On Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers announced they’ll be hosting the Chicago Blackhawks in a pre-season game in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on Sept. 28.
The game will be played at the Credit Union Center — home of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades — and will mark the third time Edmonton’s hosted an exhibition contest in Saskatchewan (the ‘Hawks and Oilers met in 2011; Edmonton hosted the Isles in 2009).
At first glance, this story might not mean much — it’s only an exhibition game, after all — but Saskatoon’s name has come up on a number of occasions with regards to NHL expansion and relocation.
In the spring of 2012, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on a group from Saskatchewan inquiring about a team:
Interested parties in Saskatoon have contacted the league and suggested there are individuals or parties in Saskatoon who would be willing to ante up the required purchase fee while various levels of government in Saskatchewan would make necessary arrangements to expand and make NHL-suitable the 15,800-seat Credit Union Centre.
Even though Saskatoon’s actual population is around 250,000 — which at face value would seem to be far too small to support an NHL franchise — the Saskatoon interests are pitching that an NHL franchise there would be supported by the entire province and it would be a viable operation. In 1983, the St. Louis Blues almost moved to Saskatoon. Then-owner Ralston Purina were going to sell the franchise to Bill Hunter, who was going to relocate it to Saskatoon.
The league blocked the move, took the franchise over when Ralston Purina effectively abandoned it and sold it to Harry Ornest, who kept the team alive in St. Louis.
Later, Saskatoon mayor Don Atchison was asked about the group that’s reached out to the NHL.
“They’re exceedingly serious, make no bones about that,” Atchison told the StarPhoenix. “But it doesn’t matter how serious the ownership group is. We have seen that once before when Mr. (Bill) Hunter bought the team and was ready to move it here.
“It will be up to the NHL what occurs in the end.”
It’s also worth noting several NHLers are from Saskatchewan — Hockey Reference suggests there are close to 40 — which includes the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Marleau, Scott Hartnell, Brenden Morrow, Jordan Eberle, Josh Harding, Brooks Laich and Chris Kunitz.