The NHL has begun the formal process that is expected to lead to the league’s first expansion since the 2000–01 season.
As of Monday, prospective owners can now get their hands on official application materials that will allow them to express the merits of their potential markets. An expansion franchise is expected to cost upwards of $500 million, but it will only cost $1 million to submit an application before the Aug. 10 deadline.
Not surprisingly, given the price tag, the list of would-be owners won’t be long.
A league source told SI.com that the NHL won’t discuss possible expansion applicants at this time, but it’s not too hard to put the pieces together. Here’s what we know at this point:
Kansas City is out. Sure, there’s a newish, NHL-ready facility operating without an anchor tenant, but there’s no one interested in owning a team ... at least, not at the league’s asking price. Two potential owners, Lamar Hunt Jr. and Cliff Illig, have made it clear that they’re not in the running. And economic studies of the region suggest that Kansas City couldn’t rank any lower on a variety of indicators that measure suitability for pro sports expansion.
No reason to expect a bid from Houston, either. The city has a suitable arena in the Toyota Center, but Les Alexander, who owns that facility along with the NBA’s Houston Rockets, has no interest in sharing his building or seeing dollars drained from his basketball team.
Milwaukee was seen as an option when plans for a new downtown facility were unveiled back in January. Since then, public funding has become a political football and is on the verge of being punted. So, in fact, are the NBA’s Bucks, who were rumored on Monday night to be on the move to Seattle or Las Vegas if funding isn’t addressed immediately by the state legislature. With no owner and no building, there’s no reason to expect a Milwaukee bid.
An NBA team relocating to Seattle was once viewed as a the first step to the city building a new downtown arena and eventually landing an NHL team. That’s no longer the case, with investment banker Ray Bartoszek set to submit an expansion package for a team he would locate in suburban Tukwila. Bartoszek, who’s been linked to previous ownership efforts in Seattle and elsewhere, has enough funding and passion for hockey to be recognized as a legitimate bidder.
Quebec City is also in. It took media giant Quebecor just 90 minutes after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s original expansion announcement to express its commitment. “Quebecor has consistently stated that its objective is to establish an NHL franchise in Quebec City and it intends to make every effort to achieve that goal,” the statement said. “Out of respect for NHL authorities and the process that has been established, Quebecor will maintain its policy of discretion as it proceeds.”
GTA Sports and Entertainment CEO Graeme Roustan confirmed his group’s interest in bringing a second team to the Toronto area. “We’re now seeing an opportunity for a process to apply for an NHL franchise which we’ve privately been hoping for,” Roustan told the PostMedia Network. “We’re going to proceed with the process. Hopefully we’re successful with it.”
The Las Vegas bid, helmed by billionaire Bill Foley, is seen as a fait accompli, and could result in a conditional franchise granted to the city as soon as this fall.
It is possible that bids will emerge from markets including Portland, Ore., and Hartford, Conn., but with the recent expressions of interest from potential owners, those cities look to be long shots to meet the August deadline.
NHL expansion teams through the years
• Alex Burmistrov is back in Winnipeg and ready to put his troubled relationship with the Jets behind him.
• Toronto’s Moneypuck summer could pay big dividends next spring.
• Hockey players are visiting chiropractors, massage therapists and accupuncturists as they begin their preparations for next season.