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August 26, 2014 | 10:42pm ET
Brace yourselves, it's coming
 TFP Editor-in-Chief David Pagnotta discusses the inevitable: NHL expansion

TORONTO, ON -- I've been saying it for years. The NHL's short-term plan -- within the current Collective Bargaining Agreement -- is to grow the League from 30 teams to 32.

Last summer, I wrote about expansion and how it's been on the NHL's agenda. I followed that piece up a month later, explaining how Seattle and Quebec City were atop the League's list of prospective future NHL markets.

A year has gone by, and strides have been made. Not only in Seattle and Quebec, but Las Vegas is now a serious contender -- something I indicated earlier this month on The Players' Lounge, our show on NHL Network Radio on SiriusXM. These three markets are pushing for an NHL franchise, with Kansas City in the far, far background. (Sorry, Toronto, a second team isn't in the cards any time soon).

 

MGM and AEG cracked ground on a new $375 million, 20,000 seat arena on May 1 with the intention of attracting an NHL and NBA franchise to Sin City. According to a recent report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, construction is moving along very well.

I can't imagine the NBA having a team in Vegas any time soon, but the NHL has been thinking long and hard about being the first major sports league to call Las Vegas home. (Note: A Vegas-based group is currently trying to bring a Major League Soccer team to the city, with a new stadium).

There have been several groups interested in bringing the NHL to Las Vegas, but their interest, at the time, was premature. The NHL wasn't ready.

Long-time hockey fan and TV/film producer Jerry Bruckheimer has been part of one group eyeing an NHL franchise for this market, but it's unclear if discussions have continued.

Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province wrote today, citing sources, that NHL expansion to Las Vegas is "a done deal." While that wouldn't surprise me, there are plenty of variables that come into play with respect to this market.

Most pressing is the fact the NHL wants proof, or as close to proof as can be, that the local market will support a franchise. That means roughly 12,000 season ticket holders (combo of full season, half, game packs, etc.) will ultimately be needed. That's outside of the casinos, scooping up tickets and suites -- the new arena will be heavy on suites. There needs to be an appropriate level of in-market fans.

The last thing the NHL wants is to have a home team with no fan base (yeah, yeah, insert joke here).

In Seattle, Vancouver native and billionaire Victor Coleman is leading the charge to bring the NHL back to the state of Washington. He has an agreement in place with Chris Hansen, who has been spearheading the movement to getting a new state-of-the-art facility to accommodate both an NHL and NBA franchise.

There are challenges here, too.

Originally, the local government first wanted an NBA franchise, again, then focus on bringing the NHL back. While plans have derailed in the NBA department, they've taken a significant step forward on the hockey side of things.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has travelled to Seattle several times over the past year. The wheels are in motion. But the NHL wants a new arena, and the parameters of Hansen's deal with the city and state change significantly if it's an NHL-first deal.

Bettman has already rejected the idea of an NHL team playing out of KeyArena. Would he change his mind if a team had to play there for one season before moving into a new facility? Probably. But that's not a guarantee. Coleman, Hansen and the bigwigs in Seattle need to figure out an arena deal before things progress to the next level.

With Seattle and Las Vegas now believed to be 1-2 (or vice versa, whatever) on the NHL's radar for expansion -- again, expansion will happen in the near future -- where does that leave Quebec City?

Good question, Aguado.

If Vegas is in fact a "done deal," that leaves one club left on the expansion front... and 15 teams in the Western Conference versus the 16 clubs in the East. The easy way to even things out is to give Seattle a team. Well, if they can't figure out their plans for a new arena, with the NHL being the initial tenant, that leaves Quebec wide open. Their new arena is set to open in late-September 2015 and they have an ownership group already in place. But that might not be in the best interest of the NHL.

As much as the NHL recognizes the hockey hotbed that is Quebec City, the League is going to get their money, regardless. Whether they collect around $800 million in expansion fees, combined, from Seattle and Vegas, or Vegas and Quebec, those dollars are going straight to the owners. If a team is forced to relocate, which market would pay a higher premium for that club? Vegas? Not really. Seattle? Nope. Kansas City? Stop it. Portland? Enough already.

Remember, this is a business. Bettman's job is to make as much money for his 30 (soon to be 32) bosses as he can. It would appear that maximizing his revenues would result in taking the expansion fees from Vegas and Seattle, and the relocation dollars from Quebec (and after TVA Sports grabbed the French television broadcast rights, Quebecor will have something to say if the League decides to go in another direction).

So as much as it may suck for the fans in Quebec City, they may (repeat: MAY) have to wait a little bit longer. But if shit hits the fan in either Vegas or Seattle, they're golden. Unless the League gets really wild and gives all three markets a team?!

And in case you're wondering, in the NHL offices, expansion talk supersedes that of relocation. If you're banking on the Arizona Coyotes packing up shop (their owners have been doing their best to squash the whispers that they may be in trouble, and they're trying to get an outdoor game), or the Florida Panthers (hosts of the 2015 NHL Draft) calling it quits in the near future, you're probably better off keeping your money and blowing it away at the slot machines at McCarran International Airport.

Expansion is on the horizon. It's time to face the music.

The NHL hasn't received this much interest from other markets in decades. They're going to cash in, and deservingly so. It's good for the players, too. You're looking at 60 new full-time jobs.

I'm not sure if we'll hear any announcements at the start the 2014-15 season, but it's coming. Maybe the NHL will save it for All-Star Weekend in Columbus, the last expansion franchise to enter the league with Minnesota (and one of my favorite cities to visit)?

Either way, it's time to start brainstorming team names.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.

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