The NHL will likely go up to 32 teams at some point in the future, so until that happens the questions of expansion/relocation will continue.
On Wednesday, Katie Strang of The Athletic reported that Commissioner Gary Bettman met with Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta about the possibility of bringing an NHL team to the city.
Bettman told Strang that the league wasn’t looking into relocation options at the moment, but should that change… “If Houston were to express an interest in having an NHL franchise, under the right circumstances, it’s something we might want to consider,” he said.
Last month, Fertitta made his desire to bring an NHL team to Houston clear and that option checks some important boxes should the league look to move a franchise or expand. There’s interested ownership and a suitable building with the Toyota Center, which seats 17,800 for hockey.
“I would put an NHL team here tomorrow,” Fertitta said last month via the Houston Chronicle. “This one has got to work. But I’d love to have the other dates in the building. Do I want to see Toyota Center filled up 300 nights a year? Definitely. We’ll do whatever we can do, but whatever we do has to make sense. Will we be aggressive? Yes. That’s my nature.”
Fertitta Tweeted on Thursday that this whole process is in the early stages.
These types of meetings aren’t unique for the NHL. Bettman has met with many prospective groups over the years who have expressed interest in owning a team. Hartford, as we know, still wants the Whalers back 20 years after they relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina. It never hurts to listen to a pitch because there’s always some team or teams having financial or arena issues that spur rumors. You can definitely think of more than a few teams right now who would make that list.
Houston has a long relationship with hockey, as Third String Goalie wrote about earlier this year, and former Rockets owner Les Alexander almost delivered NHL hockey to the city on two occasions. Most recently the AHL’s Aeros played in the Toyota Center until 2013 when their parent club, the Minnesota Wild, moved the team to Des Moines, Iowa.
There’s plenty of competition to be head of the line should the NHL want to expand or relocate. Along with Houston there’s Quebec City, Kansas City, Seattle, and Hamilton, Ont., among other cities. This is just another hat in a big ring.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.