File this under “Highly Unlikely, But..."
Maury Brown, a writer who covers sports business for Forbes, tweeted this cryptic comment early on Wednesday morning:
What to make of that?
Well, anyone can float a rumor with a tweet, so here’s a reality check.
Sure, relocation rumors have dogged the NHL since Gary Bettman was sporting short pants, and he has categorically denied the truth of this one. But yes, one franchise, the Atlanta Thrashers, actually was allowed pack up the van and move north to Winnipeg just four years ago. The original Winnipeg Jets-Arizona Coyotes; California Seals-Cleveland Barons-Minnesota North Stars(merger)-Dallas Stars; Quebec Nordiques-Colorado Avalanche; Hartford Whalers-Carolina Hurricanes; and Kansas City Scouts-Colorado Rockies-New Jersey Devils are other examples of franchises migrating since the league’s expansion for 1967-68.
So down the road anything is possible, especially with cities such as Las Vegas, Seattle, and Quebec hankering for a team but given the relative stability of several recently troubled organizations it doesn’t seem probable. Especially not in the next four weeks.
Consider the usual suspects. Florida, which is hosting the NHL Entry Draft later this month, has been on shaky ground for years, but seems to be in the process of putting down roots thanks to the sound business practices of the team’s new ownership.
“Nobody should be focusing on the Panthers as a relocation candidate. Period,” Bettman said last December. “It’s inconsistent with everything we know and believe, it’s inconsistent with everything [owner] Vinnie Viola would be telling me ... meaning he has no intention of moving the club. He is committed to South Florida.”
Arizona has been the subject of relocation rumors for the past five years but, like the Panthers, is benefiting from new ownership. The Coyotes have gone on a front-office hiring spree during the past couple of weeks and recently announced that a new jersey will be unveiled at their draft party. Yes, Quebec teased a new sweater just before moving, too, but after everything that the Phoenix/Arizona franchise has gone through this seems like an unlikely moment to pull up stakes.
The only other team that would be in the relocation mix is Carolina. Radio host Dan Patrick speculated last summer that the Hurricanes were a candidate for relocation, possibly to Las Vegas. While there are concerns about the market in Raleigh, they can be attributed to the team’s lack of recent success. And given how hard Bettman went to bat to keep the Coyotes in place, it's unlikely that a team with a fairly recent Stanley Cup/market success story to its credit would be allowed to bail.
And if not those three, what other franchise is even remotely in jeopardy of moving?
All things considered then there doesn’t seem to be much to this rumor, but as fans in Atlanta and Winnipeg can attest, the situation can change quickly.
And Quebec City is lovely in the winter.
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