We all knew what Gary Bettman was going to say.
He was going to say that the NHL was going to formally start looking at expansion.
We also knew what he wasn’t going to say.
He wasn’t going to say that expansion is definitely going to happen. Nor was he going to handicap which markets had the best chance.
And that’s exactly what happened today in Las Vegas, where the commissioner held a press conference following a board of governors meeting. He confirmed that the “formal expansion review process” will begin July 6, with applications accepted no later than August 10.
In a statement, Bettman said: “Over the past several years we have received numerous expressions of interest from potential markets and ownership groups that have indicated an interest in joining the National Hockey League. The fact that we are beginning this process does not necessarily mean that any expansion teams will be granted as a result of this process.”
The earliest any new team will begin play is the 2016-17 season.
Among the factors that will be reviewed: the viability of the expansion market, the arena situation, the ownership, and the business plan.
Oh, and let’s not forget a willingness to pay. According to Bettman, there probably won’t be any “appetite” to expand if the fee doesn’t “start with a five.”
As in, $500 million.
Las Vegas is the consensus favorite to land a team. While some have questioned the market’s viability, there’s an arena under construction and a potential owner who’s already got around 13,000 season-ticket commitments. Sin City also has a geographic advantage, in that the NHL only has 14 teams in the Western Conference, compared to 16 in the East.
The geographic factor is why Seattle is, perhaps, the second favorite. The arena situation (i.e. there isn’t one yet) is what’s holding things back for that city.
Quebec City, Kansas City, Toronto (a second team, obviously), and Portland are other markets that have been raised in speculation throughout the years.
The difference now is that the NHL wants serious applications on the table.
Talk is cheap.
If you want a hockey team, it’s time to step up to the plate.