Reports: NHL Plans Expansion, And Soon

Two separate, partially concordant reports on Tuesday indicate that the NHL is in the late stages of finalizing a league expansion in the next few years, with one of them going so far as to claim the NHL will add teams in Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City, and a second franchise in Toronto, all by 2017.

We must note that neither report comes from one of the hockey media heavyweights you'd expect to be breaking sport-changing news, so big grains of salt all around. Still, it's fun to talk about. In yesterday's Province, columnist Tony Gallagher cited sources telling him that expansion to Las Vegas is "a done deal."

From that, Gallagher surmises that a second team, in Seattle, is on the way to even out the conferences, but also that Gary Bettman and the owners, flush with cash and courted by billionaires, may not stop at two—he throws out Kansas City and Quebec City as potential destinations as well.

Howard Bloom, who runs the website Sports Business News, goes even further.

If those numbers are accurate, it's easy to see why the NHL would want to welcome four new owners. And it's hard to see fans not supporting new teams in Seattle, Quebec City, and Toronto B. (Vegas? Ehhh.)

But can the league's quality of play really support expansion? Think of how many terrible skaters populate the NHL's fourth lines just because there's no one better. Now add a hundred or so roster spots. Wouldn't most everybody be better off relocating current teams? (It's not going to happen. There are leases to honor, owners to humor, and Gary Bettman's Southern Strategy wasn't ever even about attendance—it's about being able to offer massive markets like Miami and Phoenix when negotiating national TV deals.)

Expansion is coming, even if it's not four teams and it's not be 2017, an unrealistically close date considering that only Quebec City and Kansas City can concretely offer NHL-caliber arenas. But the economy's too good and the sport's too healthy and there are too many potential customers without a team to call their own for the league to sit tight.

The last NHL expansion came in 2000, with the additions of the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.