The National Hockey League (NHL) announced this past December it would expand and add its 32nd team. With the new Seattle-based team playing in the 2021-22 season, the league is truly reaching all four corners of the continental United States.
However, is this expansion reasonable? Will it benefit the NHL as a whole? In my opinion, despite my preference of wanting a new team in the Eastern Conference, I welcome the team with open arms.
I was wholeheartedly surprised when hearing that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman chose to give an expansion team to Las Vegas over Quebec in 2017. Las Vegas is in the American Southwest, where hockey is a notoriously tough market to thrive in (ahem, the Arizona Coyotes), whereas Quebec is in the heart of hockey’s birthplace. To me, it was blasphemy. Quebec used to host an NHL franchise, the Nordiques, who wore iconic baby blue uniforms with a stylized red igloo as its logo. With the combination of a poor performing Canadian dollar in the mid-’90s, a dated arena and a small market, the team packed their bags and shipped off to Denver in 1995 to become the Colorado Avalanche. To resurrect the intense rivalry the Nords had with neighboring teams by giving them an expansion team would’ve been bliss.
When the NHL announced its plans in December 2018 to place a franchise in Seattle, the OCD side of me was pleased that the league would have an even number of teams, and not the current anxiety-provoking number of 31 teams. Regardless, I couldn’t help but think, “Why Seattle? Why not Quebec?” The Vancouver Canucks are relatively close by, and so are a handful of Californian teams: the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks.
When looking at it this way, I was reminded that putting a franchise in Quebec would be a poorer choice geographically. The Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres are close in proximity, and each have a sizable fanbase. Putting a team in Quebec would make the Eastern Conference too congested. Seattle’s location didn’t look so bad after all.
I had further gripes with the fact that Quebec has a brand new, state-of-the-art arena, while Seattle has to extensively renovate an old one. The new team is slated to play in the ancient Seattle Center Arena that formerly hosted the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Seattle SuperSonics before they left for Oklahoma City in 2008 to become the Thunder.
Despite my groaning, hockey does have a rich history in Seattle. In fact, the first American team to win the Stanley Cup was the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917. The city has hosted former professional teams, such as the Seattle Totems. The Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds are one of hockey’s most successful and iconic junior teams. Therefore, hockey fans are present and somewhat numerous there (unlike you, Arizona).
The unnamed Seattle team could defy my expectations incredibly, just like the Vegas Golden Knights did by playing in the Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s first season and attracting a sizable fan base from the start, regardless of the team being in an unorthodox hockey market. Am I pumped for a Seattle-Vancouver rivalry? You bet. Will this backfire for the NHL? I’ll be crossing my fingers, hoping it doesn’t.