With teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Islanders facing financial, legal and stadium trouble, coupled with the success of the Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg as the second reincarnation of the Jets, there has been a brewing discussion as to the possibility of either adding a new NHL team, or one relocating. So far, Seattle, Kansas City and Quebec City have been the front runners as a landing spot for an NHL team looking to relocate or enter the league. But which of these cities would be the best possible destination for professional hockey?
Case For: Kansas City’s best feature is its location. A new team in Kansas City would have an instant geographic rivalry with the St. Louis Blues, who play just across the Missouri river. Another positive for Kansas City is its population. A head count northward of 2.1 million in the greater Kansas City metro area means 2.1million potential consumers for the new hockey product in town. That thinking is what drove much of the “Southern Expansion” of the NHL in the 1990s (Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, San Jose, etc.), and could be a key component in Kansas City’s bid, should they ever make one, for an NHL team.
Case Against: There are multiple reasons to not pick Kansas City as a destination. First and foremost, NHL hockey already failed once in KC. If the NHL has learned anything from its expansion attempts, it should be that if it fails once in America, it will fail again. The city of Atlanta was twice granted an NHL franchise, and both failed within 15 years, and were bought and moved to central Canada (the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980 after nine years in Atlanta, and the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets in 2011 after 12 years in Georgia). For those who are not familiar with hockey history, Kansas City was once home to the Scouts, from 1974-76. The team failed in three years, and moved twice, finally settling in New Jersey as the Devils.
Case For: If population is a good quality for Kansas City, then it’s a great quality for Seattle. Clocking in with a head count of 3.3 million, Seattle has the greatest metropolitan area population of any of the three cities being compared here. And like Kansas City, Seattle will have a great natural rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, who are only a few hours north of Seattle. They already have a hockey rink there, as well as a successful junior-level club (the Seattle Thunderbirds, who have churned out players like Patrick Marleau and Thomas Hickey, who were both top-five draft picks in the NHL).
Case Against: NHL hockey has never seen Seattle, so there’s no telling how it could fare there. And while no NHL team has ever failed in Seattle, another team from one of the “Big Four” sports leagues (NBA basketball, NFL football, MLB baseball and NHL hockey) did indeed go bankrupt in Seattle and had to move; the Seattle Supersonics, who relocated in 2008 to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder.
Case For: What has happened this past year in Winnipeg is probably the greatest argument in favor of Quebec getting an NHL team. Winnipeg, of course, lost their beloved Jets 15 years ago when they moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes amidst financial problems. But 15 years later, the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, and the people of that city moved en masse to support the return of hockey to Winnipeg, selling out every home game in the 2011-12 season. Quebec City also lost an NHL team in the 1990’s; their Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995, becoming the Colorado Avalanche. If the people of one Canadian city are able to make the return of hockey to their city a success, it’s very possible that another populace, remorseful for letting their original team slip away all those years ago, will be willing to put forth their best effort, a la Winnipeg, to make sure hockey is there to stay.
Case Against: Failure is failure. The Quebec Nordiques moved due to financial troubles 17 years ago; who’s to say history doesn’t repeat itself, the way it did in Atlanta with the Flames and the Thrashers? Yes, the people of Canada are far more dedicated to hockey than the people of most American cities, but the fact remains that Quebec City was once the location of failure for an NHL franchise, and it risks becoming one again if a team relocates there. It also has the smallest metropolitan population of any of the three cities being compared, with a populace of only about 770,000.
Three cities, but only one can be the best choice. It’s fair to say that Kansas City is the weakest of the three options- doesn’t have the biggest population, and NHL hockey failed there after only three years one time, not to mention its Midwest location isn’t exactly a hotbed of hockey activity anyways. Quebec City has a strong case, coming by proxy of the successful return of hockey to Winnipeg. But, it would appear as though Seattle would be the best possible location for an NHL team amongst these three choices. They’ve got the biggest population, and therefore the biggest market. They’ve got the potential for a great rivalry with the already-popular Vancouver Canucks. And, Kansas City and Quebec City also had their chances at NHL hockey, and both wasted those opportunities, whereas Seattle never had a chance at hosting an NHL team. If the NHL does expand or allow one of its existing franchises to move, Seattle may be the best possible landing spot for that new or relocated team.
By lead columnist Arun Morace