Houston interest makes future NHL expansion even more likely

Glenn Healy, Jeff Blair and John Shannon discuss if Houston is the next city that will see a NHL expansion team.

While the mood of the home opener in Las Vegas earlier this week rightfully took on a less celebratory tone following the tragic shooting on Oct. 1, there’s no question the NHL’s 31st franchise is off to a solid start on many fronts.

Team sweater sales are good, the building is full and cable TV deals are being done. Oh yeah, and the the team is winning too, off to a 3-0 start.

Team owner Bill Foley’s dream, and his chequebook, have made hockey in Nevada real.

One has to think that Foley’s new partners are eager for more. When does Team 32 talk become real? When does the opportunity to get in each of the Top 10 U.S. television markets make more expansion too much sense? For me, the answer to that question is “sooner than later.”

And while we’re not talking about another team joining the league next season or the year after, it certainly makes sense to at least begin the discussions.

On Wednesday night, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Patrick O’Neil of Fox Sports West that getting the league to a nice even number of 32 teams was not really necessary, but, “Could it happen at some point? Yes. But it’s nothing we are focussed on right now.”

There are just too many numbers that add up to adding another team and I suspect some owners will be pressing the commissioner to look at it, now.

Here are some of those numbers:

4 and 10: Houston (No. 4) and Seattle (No. 10) are the largest TV markets in the United States without an NHL team.

4: The number of years left on the league’s TV deal with NBC, and you have to think the value of the league’s media rights stand to grow if it’s in more and bigger TV markets. There’s also the possibility that both Fox and ESPN might be interested once again in a U.S. national hockey deal.

$2.2: That’s the price, in billions, that Houston restaurant magnate Tilman Fertitta spent buying the Houston Rockets and the Toyota Center. In the past week, Fertitta was quoted saying that he will be aggressive in pursuing an NHL franchise to fill his building.

“I would put an NHL team here tomorrow, but this one has got to work,” said Fertitta. “Would I love to have the other dates in the building, do I want to see Toyota Center filled up 300 nights a year, definitely. So we’ll do whatever we can do, but whatever we do is going to make sense. But yes, Will we be aggressive? Yes. That’s my nature.”

You can bet NHL owners, including board of governors chairman Jeremy Jacobs, took notice.

[snippet id=3637277]

$550: As in millions, the total dollars Tim Lieweke’s Oak View Group (OVG) has committed to renovating Key Arena in Seattle. OVG’s partners also include David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer, both of whom have been mentioned as potential owners of a Seattle NHL team.

2019: In just two years the league and the players have the right to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. Yes, that means by the end of the 2019-2020 season we could have labour issues in hockey again. I hope not, but it’s possible. It’s worth remembering expansion fees were a highly contentious issue during previous CBA talks. Currently, all expansion money goes to the owners. You have to wonder if that too will only accelerate the search for the Team 32.

23: Roster spots on an NHL team. Expansion means more jobs and more money for the players. And it might just become the best way for the league to compensate for the union’s rumoured demand for more than 50 per cent of Hockey Related Revenue.

7: If the last expansion fee number had to “begin with a five,” the figure for the next round will have to begin with a seven, as in $700,000,000. Or more

3: The number of viable NHL-style arenas without a team over the next few years. Houston, Seattle, and not to be forgotten, Quebec City. Demand could perhaps drive up the price. Although, it’s also not too far-fetched to think expansion and relocation might go hand-in-hand.

$60,000,000: The price of re-location fee the True North paid for relocating the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg. So, if any of those three cities don’t get an expansion team, there is precedent for the NHL and its clubs when it comes to sharing a relocation fee. And you can bet the next number will be far higher than the one paid by the Jets.

And I didn’t even want to bring it up, but that 32 sure is a nice, even number.

So while it may be true that the NHL is not currently in expansion mode, it is almost a given, that it will be again and sooner rather than later.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.