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NHL Says Expansion Not a ‘Priority Right Now’ Amid Atlanta, Houston Buzz

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MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 19:  A puck sits on the ice with the NHL crest during warm-ups prior to the game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Florida Panthers at Centre Bell on January 19, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Florida Panthers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

While there have been rumors spurred by ESPN’s John Buccigross and Kevin Weekes about a possible NHL expansion in Houston and Atlanta, the league confirmed Wednesday to Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff that expanding to 34 teams is currently not being considered.

“Expansion isn’t our priority right now,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to Daily Faceoff. “But it doesn’t mean we won’t listen to people or groups who have interest. That happens to include both Atlanta and Houston. But it also includes other cities as well.”

Seravalli noted that the NHL “regularly receives expressions of interest from potential ownership groups and interested cities” and that the league entertains those inquiries with “varying levels of intrigue and seriousness.”

The NHL expanded to Las Vegas in 2017 with the Golden Knights playing at T-Mobile Arena, and the Seattle Kraken, the league’s 32nd franchise, made their debut at Climate Pledge Arena in 2021.

The Golden Knights had to pay an expansion fee worth $500 million, and the Kraken paid a fee of $650 million. Seravalli wrote that “a hypothetical next NHL expansion fee could push as much as $1 billion in a couple years.”

In addition to Houston and Atlanta, a number of other cities have been linked as potential expansion locations, including Quebec City, Kansas City, Portland and Saskatoon. Daly said that Houston and Atlanta haven’t jumped to the top of the league’s list for expansion.

“I don’t think Atlanta and Houston are in any better or any worse position than anyone else who has expressed interest in the last 12-18 months,” Daly wrote to Daily Faceoff.

Houston has never had an NHL franchise, though it did host the Houston Aeros of the International Hockey League (1994-2001) and American Hockey League (2001-2013).

It’s unclear how successful an NHL club would be in Houston, which is about a four-hour drive south of Dallas, where the Stars have played since 1993.

However, the Stars have become one of the most intriguing teams in the NHL of late, so it’s possible Houston could be a solid destination.

As of December, the Stars ranked eighth in the league in attendance, averaging 18,362 fans per game at American Airlines Center, per The Athletic’s Ian Mendes and Hailey Salvian. That’s more than teams like the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins.

As for Atlanta, the NHL has twice placed a team in the city.

The Flames played in Atlanta from 1972 to 1980 before relocating to Calgary ahead of the 1980-81 season. The Atlanta Thrashers were founded in 1999 and spent 12 seasons in the city until they were sold and moved to Winnipeg, where they are now known as the Jets.

Considering two teams have found minimal success in Atlanta, it’s hard to imagine the NHL wanting to give it a go for a third time, especially with fans in Canada clamoring for another franchise.

Still, it seems like anything is on the table, though at this point it seems like further expansion might not be considered for a while.

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