The National Hockey League began in 1917 with just six teams and it has grown into a phenomenon with clubs in the United States and Canada while their rosters are comprised with players from numerous countries. Through expansion over the years, the NHL currently has 30 teams. The NHL has not expanded since 2000 when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined, but the league could be ready to soon make it 32 teams.
Potential ownership groups from Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, and Las Vegas, Nevada recently sent formal applications to the National Hockey League in order to receive an expansion franchise. Along with Seattle, Washington, Quebec City and Las Vegas have been recently rumored to be in the running for a hockey franchise. But unlike Quebec City and Vegas, there wasn’t anyone on behalf of Seattle that sent the NHL a formal application.
Quebec City has not had an National Hockey League franchise since 1995 when the Quebec Nordiques left to become the Colorado Avalanche. The Nordiques joined the NHL in 1979 after the World Hockey Associated ceased its operations. And during the Nordiques time in the NHL, they had a fierce rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens. Less than three hours separate the two cities that call the Canadian province of Quebec home and in a country that bleeds hockey, the Canadiens and Nordiques were bitter rivals. Montreal and Quebec would meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times with the Habs winning on three occasions. The most infamous series came in 1984 which will be remembered as the “Good Friday Massacre” in which Game 6 of the best-of-seven series was marred by several intense brawls. The Nordiques always had support from their fan base, but being that they played in a small media market along with receiving Canadian currency from the fans at the arena for tickets and merchandise to having to pay their players in American currency, Quebec was fighting an uphill battle the first time around the block in the NHL. And like the original Winnipeg Jets that moved to Arizona in 1996, the Nordiques were caught in a financial buzz saw and thus they needed a stronger financial market to play in.
But this time around, the National Hockey League and commissioner Gary Bettman appear to be more committed to bringing teams back to Canada along with revenue sharing. The NHL brought hockey back to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers moved there and it makes total sense for the league to restore hockey in Quebec City as well.
As far as Las Vegas goes, the NHL has held preseason exhibition games there in Sin City along with postseason award shows. The major professional sports leagues in North America have been reluctant to place a team in Vegas due to the fact that gambling is legal there and they are worried about players taking “dirty” money that could hinder the outcome of a game. But the NHL has enough security in place to monitor such a thing and placing a team in Vegas could be a boom for the league. Las Vegas has long been a tourist attraction due to its nightlife, casinos, and shows; and a professional hockey team in the desert would always attract fans. An NHL team in Vegas would immediately create a rivalry with the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings who both call Southern California home as the distance between L.A. and Vegas is less than five hours.
I wouldn’t see the National Hockey League Players’ Association standing in the way of expansion due to the fact that it would create more jobs and more money for the union which would be a win-win for everyone involved.
When a topic such as league expansion begins to pick up steam, you know that it is only a matter of time before it comes to fruition as the owners are all about their money. Billionaire businessman Bill Foley intends to bring an NHL team to Las Vegas while Quebecor which is a Montreal-based media company is backing Quebec City’s bid. At times Bettman has taken a ton of flack from hockey fans for his handling of the league, but bringing hockey back to Quebec City which would re-spark a rivalry with the Canadiens while also potentially becoming the first commissioner of a major North American sports league to put a franchise in Vegas, might make folks see him in a different light.