NHL Expansion Process Moves Forward

The July 20 deadline has come and gone for stage one of the NHL expansion process, and the league has announced that, of the 16 application packets sent, only two applications have been submitted.

The two markets, Las Vegas under the Black Knights Sports and Entertainment LLC banner and Quebec City group Quebecer, surprised no one when it was revealed that they formally joined the running for addition to the league. What was surprising, and even somewhat disappointing, was the lack of a Seattle bid by the deadline.

Seattle has been a market that has been talked about as a future home for a team for quite a while, and it would be a perfect fit for a league looking to avoid realignment. However, with no arena in place and no true ownership group taking a lead, the dream of a Seattle NHL team had to die for the time being. Sure, a relocation to the market could happen, but that’s not going to be a topic for a while, if at all.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league offices now have to focus on the two groups that are pushing to join the ranks of the NHL. In a statement released by the league, the process that was decided up in regards to expansion was done to weed out the serious candidates from the pie in the sky hopefuls.

Our purpose, in initiating the expansion process in the manner we did, was not only to explore the possibility of admitting new members to the NHL but also, at the outset, to set realistic guideposts to distinguish between bona fide expressions of interest (i.e., those which have at least substantial ownership capabilities and an arena or the realistic possibility of an arena) from those indications of potential interest which were, at best, merely hopes or aspirations. Apparently, only Mr. (Bill) Foley and Quebecor have the confidence in their ability to secure an arena and suitable ownership capability to move forward with this process.

The reception of just two applications has to be a disappointment to the league as a whole, but what’s more disappointing may be that only one city in the west applied. The league wants to maintain a balance without having to realign once again, and if both Las Vegas and Quebec City join the league, it would be a 17-15 conference alignment as it stands. That being said, again, a relocation of a team could happen, but that’s banking on something that is nowhere even close to becoming a reality. Besides, no other talk of teams in different markets will happen until this process finishes.

The next step in the three-part application process involves more document submission and review around August 10. The final phase of expansion application submissions are due September 4. After all phases are completed, the proposals will be presented to the NHL’s Board of Governors just before the start of the season in late September.

When it comes to arenas, Quebec City has the Videotron Centre, which just finished construction and will host a preseason game between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins in September;Las Vegas’ new arena is located directly on the strip, and will open in the spring of 2016. Should both teams be approved for expansion, it would be for the 2017-18 season, at the earliest, according to comments from deputy commissioner Bill Daly in June.

The league did announce that no future comments on the process will be made unless something worth announcing comes along.