New Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is interested in bringing an NHL team to Houston, a possibility that didn’t exist under the NBA team’s previous regime.
Fertitta released a statement Thursday confirming interest in a hockey team in Houston. He recently met with league officials.
"I’m very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston, but it will have to be a deal that makes sense for my organization, the city, fans of the NHL throughout the region, and the NHL Board of Governors," Fertitta said. "We are in the very early stage of evaluating what opportunities may exist but there is nothing definitive at this point in time. We are simply asking questions and exploring our options."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told The Associated Press before the season that if Fertitta had any interest in a franchise, he’d expect to hear from him. Former Rockets owner Leslie Alexander had been considered a roadblock to the NHL in Houston.
"It’s the fourth-largest city in the United States, which is interesting, but there hasn’t ever been any interest because the (former) owner, Les Alexander, controlled the arena and never wanted a hockey team unless he owned it, but he was never prepared to acquire one," Bettman said. "He had no interest in having a hockey team owned by somebody else come into his arena, so there was never an opportunity to go there."
Fertitta’s interest changes that equation. The businessman and restaurateur has previously indicated interest in owning a hockey team, and the NHL currently has 31, including 15 in the Western Conference.
The league just expanded to Las Vegas, and Bettman told The Athletic — which was the first to report Ferititta’s meeting — that there were no plans to relocate any current franchise. Quebec City, which has an ownership group in Quebecor and a new building the Videotron Centre, also took part in the last expansion process but had its application deferred.
Because of the NHL’s desire to balance out its conferences geographically, Seattle figures to be the most likely expansion destination. Oak View Group with former Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke, billionaire David Bonderman and filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer received key approval Thursday from a Seattle city council to advance plans to renovate KeyArena.
"The OVG group with David Bonderman is in the process of fulfilling what was granted in the (request for proposal)," Bettman said in September. "They want to renovate KeyArena, and I know that there is interest in obtaining a franchise."
An arena has been the biggest thing standing in the way of Seattle getting an NHL team. Houston doesn’t have that issue because of Toyota Center, which seats over 17,000 for hockey.
Houston has never had an NHL team, but it does have a hockey legacy. The World Hockey Association’s Aeros called Houston home from 1972-1978. Gordie Howe played four seasons for the Aeros alongside sons Mark and Marty.
A team in Houston would provide a natural rival for the Dallas Stars in a city that’s currently celebrating the World Series title by the Astros.
"I think the market of Houston could definitely hold a hockey team and having a basketball team there, football and baseball," Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "I don’t see why hockey couldn’t fit. I think it’s just taking the step to trying to get a team there and finding people that are passionate about hockey in Houston."