The Reality Of Relocation In The NHL

In a bizarrely-timed article, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News (Hey! We're still relevant, we swear!) stirs up a hornet's nest of both Canadian and Southern U.S. fans just because he can, apparently.  In the article, he says "There seems to be no shortage of talk concerning relocation these days," and then goes on to talk about a number of long-dead and longshot relocation ideas through the NHL.  Without a real point or real news, he proceeds to bring up Phoenix, Nashville, Winnipeg, Atlanta, Kansas City, Seattle and Hamilton.

There was immediate reaction throughout the media, the Tacoma News Tribune turns Campbell's Seattle blurb into full-blown speculation about the Thrashers moving to Seattle.  The Phoenix Business Journal claimed that the NHL already has a contingency deal to sell the team and move it to Winnipeg.  The Winnipeg Free Press got a statement from True North denying the deal.

So even though we should all be discussing the playoffs and arguing why Ovechkin doesn't deserve the Hart Trophy, we'll stop off in the Land Of Make Believe and look at the markets that are often tossed around as destinations for those close-to-collapse* Southern U.S. teams.

 

Cincinnati

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via wikitravel.org


Unlikely at first glance, Cincinnati has it all - a large metropolitan population, an enormous amount of corporate dollars, and a burgeoning hockey market created by Miami University.



Metropolitan Population 2,155,137
Metropolitan Rank 26th
Corporate Standing
Outstanding.  Cincinnati is likely the number one city on this list for the possibility of corporate sponsorship.  18 Fortune 1000 companies call the Cincinnati metropolitan area home.
Arena Situation
None.  A new arena would be necessary for any franchise as the U.S. Bank Arena is not suitable for professional sports.
Competition
None - Cincinnati has no other winter sports and the nearest major league sports teams are the Indianapolis Pacers and Columbus Blue Jackets, both 100 miles away.
Nearest NHL Team
Columbus Blue Jackets - 100 miles away

 

 

Halifax (Maritimes)

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Often tossed out by Canadian fans as a comparison for struggling Southern franchises, as in "Heck, a team in the Maritimes could draw better than Atlanta."  While the Maritimes as a whole have a population base large enough to support a team, the populations centers are hours apart.



Metropolitan Population

352,858 (1,832,771 in the Maritimes)
Metropolitan Rank 146th (34th for the Maritimes as a whole)
Corporate Standing
Terrible.  The lack of corporations and industry in the Maritimes is reflected in their always-higher-than-average unemployment rates.  There isn't close to enough corporate money in the Maritimes to support a team and it's likely that any team in this area would need a billionaire owner willing to lose money on the team.
Arena Situation
None.  A new arena would be necessary.
Competition
None - junior hockey is the only competition in all of the towns in the area.
Nearest NHL Team
Boston Bruins - 407 miles away

 

Hamilton

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The destination for the somewhat-infamous Jim Balsille's three attempts at owning a hockey team. While 81st in population ranking, Hamilton sits only 45 minutes from Toronto, the 10th-largest metropolitan area.



Metropolitan Population 692.911
Metropolitan Rank 81st
Corporate Standing
Hamilton's steel and steel services industries likely wouldn't be enough to support a team, but a franchise in Hamilton would have the entire economy of Toronto to draw on.  It's a safe bet that any team in Hamilton would be one of the best-supported teams in the NHL.
Arena Situation
Copps Coliseum seats 17,383 for hockey and would be a temporary location for any NHL team without significant renovations.  Currently, there are no luxury suites in Copps, and as part of Balsille's campaign to bring the Coyotes to Hamilton, he unveiled a $150 million renovation plan to add a luxury level to the coliseum.
Competition
The Toronto Maple Leafs are only 40 miles from Copps and the Buffalo Sabres are just 20 miles beyond that.
Nearest NHL Team
Toronto Maple Leafs - 40 miles away

 

 

Hartford

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The former home of the Hartford Whalers and the sentimental American favorite for any franchise relocation.  Hartford couldn't and wouldn't support a team the last time that salaries got competitive, what's changed since then?



Metropolitan Population 1,190,512
Metropolitan Rank 48th
Corporate Standing
Though the city no longer has a stranglehold on the insurance industry, the region still does.  There financial services and insurance industry alone should be enough to bring in the required sponsorship dollars to support a franchise.
Arena Situation
The XL Center holds 15,635 for hockey, but would require a renovation in order to house an NHL team.  The building only contains 46 suites, and most of them are smaller party suites, not suitable as corporate luxury boxes.
Competition
New York and Boston are only about 100 miles away and the Celtics, Bruins, Rangers, Islanders, and Knicks are all competition for eyes and dollars in the Hartford market.
Nearest NHL Team
Boston Bruins - 98 miles away

 

 

Houston

NFL Experience


The largest unserved metropolitan area on the continent, Houston was once home to the very successful WHA franchise - the Houston Aeros.  Could the NHL thrive in southern Texas?



Metropolitan Population 5,728,143
Metropolitan Rank 6th
Corporate Standing
Houston is the energy hub of the United States and all but one of the enormous multi-national oil companies is headquartered in Houston.  The city is also recognized as one of the top cities for corporate headquarters on the continent. 
Arena Situation
The Toyota Center could seat 17,800 for ice hockey but any use of the arena would require negotiations with the Houston Rockets and their irascible owner Leslie Alexander.  The Toyota Center is home to 80 luxury suites.
Competition
Houston Rockets
Nearest NHL Team
Dallas Stars - 224 miles away

 

 

Kansas City

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Home of the Kansas City Scouts and their all-time great logo for two seasons during the expansion 70's.  Kansas City is the only city on the continent with an NHL-ready arena.  Kansas City has been used as leverage by a number of NHL owners to squeeze politicians for a new arena, new lease or some other funding stream.



Metropolitan Population

2,002,047
Metropolitan Rank 32
Corporate Standing
Kansas City is home to 12 Fortune 1000 companies and a wide range of other large corporate entities.  The city has a large amount of corporate sponsorship possibilities.
Arena Situation
The Sprint Center was opened in 2007 as a multi-use arena to house concerts, basketball, arena football and hockey.  The hockey capacity is 17,752 and the venue has 72 luxury suites. 
Competition
None.  The closest major league sports teams are in St. Louis.
Nearest NHL Team
St. Louis Blues - 235 miles away

 

 

Quebec

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Quebec is back in the news lately as mayor Regis Labeaume and former Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut have been making noise about a return to Quebec.



Metropolitan Population 715,515
Metropolitan Rank 77th
Corporate Standing
Quebec's economy is reliant on the public sector, so corporate dollars aren't plentiful.  Any team in Quebec would have to rely on a wealthy owner willing to break even or lose money on the franchise.
Arena Situation
A new arena is necessary as the Colisée Pepsi is not suitable for a professional franchise.
Competition
None. 
Nearest NHL Team
Montreal Canadiens - 144 miles away

 

 

Seattle

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Seattle is the second largest metropolitan area in North America without a hockey team, and with the loss of the Seattle Supersonics, the area has a void in winter sports teams.  Seattle has ancient hockey history with the everyone's favorite trivia answer, the Seattle Metropolitans.



Metropolitan Population 3,344,813
Metropolitan Rank 17th
Corporate Standing
Seattle boasts an enormous and diversified economy capable of supporting any professional sports team.
Arena Situation
I asked Seattle native and Raw Charge columnist Cassie McClellan about the arena situation: "Key Arena, as it currently stands, is completely unsuitable for hockey. When the old Seattle Coliseum was gutted, the new basketball owners - and you can thank the CEO of Starbucks for this one, I think - built the seating around a basketball court. In order to put in an ice rink, they have to close down one end of the arena's seating, which is something like three thousand seats. The WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds, the only hockey tenant, finally got tired of it and built their own arena in the southern suburb of Kent. For Key Arena to be usable, the building would have to be completely gutted again for the seating to be reconfigured."
Competition
None.  The Seattle Supersonics were moved to Oklahoma City, leaving Seattle without a winter sports team.
Nearest NHL Team
Vancouver Canucks - 117 miles away

 

 

Winnipeg

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The former home of the Winnipeg Jets and the sentimental Canadian favorite for any franchise relocation.  Winnipeg couldn't and wouldn't support a team the last time that salaries got competitive, what's changed since then?



Metropolitan Population 694,668
Metropolitan Rank 80th
Corporate Standing
WInnipeg's economy is government-driven with nearly 20% of the workforce employed by the public sector.  There are a handful of large corporate entities, but any franchise in Winnipeg would have to lean heavily on Manitoba Telecom Services, Canwest, Great-West Life Assurance, & Boeing Canada for corporate dollars. 
Arena Situation
The current arena - the MTS Centre - seats 15,015 and would be the smallest arena in the NHL. 46 luxury suites would put the MTS Centre second-to-last among NHL venues.  If Winnipeg were to land an NHL team, the MTS Centre would require a major overhaul.
Competition
No other major sports.  The Manitoba Moose of the AHL are the only other winter sports team in Manitoba.
Nearest NHL Team
Minnesota Wild - 386 miles away.

 

*Just in case it wasn't clear, that was sarcasm.

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