The aggressive expansion and relocation experiment conducted by the NHL some 20 years saw the cold-based sport seek some southern, sunny comfort. The outcome has been mostly weird and unremarkable. While sure, the NHL has exposed itself to new fan bases, these are not by any means ideal markets for this sport bred and triumphed by those in the north. Southern teams have won the Stanley Cup over the last decade, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into regular-season excitement or anything lasting longer than the playoffs.
Hockey must accept that is not a countrywide sport like football, basketball, or baseball; it is regional but those in those regions who love hockey, really, really love hockey.
It’s time to accept that maybe Phoenix doesn’t really need a hockey team. And should they leave, it’s hard to see too many people being upset. In some markets, hockey ranks not only behind the other three main sports, but college ball as well, and even auto racing.
There are far more deserving cities to the North, eagerly awaiting, anticipating, hoping for professional hockey to make a stop nearby. At least the NHL gave up on the Atlanta Thrashers, returning the beloved Jets to the long suffering fans in Winnipeg in 2011. They had left, only to return; same with Minnesota in 2001 having lost the North Stars in 1993. There are other teams that should find new or familiar roots and that’s what this list will deal with.
15. Las Vegas, Nevada
Yes, this is by no means a cold-weather or southern city. But Vegas isn’t a real city as it is. It’s a strange blend of excess and hope, of sin, gluttony and artifice. What’s more, there is no professional sports team in Sin City. Vegas doesn’t really make sense for football or baseball, and certainly doesn’t seem right for basketball, but hockey could actually work. The city adopts a major sports franchise and finds local sports fans getting behind a club while tourists passing through can always check out a game.
14. St John’s, Newfoundland
It’s surely not among the largest Canadian cities, but this capital of Newfoundland and Labrador has a passionate hockey fan base and a history of developing great talent. With just over 100,000 people, it may be hard to find some 15,000 or more to fill up an area across 41 games in the regular season, but it is without question the faithful would welcome a team. St. John’s lost its AHL club ten years ago to Toronto, and then lost a new Quebec Major Junior team in 2008, both due to logistics and bureaucracy, not because of lack of interest.
13. Indianapolis, Indiana
This one is a little bit tricky, but the capital of Indiana is the 12th most populated city in the United States. Football and basketball certainly rank highly in this area, both in the professional and college ranks, but the Midwest has proven popular with hockey too. A team in Indianapolis would put it perfectly between St Louis, Chicago, and Columbus, all of which have found large NHL enthusiasts, providing a regional rivalry while surely welcoming plenty of new fans.
12. Kitchener – Waterloo, Ontario
The KW area is the tenth most populated centre in Canadia with roughly 420,000 people, ahead of Miami, Tampa, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, among other U.S. cities with hockey teams. Less than two hours away from Toronto, a Kitchener team would instantly become a great rival for the Maple Leafs without taking too many fans away from the Buffalo Sabres. Southern Ontario is a densely populated hotbed of passionate hockey fans, and there needs to be another club sitting alongside the Leafs.
11. Regina, Saskatchewan
The Canadian prairies are not at all represented in the National Hockey League – yet. Regina, at just fewer than 200,000 people, is the capital city of Saskatchewan, a province sorely in need of a professional hockey club. Regina has seen massive success with their Canadian Football League team, the Roughriders, with fans traveling long distances to sell out the stadium. They would welcome professional hockey with just as much passion, especially if hometown boys Ryan Getzlaf or Chris Kunitz ever returned home.
10. Salt Lake City, Utah
The capital of Utah presents a great opportunity for hockey, especially since it has found success with the regrettably-named Utah Jazz. A mix of urban and suburban demographics, SLC is a cold and snowy winter city with welcome hot summers, both a destination for winter sport enthusiasts and culture lovers. The population could handle a team, and present a convenient geographic location for teams like Colorado or Arizona when taking long road trips.
9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
We could definitely use another team in the Great Lakes Region, adding a snowy, wintry city to an area of passionate hockey fans. Now, Milwaukee already has the Bucks and the Brewers, but with nearly 600,000 people, they look to have enough fans to take a shot at hockey. They would serve as an instant regional rival to the Chicago Blackhawks and border-state foe with the Minnesota Wild, while returning hockey to the North where it would be embraced.
8. Baltimore, Maryland
In the NFL and MLB, Baltimore and Washington each possess teams, albeit both in different leagues, so the area has already proven it can sustain a pair of clubs. Washington Capitals fans are faithful and have embraced the team, and those in Baltimore would look to do the same. It would fill in nicely in the Atlantic division, with plenty of convenient regional matchups available. Maybe the team from Carolina can head north just a little bit to make this sensible relocation happen smoothly.
7. Portland, Oregon
The populated Pacific Northwest city, home to the Trail Blazers and Timbers, is made up of passionate, engaged people who take to culture and entertainment. A hockey presence is sorely lacking in the area (spoiler alert for another city to come), but Portland is a beautiful coastal city that would attract both players and fans. The growing city wouldn’t necessarily have too many close rivals, but instead have the opportunity to showcase itself on a national stage as a successful sports city.
6. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Even if we send a team to Regina, neighbor Saskatoon deserves one too. A city that loves its hockey, it is without a professional team while home to numerous amateurs clubs. Saskatoon had a pro team, but that was nearly 100 years ago in the Western Hockey League. As mentioned, a prairie team is needed, and wherever it lands, fans will flock from hundreds of miles, er kilometers, to come and bear witness, loyally and doggedly supporting all those who play for the city.
5. Seattle, Washington
If not Portland, then Seattle. It’s city that has shown great interest in professional sports and they are still mourning the loss of their Supersonics. Seattle has a great sports rivalry with Vancouver in Major League Soccer, and a hockey club here would find the same with the Canucks. Seattle has the population, the sports history, and if we’re going to allow the Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and San Jose Sharks to take on long road trips, then the Seattle team can endure the same.
4. Hartford, Connecticut
Once home to the beloved Whalers, the people of Hartford were one of many fan bases to lose their club back in the 90s. There are a few reasons this move would work, not only because it would give back a team to loving fans. Firstly, outside of the Bruins, there is no hockey presence in New England. Secondly, Hartford would be an interesting site due to its proximity to the headquarters of the nation’s sports leader, ESPN. A partnership could be in play,as ESPN could show Hartford games and help promote the sport even more. Thirdly, a rebranding would be welcome: Whalers probably doesn’t work anymore.
3. Toronto, Ontario
The Greater Toronto Area could probably support three professional hockey teams, let alone two. The Maple Leafs are the richest team in hockey, and their tickets are highly coveted and expensive. Loyal fans have seen their patience tested over the last few seasons, with the team failing to live up to expectations. A new team in the area, either in the north or east of the downtown core, would undoubtedly sell out, but also present a welcome alternative to the very corporate Leafs.
2. Halifax, Nova Scotia
The NHL needs a presence in the Maritimes, and Halifax, with a population of over 400,000, is the perfect spot. Now, it’s definitely a bit of a trek, but such is the price. There is no team remotely close, and fans would line up and sell out the season in a hurry. The city that raised the best hockey player in the world (Sidney Crosby) should have a professional team in the league. It’s a game loved across Canada, from coast to coast. They already have a team in Vancouver, so it’s time for Halifax.
1. Quebec City, Quebec
They already have the stadium set to go, they have the history, and they have a passionate fan base that continues to clamor for the return of their Nordiques. It was a shame that the team ever left, but this cold capital of Quebec deserves a hockey team more than any other city. Games would instantly sell out, and rivalries would manifest just as quickly with the rest of the Canadian teams and especially Montreal. Quebec City is not only the most deserving, but it seems they are in line pretty soon to get a club.
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