7 Cities That Make Sense for NHL Relocation

The Arizona Coyotes were recently in the news for potentially being locked out of their arena, Gila River Arena, and since the offseason have struggled with their current location. The Coyotes won’t relocate for the time being, and will stay in Glendale, Ariz., but as one of the teams that is constantly linked to relocation, it’s interesting to think about which city it could ultimately end up in.

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Moreover, there are plenty of teams that have been linked to possible relocations with low attendance or playing in a small market. The most recent team to move was the Atlanta Thrashers, who left the city in 2011 for Winnipeg. There are plenty of cities both in America and in Canada that would love to have an NHL franchise, and more importantly, be great markets for the game and the team they would host.

Houston

Houston is always the city that is referenced for NHL teams that are considering relocation, most notably whenever rumors surface about the Coyotes moving, which the team has denied recently. With a population of over 2.2 million and being the fourth most populated city in the United States, Houston is the most populous city without an NHL team. With professional sports teams in all the major sports except for hockey already located in the city, it’s also clear that there is a big sports market in the Gulf of Texas.

The Case For Relocating To Houston

The success of the Dallas Stars, a franchise that relocated from Minnesota in 1993 that has not only won a Stanley Cup and seen team success but has garnered a large fanbase, proving that hockey in Texas can be a great success. A rival team in Texas would only make the game more popular in the area and likely see similar success as one of the most populous cities.

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Moreover, Houston already hosts the Rockets in the NBA at Toyota Center, located in the heart of the city, and the owner of the NBA team Tilman Fertitta has expressed interest in moving a team to the city, making it a prime destination for an NHL franchise.

The Case Against Relocating To Houston

There isn’t a great hockey tradition in Houston, excluding the World Hockey Association’s Aeros, which played in the city from 1972-78. While the risk paid off with Las Vegas, a city with no prior hockey (or professional sports) tradition but has embraced the team and seen great success, there have been countless times where teams have folded as well.

Gorde Mark Marty Howe Houston Aeros 1975
The Houston Aeros were part of the short-lived WHA but an NHL team could be coming to the city of Houston someday. Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe, Houston Aeros, 1975 (THW Archives)

Likewise, NHL teams in warmer, southern regions of the United States have failed previously to sell tickets and attract fans, most notably, the city of Atlanta lost both the Flames and the Thrashers with low attendance numbers being a primary reason. Houston is an intriguing city for the NHL to consider but also one that carries great risks as well.

Portland

Portland, Oregon is the second-most populous city in the Pacific Northwest behind Seattle, but only has a professional NBA team in the Trail Blazers and an MLS team in the Timbers. Though the city hosts the Western Hockey League’s Winterhawks, it doesn’t host an NHL team, and with Portland constantly being rumored as an expansion city for Major League Baseball, and in professional sports altogether, the city could be the next in line for an NHL franchise.

The Case For Relocating To Portland

Portland would not only be a great city for an NHL team because of the population and the potential fanbase that can rally behind its team, but also by playing nearby the Seattle Kraken and the Vancouver Canucks, the team would create instant rivalries. Moreover, the city has the infrastructure in place to host an NHL team with the NBA’s Trailblazers already playing in Moda Center which already hosts the Winterhawks and is easily accessible to the residents of the city.

Portland Rosebuds
1914 Portland Rosebuds

Portland would also be a great city for relocation largely because of the hockey tradition in the city. Along with the Seattle Metropolitans, the Portland Rosebuds were one of the original non-Canadian teams that competed for the Stanley Cup in the early years of the NHL. While that era was over a century ago, considering the enthusiasm currently surrounding the Kraken and the fanbases for the sports teams currently located in the city, an NHL team would be a great fit.

The Case Against Relocating To Portland

A great risk of moving to Portland is the oversaturation of teams in the same region, in this case, the Pacific Northwest. While the rivalries could be a driving force in the team’s popularity, there can conversely be a decrease in popularity for one of the teams in the area and with teams already in Seattle and Vancouver, there wouldn’t be great urgency from the NHL to move another team to the area. In addition, there hasn’t been a local owner or the city government that has expressed interest or a desire to bring a team to Portland, unlike other popular cities linked to relocation like Houston or Quebec City. The city would need a driving force or an ownership group to persuade NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to bring a team to the area, which otherwise looks like an ideal destination for a hockey team.

Kansas City

Kansas City has a population of over 500,000 and already hosts the professional NFL, MLB, and MLS teams, with Chiefs fans being known as some of the most passionate in the NFL. In addition, the nearby Kansas Jayhawks have one of the biggest and most popular college basketball Programs. With the city and region being a popular sports destination, the NHL would strongly consider moving to Kansas City.

The Case For Relocating To Kansas City

Kansas City already has big fanbases for their sports teams, which play year-round, but could easily host a hockey team and be a popular destination as well. An NHL team would not only attract sports fans in the area, but would also expand hockey’s popularity in the midwest region of the United States. In addition, Kansas City is in the same state as the St. Louis Blues, creating an instant rivalry, and is also relatively close to both the Colorado Avalanche and the Stars, making them an ideal team to play in the Central Division. The city doesn’t have a professional basketball team, but has an arena in place for an NHL team in T-Mobile Center (formerly known as Sprint Center) which can not only host NHL games, but is located in the middle of the city, making it easily accessible to the residents.

The Case Against Relocating To Kansas City

Kansas City already hosted a professional team that never took off in popularity and was forced to relocate. During the expansion era of the NHL, the Kansas City Scouts joined in 1974, but with weak attendance numbers and a struggling sports market at the time, the Scouts moved to Denver in 1976, where they played until 1982. The eventually settled in New Jersey as the Devils, who still remain in the league today. This took place over 30 years ago, and it’s easy to think that the city is now prepared for an NHL team, but the previous failure is a red flag for the league.

Wilf Paiement Kansas City Scouts
Wilf Paiement, Kansas City Scouts (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

In addition, unlike Houston, the city doesn’t have an ownership group or corporate interest in bringing an NHL team to the area despite owners that are heavily invested in the region for the Chiefs and Royals respectively. While the city is a great area for sports and would likely embrace a hockey team, the league is going to be skeptical of moving a team to Kansas City.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisc. is one of the most populous cities in the Great Lakes region of the United States, and already hosts the Brewers and Bucks for the MLB and NBA, respectively. Don’t forget the Packers playing in nearby Green Bay, as well. While the city has the Milwaukee Admirals, an American Hockey League affiliate with the Nashville Predators, they don’t have an NHL team, which is surprising for multiple reasons.

The Case For Relocating To Milwaukee

The state of Wisconsin has a great hockey tradition from a development stage to a collegiate level, with many NHL players growing up in the state, including Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter. Detroit is known as “Hockeytown,” and Minnesota is known as the state of hockey, but in between, there is a state that is similarly passionate about the game and the largest populated city in Milwaukee would be a great destination for an NHL team.

Ryan Suter Minnesota Wild
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

A team in Milwaukee would be a popular attraction among residents, but also form great rivalries with nearby NHL teams. The Chicago Blackhawks would be the closest team, and likely the greatest rival being a quick drive away from Milwaukee, but the Red Wings and Minnesota Wild would also be nearby and make for plenty of great matchups. Moreover, the city already has an arena provided for NHL games with the Bucks playing in Fiserv Forum, located in downtown Milwaukee, allowing a team to easily relocate without needing to build a new arena.

The Case Against Relocating To Milwaukee

Milwaukee is one of the smaller markets in professional sports and as a result, fails to bring in the same revenue as some of the larger cities like New York or Los Angeles. In addition, with an AHL team already in the city and the Blackhawks playing nearly, the NHL would likely prefer to move a team to a larger city with a greater opportunity for hockey growth. Milwaukee was also almost granted a team in the 1990s when the league was expanding but a bid was withdrawn considering the price tag attached in order to acquire a team. In the end, the city is a great city for hockey and a professional hockey team would likely thrive in the area but the league would likely look elsewhere prior to turning to a smaller market in Wisconsin.

Hamilton

Located in Ontario, Hamilton is one of the largest cities in the province, and one of the ten most populous cities in Canada. Hamilton already hosts a Canadian Football League team in the Tiger-Cats, and the Ontario Hockey League’s Bulldogs, but has more than enough reasons to be granted an NHL team as well.

The Case For Relocating To Hamilton

Not many would think of Hamilton as an NHL destination. However, the city has tried multiple times to get an NHL team with other cities outbidding them throughout the history of the game for expansion franchises. Hamilton is a city that is passionate about its sports teams but more importantly, has a great tradition for the game of hockey with Dave Andreychuk, John Tonelli, and Darnell Nurse all coming from the city.

Darnell Nurse OIlers
Darnell Nurse is one of the best defensemen in the NHL who first made his mark in Hamilton. Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the province of Ontario, a team in the city would create an instant rivalry with Toronto and similarly, could attract hockey fans in the area that aren’t fans of the Maple Leafs. With the OHL Bulldogs already in the city, an arena is also ready for a team as well in FirstOntario Centre which has a capacity of 19,000.

The Case Against Relocating To Hamilton

Hamilton tried to earn an NHL team in the 1990s, but was outbid by the Ottawa Senators. There have been rumors that the teams located near Toronto, Buffalo, and even Detroit, didn’t want a team in Hamilton, and thus the NHL rejected the bid, but those reports have been denied by the league commissioner at the time. However, the location is one of the primary reasons the city wouldn’t be granted an NHL team in the future, with the league likely selecting a city that can garner its own market and a fanbase of its own as well. In the end, the residents of the city want an NHL team more than the league, and possibly a team considering relocation would want to move there.

Quebec City

Quebec City is the capital of Quebec and the second-largest city in the province, behind Montreal. In a province that cherishes hockey, and the capital city has been itching for an NHL team for years. In fact, Quebec City already has an arena built in Vidéotron Centre with the hope of the NHL returning to the city.

The Case For Relocating To Quebec City

Since losing the Nordiques in the 1990s, Quebec City has constantly been in demand of an NHL team. Eager to have a team back, commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed interest in bringing the NHL back, including conversations with representatives of the Quebec government. With Las Vegas and Seattle being granted teams, Quebec City is on the shortlist of cities that would earn a team that chooses to relocate, making the capital city of the province could be an ideal fit for a return to the NHL.

The Case Against Relocating To Quebec City

The NHL would likely avoid granting Quebec City a team largely because the Nordiques, who relocated to Denver, struggled financially prior to the move. Quebec City was the smallest market in the NHL at the time, and while the city currently has a population of over 500,000, it would still be one of the smaller markets in the NHL. The city is passionate about hockey and wants a team, expressing interest multiple times as the league has recently expanded, but in the end the recent failure of the Nordiques stands out, and has convinced the commissioner to relocate elsewhere.

Halifax

As part of the Nova Scotia province in Canada, Halifax isn’t a largely populated city, with under 500,000 people, and isn’t thought of as an ideal destination for an NHL team as a result.

The Case For Relocating To Halifax

Despite being a small location, the city has a great hockey tradition, and has particularly developed some of the NHL’s best players including Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, and Brad Marchand. The city has hosted preseason games for the Boston Bruins in the past as a home away from home for the team, and the hockey fans of Halifax would eagerly take on an NHL team that would rival the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Already hosting the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the city has an arena in place to host an NHL team in Scotiabank Centre. While Halifax isn’t thought of when it comes to Canadian cities for an NHL team, it’s likely the game would thrive in the city and the Nove Scotia area altogether.

The Case Against Relocating To Halifax

Halifax would be a high-risk move for the NHL with a lot of concerns. The small market is an obvious issue for the NHL with the small population and little room for growth in popularity for the game altogether. Likewise, the current arena, Scotiabank Centre, has a capacity under 12,000 which isn’t suitable for a professional hockey team and the city would need to build a new arena as a result. In addition, Halifax is inconveniently located for league travel, with the closest team being the Bruins, who still require flight travel to play in the city.

Other Cities That Could See An NHL Team

There are many cities in the United States and Canada alike that not only can host an NHL team, but would eagerly embrace a team relocating. Cleveland and Cincinnati are two big markets in Ohio that could rival the Columbus Blue Jackets and similarly, a team in San Francisco would rival the San Jose Sharks. The Winnipeg Jets have been a perfect fit despite being in a small town in the Manitoba province and a team in Saskatchewan could see similar success, playing in a province that loves the game of hockey. Ultimately, the 32 NHL teams might not relocate in the foreseeable future but there are plenty of cities where hockey would thrive in.


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