If the NHL expands, which arenas will house the teams?
Reports of NHL expansion—up to four new teams, mind you—followed by denials from the NHL leave us with the question: Which arenas would house these potential new teams in Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Toronto? Here's a look:
When the news hit that expansion to Las Vegas was, according to The Province, a done deal, it turned NHL fans’ attention to the new 20,000-seat arena that is owned by AEG and MGM Resorts International. Plans for the privately funded, $375 million building on the Strip were announced in 2013 and ground was broken earlier this year with a goal of opening in spring 2016.
Built according to specifications that enable the arena to host NBA basketball, NHL hockey, boxing and pretty much anything else its owners desire, the Populous-designed structure will be ready for major sports from the get-go. According to lead designer Brad Clark, the arena will serve as “an extension of the Strip’s high energy,” with color and drama to match. The new venue will feature an 85-foot-tall atrium, a performance stage outside and a glass exterior covered in giant LED overlays up to 118 feet high. Talk about Vegas color.
A pair of other arena ideas for the city have surfaced in recent years, including one downtown, but with construction already moving along, the AEG/MGM Resorts International project looks very much like the obvious choice.
Investor Chris Hansen wants an NBA team in the Emerald City, and he has a pretty well-developed plan for a new arena in SoDo—the neighborhood that houses Safeco Field and CenturyLink Stadium—which is a natural location for an NBA or an NHL franchise. But Hansen has long said that the privately financed arena would only be built if he had an NBA team to fill it. No NHL-first arena for him.
But that hasn’t stopped speculation about the NHL in Seattle. Hansen has had discussions with billionaire Victor Coleman—a prospective NHL team owner—and other big-name hockey types (Wayne Gretzky, anyone?) about bringing in a franchise. If the NHL arrives without Hansen’s yet-to-be-built Sonics Arena Project, the team would have to play at the old Key Arena, which opened in 1962 in the shadow of city's famous Space Needle.
Key Arena, the former downtown home of the NBA’s Sonics, seats more than 17,000 and has hosted both basketball and hockey. While it would be a viable home in the short-term, nobody sees it as a long-term option for a major sports team. That's exactly why Hansen’s plans have NBA and NHL fans in Seattle hoping he lands a hoops team first and hockey then follows.
It will be about one more year before the city's brand-new 18,000-seat, NHL-ready venue opens. Ground was broken for the Quebecor Arena in 2012—the design is said to be tied into the Province of Quebec's maritime history, using wood, steel and rope to give it a “shipbuilding style”—and it's expected to be ready by September 2015.
Ever since the Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995 and became the Avalanche, the passionate fans in Quebec City have been longing for the return of the NHL. Pierre Dion, president and CEO of Quebecor Media, created a public-private partnership with the city to build the new arena with the full expectation that the venue would house either an expansion or a relocated franchise.
Adding another team in Canada seems to make financial sense now that the NHL has struck its 12-year, $5.2 billion Canadian broadcast and multimedia rights deal with Rogers Communications. Quebec City sits ready with Quebecor Arena. The question is whether the league will commit to it.
Sure, Toronto already has a NHL team, but Canada’s largest city also has suburbs aplenty. The most obvious home for a new franchise is in Hamilton, where the FirstOntario Centre sits about 40 miles south of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, the home of the Maple Leafs.
Originally known as Copps Coliseum, FirstOntario Centre opened in 1985 with the direct hope of landing an NHL franchise, but since 1996 hockey fans in Hamilton have had to content themselves by cheering the Bulldogs, the top AHL affiliate of the Canadiens.
Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie has tried to buy and move a team to Hamilton—he made bids for the Penguins, the Predators and, most recently, the Coyotes—and house it in the 19,000-seat venue. But even with Hamilton's NHL-ready building, if the league desires to tap the Southern Ontario market for expansion, a variety of other locations in the greater Toronto area, including Vaughan and Markham, have put new arena plans on the table in recent years. More locales may clamor to be considered.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.