host on KJR Radio in Seattle, indicated that the NHL still has serious intent on placing a team in Seattle.
The short of it is: I’m hearing that the NHL Commish is encouraging the board of governors to make an expansion team available to Seattle.
— mitch levy (@kjrmitch) July 31, 2013
Brian Stubits of Eye on Hockey elaborated on the situation Wednesday morning, as there are still many obstacles to overcome before the city of Seattle is ready for an NHL team.
At this point it’s no surprise that the league is pushing for expansion to Seattle, that’s what makes this report from Levy seem plausible. Everything I’ve heard has said that a team will come to Seattle and expansion is coming to the NHL as well. The only surprise for me is how quickly it might happen. I figured it would be a couple of years (and it still could be, these things don’t usually happen overnight) as the city isn’t exactly ready for the NHL — that’s to say Key Arena stinks for the NHL’s needs.
Seattle has long been rumored to be the destination for an NHL team, and there is hockey history in the area. Junior hockey is prevalent in the surrounding areas with the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips both playing nearby. In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans were also the first team in the United States to win the Stanley Cup, but they disbanded in 1924.
Judging by the amount of chatter around Seattle, it would be easy to assume that any NHL expansion would start there. But to make the league an even 32 teams, where could a second expansion franchise be placed? Quebec City is clamoring for the Nordiques to return after seeing Winnipeg reclaim the Jets, but that would require further realignment to fit them into the Atlantic division alongside Montreal. Seattle fits in nicely as a rival to Vancouver in the Pacific Division, but where would a Central Division team go? Kansas City was ready in 2007 when the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins was in doubt. The Penguins and Los Angeles Kings played a preseason game at Kansas City’s Sprint Center in 2011 and sold out the entire arena, so the interest in hockey is definitely there. Houston’s Toyota Center already hosts the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and boasts a massive metropolitan market, but they just lost the AHL’s Houston Aeros, so who knows whether there is serious NHL interest.
The talent level in the NHL is getting significantly higher, and attention around the game should start to rise again after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Everything is just speculation at this point, but the last major expansion adding Nashville, Atlanta (now Winnipeg), Columbus and Minnesota did happen in the two seasons following the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.
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Around the Rink Columnist Joe Ray – @jpray_SK