32 Thoughts: Is more NHL expansion on the horizon?

ESPN's Greg Wyshynski joins The Fan Pregame to discuss the potential of NHL expansion to Atlanta, what would be different this time around for the city and why people around the league believe that it might work.

• An interesting goalie market is taking shape this summer
• How much appetite is there to change LTIR rules?
• Why it would be helpful for officials to explain their calls

Now that the trade deadline’s passed, focus shifts to other stuff. Like most people, I’m dangerous with too much time to think. Too much thinking is bad. 

But I’ve had extra time this week with no radio responsibilities, so I’m thinking about what the NHL could look like over the next few years.

While the league continues to downplay expansion possibilities, we’ve got two open admissions of interest and others lurking. Utah is a slam-dunk, whether expansion or relocation. Start submitting jersey sketches or mascot names, that’s going to happen. (Park City is worth the visit if you’re going to Salt Lake.)

Anson Carter entered the fray on Tuesday, revealing the hive behind Alpharetta Sports & Entertainment Group — pushing to bring the NHL to Atlanta for a third time. Neil Leibman is COO of the Texas Rangers, Peter Simon owns the Halifax Mooseheads and Aaron Zeigler sponsors Carson Hocevar’s NASCAR ride. That’s some firepower.

Their proposed location is not far from that of a local competitor named Vernon Krause, who told WSB-TV he’s also met with the NHL about expansion. (You can safely assume that Carter would not have gone public without a wink from the league, too.) 

So that’s Utah, two from Atlanta, plus Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta telling Bloomberg News last month, “We are talking to the NHL, but it’s got to be good for both of us.” When Vegas and Seattle arrived, there was some talk about Houston. But, at the time, there was real doubt Fertitta would agree to the expansion price. There still is.

I always assume Quebec City is interested, too. 

The reason I think all of this is happening right now is because change is on the horizon. I’m not sure we imagined it so close to Vegas’s and Seattle’s arrival, but here we are. 

PHNX Sports’ Craig Morgan reported the land the Coyotes are hoping to purchase for a new arena is on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the The Arizona State Land Department. Any public posting must last at least 10 weeks prior to the auction itself, and a couple of sources have indicated the bidding may not occur until June. 

That’s an…extremely tight schedule to codify things for 2024-25. There is zero room for error.

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It’s impossible to believe the NHL isn’t working on some kind of parallel plan (Utah), in case owner Alex Meruelo doesn’t win the auction. Or something goes awry. Or, the league decides it can’t wait that long.

We’re also headed into a CBA negotiation, with the COVID-era extension expiring after the 2025-26 season. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe there will be no issues, but what I do believe is that there’s no issue right now that should shut-down play. Whatever the case, the league knows 50 new jobs is incentive for players to get a deal done. 

It’s hard not to look at all of this and see something coming. I can’t say exactly what, or when. But none of this is happening by accident.


1. Some things left over from the trade deadline: It’s going to be a very interesting goalie market this summer. Calgary pulled back Jacob Markstrom, Nashville did the same with Juuse Saros. Boston investigated Linus Ullmark, punting that decision down the road. New Jersey acquired Jake Allen and Kaapo Kahkonen, maintaining flexibility to add someone else if they so choose. Allen had to waive his no-trade, and was smart to do so. By agreeing to move now, he won’t have to worry about finding a dance partner when there’s more supply. That’s one of the reasons Boston considered breaking up its excellent duo, because the summer market will be more crowded. A glut is great for shoppers, not sellers. 

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2. Amidst everything else, Calgary’s maintained that a major reason it did not trade Markstrom to New Jersey is the return was not strong enough. Watching what’s happened since Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev were traded, I’d be extremely careful with him. Not that he’s giving up goals, he’s great at what he does and everyone sees what’s happened, but protecting him from injury. He’s missed games here and there — including Tuesday against Colorado — and you cannot allow whatever is bothering him to affect the offseason. 

3. Tampa was incredibly disappointed not to get Hanifin. They wanted him badly and thought it would happen. And no one will be surprised if he extends in Vegas. 

4. I also think Dallas tries to extend Tanev. 

5. It was a hard week for Ullmark. He badly wanted to stay in Boston, getting his wish. While he and GM Don Sweeney wouldn’t comment, the goalie declined to waive his no-trade for one location, believed to be Los Angeles. No problems here; that’s his right, in his contract. But I do believe the Bruins looked at more than one option, including somewhere Ullmark cannot block. Obviously, those didn’t happen, and we’ll see how things evolve. Boston rejected at least one ask about Jeremy Swayman.   

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6. Boston hoped to do more at the deadline, and was disappointed it couldn’t. I did have a couple people say they were happy Andrew Peeke ended up there. They feel he got caught in a Columbus numbers game, and will embrace a chance to prove it. 

7. Poor Vancouver. The Elias Pettersson saga ends in massive victory for the organization, and now we’re on to the Filip Hronek debates. Holy smokes, just enjoy the Stanley Cup chase for God’s sake. In all seriousness, can’t imagine Hronek discussions being one-tenth as complicated as Pettersson’s. I believe the Canucks would like to keep Teddy Blueger, Dakota Joshua and Tyler Myers (at a lower number). Might not be possible, but it’s been discussed. 

8. The Canucks did have to do some damage control with Elias Lindholm. They weren’t happy it got out they even remotely considered moving him. (It was hard to tell who was angrier: Vancouver about that, or Los Angeles about speculation of who might have been involved in an Ullmark move.) In the end, I don’t believe the three-way between Boston, Pittsburgh and Vancouver came anywhere close to occurring.

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9. We will see how things unfold in the postseason, but Edmonton did show interest in extending both Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick

10. With 20/20 hindsight, I think Pittsburgh hoped to keep Jake Guentzel. But, as the team flailed away in Alberta and GM Kyle Dubas saw the thin market for many of his players, there was a realization that if the Penguins were going to add youth, Guentzel was far-and-away their most valuable option. I completely understand Sidney Crosby’s frustration. He’s as proud as it gets and the organization hasn’t raised the white flag in his career. Until, of course, now.

Crosby’s earned the right to do what he wants, but, after Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin signed for term, I don’t see him walking away without giving the front office a chance to turn things around. I’ve said this on the pod, but my guess is they offer him two or three years at $10.5M-ish and we go from there. 

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11. Carolina was the team to beat for Guentzel from the beginning because the Penguins liked their prospects. If there was ever a year for the Hurricanes to veer from organizational obstinance to go for a rental, it was this one. It got to a point where the only team that could outbid them for the winger was the Rangers, but New York made a calculated decision not to include the prospect(s) Pittsburgh desired — although the Penguins gave New York ample time to change its mind.

12. Alex Killorn’s four-year, $6.25M AAV deal in Anaheim definitely is a target point for free-agent wingers. It loomed large over the Tyler Toffoli negotiations in New Jersey, with the Devils mindful of term. Winnipeg was very aggressive on Toffoli and made sure they did what they could to get him. Jordan Eberle wanted three years from Seattle, but the Kraken held firm at two. Edmonton and the Rangers had interest. Honestly, I wondered if Eberle would show up with a “C” on his jersey when he played game 1,000 on Tuesday. You can see a path to the captaincy for him. 

13. Los Angeles liked Reilly Smith, but didn’t have cap flexibility. 

14. San Jose agreeing to trade Tomas Hertl — and retain for six years — is an admission that it’s time to renovate right to the studs. Initially, this was not supposed to be a teardown. Ownership didn’t want it, and Mike Grier understood. But, now everyone sees it cannot be avoided. Once Vegas showed interest (and I do believe now the Sharks softly gauged the market), they came to the decision it was time to accept a new reality. It’s better for Hertl, it’s better for San Jose. My only concern for him: those knees. He avoided a major reconstruction, and I hope that continues. 

15. Okay, Vegas. To me, the real question here is: how much do people really want change? Is there actually enough support for changing “playoff LTIR?” Look, if the opportunity to improve is there, you’re duty-bound to try, or you’re not maximizing chances to win. Remember: this started with Chicago and Patrick Kane in 2015. And Vegas actually missed the playoffs two years ago, because they tried to walk the LTIR line and fell into the abyss. This is a collective-bargaining issue, so you can’t change it until the next negotiations.

There have been a couple of ideas. One is that a player who doesn’t appear in Game 82 should be forced to miss time in the playoffs, as there’s legit eye-rolling at someone unable to play in the regular-season being healthy three days later. Another idea is that your actual in-game lineup be under the cap. Whoever isn’t dressed doesn’t count, but those playing do. This is important, as when the cap was being negotiated, Ken Holland pointed out Toronto going through about 10 injuries during the 2002 playoffs. If you couldn’t dress a full roster, that would look insane. Again, the true question is if this is just noise or there’s real appetite for change. 

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16. Ryan Johansen is being examined for a hip issue. There certainly were indications he wouldn’t play for the Flyers, who put him on waivers. Johansen cleared, and Philadelphia offered him for trade at a retained salary (a player can have retention on their contract twice), but a tight squeeze meant no takers at the deadline. Where this could really matter is if the Flyers are planning an offseason buyout, as injured players are not eligible.  

17. The more I’ve thought about John Tortorella’s ejection and suspension, the more I’m convinced the NHL and its officials have to make officials available to explain these calls. If it’s something as simple as Wes McCauley standing up for a teammate having a bad night, I don’t understand why that can’t be revealed. It would go a long way towards building trust, and the silence in these cases erodes confidence in officiating.

The NBA fined Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert $100,000 for making the “money gesture” at officials after fouling out of a game last week. He followed up with, “I’ll be the bad guy…but I think it’s hurting our game. I know the betting and all that is becoming bigger and bigger, but it shouldn’t feel that way.” It’s only a matter of time before an NHL player says — or does — something similar, and that’s un-good for everyone. I thought Oliver Bjorkstrand might do it when he was so angry at a non-call right before the Golden Knights beat Seattle. 

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18. Six hits for Jeremy Lauzon Wednesday in Winnipeg, so he’s at 321. Good catch from Penalty Box Radio’s Shaun C. Smith, who points out that Lauzon’s in striking distance of Matt Martin’s record 382. If he stays on his current per-game average, the Predators defender will break it by about 10. 

19. Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin, who works with Adam Oates, said Oates has never tried to change his stick. That’s beyond rare. He always tries to change sticks. “(Dahlin’s) is perfect,” Oates laughed. “It’s Mitch Marner’s.”

20. Fun note about Anthony Beauvillier and Barry Trotz, re-united last week in Nashville: When Beauvillier hilariously took his shot at Anna Kendrick years ago on Twitter, he was asked, “What did Barry Trotz think?” He smiled and replied, “He looked right at me and said, ‘Well, did she answer?’”

21. One of last weekend’s fun stories was Minnesota scoring with the goalie pulled in overtime to beat Nashville. Giving up a goal in that situation means a team gets zero points, a quirky NHL rule. As you can imagine, some previous examples came out of the woodwork, including this beauty: an April 11, 2004 AHL game between Hershey and Philadelphia.

The Bears needed to win to make the playoffs, one point was no bueno. The Phantoms took a penalty in overtime, so Hershey pulled the goalie, going five-on-three. During a scramble, the puck trickled to Shane Willis on the goal-line. He tried to spin and bank it in, only to see it go all the way down the ice and into his own empty-net. Complete fluke, insane play. Goalie Antero Niittymaki was credited with a shorthanded overtime game-winner. Not enough beer on the planet to wash down that loss. 

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