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NHL may expand to Seattle

NHL owners haven’t officially approved Seattle yet, though the city has been granted permission to submit the expansion application and launch a season-ticket drive. It’s the same process Las Vegas followed before becoming the Vegas Golden Knights.

This was a logical step for the NHL because there has long been a fascination with Seattle’s potential. Plus, Seattle is a natural fit to join the Western Conference, thereby balancing the league again with 16 teams in each conference.

The NHL's commitment to considering Seattle as its 32nd team makes it tempting to wonder whether the NHL is en route to becoming a 34-team league.

From there, it’s not a significant leap to see the NHL embracing Houston as the 33rd team and then Quebec City becoming No. 34. Houston is the USA’s fourth-largest city in terms of population. Adding Houston expands the NHL’s television reach.

If the NHL adds Seattle, then Houston could become the 17th team in the West and Quebec would be the 17th in the East. It works. Houston and Dallas could become rivals like Seattle and Vancouver will be rivals. The Battle of Quebec could reheat between Montreal and Quebec.

Start with the fact that the NHL’s only commitment thus far is to look at Seattle. It has no expansion plan beyond that step.

Second, the NHL, at 31 teams, already has more teams than MLB (30) and the NBA (30). If Seattle joins, then the NHL would match the team count of the NFL.

The size of other leagues doesn’t matter. The NHL geography is different because of the Canadian aspect of the sport. But the comparison to the other leagues serves as a reminder that a league needs to be careful about over-expansion.

Expansion means more teams splitting league revenues. The NHL is thriving economically, but it does have franchises with issues. The Arizona Coyotes need a new arena, and the Florida Panthers still haven’t developed the fan base they need. The Carolina Hurricanes’ fan support has declined, although there is evidence that fans will support the team if it is successful.

It’s clear the Hurricanes, with an agreement in place for new ownership, are not going anywhere. But work is ongoing in the other two cities, and that’s an argument against expanding beyond 32 teams. As dedicated as the NHL is to making it work in South Florida and Arizona, it makes sense to have soft landing locations available for relocations.

Today, the NHL is asking for a $650 million expansion fee from the Seattle. That’s $835 million Canadian.

The next time, if there is a next time, the NHL considers expansion, the price tag could be more than $1 billion Canadian. Unless the Canadian dollar rises in value, how does Quebec make that work financially?

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