For years - since the early 2000s, specifically - thought of relocation and expansion were as far away from the NHL community's mind as the Leafs and Oilers are from winning a Stanley Cup (that is, the thoughts were non-existent).
Now, relocation and expansion is all anyone can talk about.
For awhile, it was more of a "discussion for down the road," nothing more than a "possibility, "a topic "for a later day." That day has finally come and while certain cities are already making their bids to become the next city to house an NHL team, many cities are bidding their time, waiting for their time, their opportunity to get on the hockey map - literally.
While some of the cities on this list are obvious choices, others might spring off the page as surprising to some, as they aren't cities that many have thought of as potential homes for NHL franchises. Some may even seem downright far-fetched, but it's all for the sake of good discussion and looking at intriguing possibilities.
Barring some sort of league collapse or the sport expanding to astronomic levels, we'll be lucky to see one or two of these cities legitimately considered, let alone actually getting a team.
Then again, despite the massive support for the return of the Jets in Winnipeg, the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers back to Manitoba came as somewhat of a surprise to many - so who's to say one of these cities can't do the same at some point down the road with a team like Arizona Coyotes or Florida Panthers?
16 San Diego, CA
When you think of hockey towns in America, you hardly think of California - despite the success California teams have had over the past decade - and you definitely don't think of San Diego.
However, with the possibility that the NFL's Chargers may be heading down to Los Angeles and the fact that San Diego is considered one of the best cities to live in in the U.S. might be enough to at least get the conversation started.
15 Zurich, Switzerland
Our first European city! Hear us out.
Personally, I'd rather see the NHL play in Mexico before they move a team across the ocean. Nothing against Europe or Switzerland, but there's something about it that doesn't feel right, not to mention the headache it would cause with scheduling and Conference alignments. They would need to create an entire new "More Eastern" Conference to accommodate European teams.
However, if Europe ever was considered, Zurich wouldn't be a bad place to start. Plenty of former NHLers have ended up playing in Switzerland's largest city and Marc Crawford is coaching the ZSC Lions - who, by the way, just added top 2016 prospect Auston Matthews to their roster.
14 Stockholm, Sweden
Similar to Zurich, Stockholm is a European hockey hotbed. The Swedes know how to crank out top-end talent and the Swedish Elite League is arguably the second best league in the world (the KHL might have something else to say about that).
13 Saskatoon, CAN
Saskatoon is likely the least populated city on this list (assuming we we're using real time population statistics), but might have the biggest "hockey heart" of them all (don't tell that to anyone in rural Ontario).
12 San Francisco, CA
We already mentioned San Diego as a potential and interesting landing spot for an NHL team, but we can't forget San Francisco.
Known as a football town first and foremost, San Fran could be an intriguing landing spot for an NHL team down the road. It boasts the 13th largest population in America and is third in Cali, just behind Los Angeles (who already have the Kings) and San Diego.
11 Minneapolis, MN
If there's one "smaller" state that can handle the load of two professional hockey teams, it's Minnesota. The Wild have the market cornered, but they operate out of Saint Paul - the smaller of the Twin Cities.
10 Indianapolis, IN
If you were a casual hockey fan and I walked up to you and told you that two of the greatest hockey players in the history of the game started their careers in Indianapolis, you would probably call me crazy - until you looked it up and realized it was fact.
Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier both started their pro careers with the Indy Racers of the WHA. That obviously didn't last long, but there's a bit of a hockey culture in Indianapolis already, with an ECHL and USHL team already in place.
9 Portland, OR
Many easily forget that Portland is the home of a successful WHL franchise in the Portland Winterhawks and that success could conceivably translate should a pro team make its way to Oregon.
8 Kansas City, MO
Kansas City is one of the harder cities to picture having an NHL team, but the more you consider it, the more it makes sense.
St. Louis is also in Missouri and hockey has done just fine there - the Blues are a perennial Cup contender (despite their playoff struggles) and has finished in the top 20 in average attendance over the last three seasons.
7 Houston, TX
Houston is another city that gets a "bad rap" for its potential as a hockey town, due mainly to the fact that it's in Texas and thus a part of Gary Bettman's dreaded "Sun Belt."
6 Milwaukee, WI
Milwaukee also falls into the "dark horse" category, largely because no one is talking about them. If they can house an NBA team, who's to say they can't handle an NHL team - even with the issues that the Bucks have had with regards to their stadium situation?
5 Hamilton, CAN
To no one's surprise, Hamilton has found its way on the list. The city has been part of rampant NHL expansion/relocation speculation for years, mostly thanks to the failed efforts of Jim Balsillie.
4 Toronto, CAN
The argument is pretty simple here. Some consider Toronto the mecca of hockey and as the biggest city in the country (by a wide margin), it should be easy for a second time to grow alongside the Leafs, right?
Probably - but it's hard to believe anyone at Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment would be thrilled with a new team setting up shop down the street from the ACC.
3 Seattle, WA
Seattle has been a trendy pick (what else is new?) for an expansion team for quite some time now, but that now seems unlikely. The real hope for Seattle is that a team can eventually be relocated there - and they seem capable enough to do it.
2 Quebec City, CAN
Quebec City is essentially the only team on the list that has a legitimate NHL history (besides Toronto). The Nordiques remain a big part of Quebec culture and a return to Quebec would reignite one of the most vicious rivalries in the history of the game. Don't kid yourself into thinking it would take long for the Habs and Nordiques to renew old hostilities.
1 Las Vegas, NV
It was bound to happen eventually.
A pro team in Vegas looks like a foregone conclusion at this point - for a number of reasons, mostly involving money. Gary Bettman has proven he's not shy about placing franchises in non-traditional markets, and he's ready to gamble on Vegas. Time will tell if they even get a team - and if a team can work in a place that relies largely on tourism money - but the NHL could reap massive rewards if they hit the jackpot in Sin City.
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