Stars Would Enjoy a State Rival With Houston NHL Franchise

The Dallas Stars are currently the loneliest team in the NHL. They are no strangers to rivalries, but each is several states away. No other NHL team resides in Texas nor in the surrounding states. In-state rivalries in hockey breed intense matchups. Look no further than the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, and the New York Rangers and New York Islanders. Rivalries, especially in a playoff series, brew a special kind of hatred.

Dale Weise Flyers Olli Maata Penguins
The Battle of Pennsylvania spouts a hatred between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Fights, antics, and animosity fill each game. Teams circle the date on their calendar whenever they play their most hated teams. Houston has long been rumored to receive an NHL franchise someday. If the NHL does give a team to Houston, the question would be how would they get one and what that does to the Dallas versus Houston sports landscape. A Houston team could blossom into a cage match with the Stars.

Alone Star State

The Stars’ closest team is the St. Louis Blues who are exactly, according to Google Maps, a three-minute closer drive than the Nashville Predators. A 9-hour, 51-minute drive separates the American Airlines Center and Enterprise Center compared to that of a 9-hour, 54-minute drive to Bridgestone Arena. Fans like to travel to away games and a Houston team cuts the nearest team down to an approximately four-hour car ride.

Houston, We Don’t Have a Problem With Hockey

The Houston Aeros have already existed twice as separate franchises. The World Hockey Associate (WHA) had the Aeros in the city from 1972 and 1978. Legend Gordie Howe was the most famous of the players in Aeros history, as he played four seasons with the team.

Bobby Hull #9 of the Winnipeg Jets and Gordie Howe #9 of the Houston Aeros
Gordie Howe called Houston home for 4 seasons with the Aeros. (Photo by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images)

The second instance of the Aeros was in the American Hockey League, the minor league affiliate of the NHL. The team started in the International Hockey League (IHL) and moved to the AHL in 2001. They won the Turner Cup in 1999 and Calder Cup in 2003. After 19 years in Houston, the Aeros relocated to Iowa.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

With the Seattle Kraken getting the 32nd NHL franchise, the odds of Houston getting an expansion team in the near future are next to zero. The league is likely set on 32 teams for the next decade. That only leaves relocation from an existing franchise. The most obvious candidate would be the Arizona Coyotes. They have struggled as a franchise for well over the last decade. It has long been rumored and predicted that they would be the ones to go.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have been on the brink of relocation for much of the last decade. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

They almost left for relocation to Seattle in 2013 but a Glendale City Council vote kept them in Arizona. There would be no need for divisional or conference realignment like the Winnipeg Jets needed after relocating from being the Atlanta Thrashers. The Coyotes are moving to the Central Division in the 2021-22 season after the Kraken start their franchise in the Pacific. They consistently rank as one of the worst teams in attendance.

Houston Astros Vs. Texas Rangers: The Loathing is Already There

Dallas and Houston already have established rivalries with their sports teams. Not so much with the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans because of separate conferences, though, as the two teams only play one regular-season game against each other every four years. The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets have a few playoff series matchups in their history. The more prominent is between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. “The Silver Boot Series” got much more intense when the Astros joined the Rangers in the American League West Division.

Erik Gudbranson Ryan Malone
Proximity creates animosity. Such as the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

Now, the two teams play each other 19 times per year. The rivalry increased in intensity with the Astros’ 2017 World Series championship and the subsequent cheating scandal. The Astros/Rangers melee could spew over to hockey because fans of the sports teams in the two cities despise each other’s existence.

Why Houston?

There are several reasons why the NHL will do nicely in Houston. “H-Town” is the largest city in the United States in terms of population without an NHL franchise. The population of the metropolitan area is slightly higher than that of Dallas.

They already have an arena that’s in downtown Houston so it’s a great location. The Aeros shared the Toyota Center with the Rockets before leaving. Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta has expressed interest in bringing a team to the city. The Aeros ranked in the top 10 teams in attendance for many seasons before their departure.

Will it Happen Soon? Maybe

The short-term answer to the relocation question? No. The league is reeling from the effects of COVID-19. The financial situation with the NHL is not necessarily unstable but they won’t be making major changes for a few years. Long-term odds say yes.

Houston may eventually get an NHL team in the future but it likely won’t be before 2022. You never know, they could have a team relocate in a single offseason as the Jets did.

Lift-off on Getting a Team

Houston is past due on getting a team. When the city gets a team, they will instantly have a rival in the Stars and vice versa. Heated rivalries attract many fans. There’s a glorious victory and crushing defeat in each game. Texas is far too big of a state to have the Stars be the only NHL team there for 27 years. Hockey works in Houston and the league will benefit financially by having a team there. In conclusion, Houston needs a pro hockey team, pronto.