Just who are these NHL expansion hopefuls? Breaking down the so-called contenders

Two senior NHL executives have dismissed reports suggesting the league is on the verge of expanding into Las Vegas, among other markets in the United States and Canada. Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said the expansion claims were “just not true,” and Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said that “no decisions have been made” about how or when new teams might be added.

A pair of reports fuelled the speculation and discussion on Wednesday, after The Province published a report claiming the placement of an expansion franchise in Las Vegas was “a done deal,” while relaying “the only thing to be determined” was who would own it.

Howard Bloom, the publisher of Sports Business News, went a step further, suggesting four new teams would be added by 2017. On the social media website Twitter, Bloom claimed Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and a second Toronto team were on the way.

During an appearance on Toronto radio station Sportsnet 590 on Wednesday, Leiweke said he had raised the issue with commissioner Gary Bettman after hearing the reports: “What I can tell you, 100% as of this morning, for sure? This isn’t on the agenda right now.”

Speculation over expansion into those four markets is not new, Daly wrote in an email to the National Post on Wednesday. Several cities — notably Hamilton, Ont. — have been part of expansion hope and rumours for years.

“We are in no different position today with respect to expansion than we were the last time we answered the same questions,” Daly wrote. “There has been interest expressed, we have and will listen to the interest, but we haven’t defined a process and certainly no decisions have been made.”

Amid all speculation, here is a little of what is known about the four markets mentioned this week:

Quebec City
Construction is well underway on a $400-million arena with 18,000 seats in Quebec, with the aim of being fully operational within a year. The city lost the Nordiques in 1995 — they became the Colorado Avalanche — and hopes to repatriate a team. There is reason for optimism: The Canadian dollar is higher now than it was then, and Canada has become a financial powerhouse for the league. Part of that is the $5.2-billion deal Rogers Communications reached for 12 years of exclusive national broadcast rights. During his keynote address to The Empire Club of Canada last fall, Leiweke suggested Quebec was at the front of the line. “They’re way ahead of anyone else as to considerations, because we took a team from Quebec,” he told the crowd. “And like we did in Winnipeg, where we felt an obligation to return the team to Winnipeg — and they’re doing an unbelievable job of supporting it — do we not, as a league, also owe Quebec another start?”

Las Vegas
Ground has been broken on a US$375-million, 20,000-seat arena off the Las Vegas strip, the result of a partnership between two massive entertainment companies. MGM Resorts and Anschutz Entertainment Group — the latter owns the Los Angeles Kings — hosted a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this year. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it is expected to be operational by 2016. “Las Vegas is a great market and we think it can support an anchor tenant,” AEG chief executive Dan Beckerman told the Review-Journal earlier this year. “If the [NBA or the NHL] approve a team for Las Vegas, we would be open to that.”

The Canadian Press
The Canadian PressThis proposed hockey arena for Markham, Ont., did not come to fruition, but another home for a Toronto-area team could be built elsewhere.

Bettman and Daly visited Seattle earlier this year. “Based on the level of interest we’re getting from lots of people in Seattle and a fair amount of uncertainty and confusion about the building, we decided ‘Let’s go find out for ourselves what the story is with the building,’” Bettman told TSN. “And there’s no prospect of a building right now.” Investor Chris Hansen has plans to build an arena, but is focused more on acquiring an NBA team. An NHL team would be a second tenant. His group lost some deep pockets when Steve Ballmer moved on and purchased the Los Angeles Clippers for US$2-billion earlier this month.

An uprising of concerned citizens helped quash plans to build an NHL-ready arena in the Toronto suburb of Markham late last year. That project — a new $325-million arena with 20,000 seats — would have left the city responsible for $162.5-million. Voters rose up to remove it from the agenda. The lure of a second franchise in Toronto is strong, but would also face a number of hurdles, not the least of which being any territorial claims advanced by the Toronto Maple Leafs. It has been suggested a second team could actually play out of the Air Canada Centre, but that is only speculation; like all the rest of it, for now.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques