In the midst of relocation and expansion talks throughout the summer and into the regular season, NHL owners are understandably feeling their seat heat up, so to speak.
With multiple willing cities submitting bids and making their case known to the public, speculation is undoubtably going to swirl of which NHL franchise could be on their way out, if relocation became Gary Bettman’s solution.
The main cause for a team to relocate is usually due to consistently low attendance year after year. As expected, they are a few teams that are annual basement dwellers in the attendance rankings. As such, those are the same franchises that are at the root of most relocation talks.
The 2015-16 season hasn’t been much different than those in recent past, with the usual suspects having trouble bringing in fans each night.
5: New Jersey Devils – 13,601
The Devils have never had much success with driving in attendance since their relocation from Colorado in 1982. They also ranked 26th in the league last season, but with an average of 15,189 a night. That drop represents a 10.5% decrease in attendance from 2014-15. Despite the Devils surprisingly hot start to this season, a 10-6-1 record which is good for fourth in the Metropolitan Division, the fans have remained reluctant to turn up. Perhaps if their play becomes consistently strong over the course of the campaign, their fans will begin take the stands in more promising numbers.
4: Arizona Coyotes – 13,367
The Coyotes have been at the core of relocation talks for several seasons now, largely in part because of their demising attendance, as well as arena lease troubles. Their attendance has risen ever so slightly this season, by just 22 fans per night. Much like the Devils, the Coyotes have been the surprising team of the Western Conference through a quarter of the season, with a 9-8-1 record, sitting third in the Pacific Division. Arizona isn’t exactly a hockey state, so it remains unlikely to suspect any sort of terrific increase in attendance anytime soon.
3: Florida Panthers – 12,830
The Panthers have never had very good attendance in their 22-year history, ranking last in average attendance per game last season, with just 11,265 fans a night. The good news is, they’re trending up. The team seems to be turning a corner, with a solid core in place for the future. For the first time in recent memory, they sold out their home opener. They’ve experienced a 14% increase from last season, and their 8-7-3 record has them in fourth in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers hope that with success, will come a full arena.
2: New York Islanders – 12,156
The Islanders are experiencing their first season playing in Brooklyn, at the Barclays Center. However, a greater crowd has not come with the new home, in fact, it has been quite the opposite. The Islanders have seen a 20.7% decrease in attendance from the 2014-15 season at Nassau Coliseum. Their 10-6-3 record, as well as a superstar in John Tavares, have still not been enough to bring fans from Brooklyn out to the games. If this rate continues, the Islanders may have some troubles staying in New York for very long.
1: Carolina Hurricanes – 11,227
The Hurricanes seem to have taken over the Arizona Coyotes as the favourite for relocation now. They were 29th in attendance last season, and have seen an additional 11% decrease in attendance since then. The Hurricanes don’t have many reasons for fans to come out to their games, with no real top notch players on their roster. They’ve gone 6-10-2 so far this year, and seem to be guaranteed to be one of the favourites for the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. If Seattle comes back into the picture as a relocation team in a few years, the Hurricanes have to be the first choice to move.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.