In this ESPN.com article, Pierre LeBrun discusses the complexity of the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership situation and the likelihood of their remaining in Phoenix after the 2010-11 season. According to LeBrun, the likelihood of our beloved Coyoes (/sarcasm) staying in Phoenix appears to be steadily declining -- this week, he says, may prove critical in the NHL's decision as to their future. Winnipeg is thought to be the most likely destination for the Coyotes should relocation become a reality. However, LeBrun also shares that should Phoenix resolve its ownership situation, the possibility that the Thrashers, rather than the Coyotes, move to Winnipeg is not unthinkable. Likewise, if either team moves to Winnipeg, the other could move to a handful of cities: including Quebec City, Kansas City, Houston, Seattle and Portland. Let's consider the potential consequences of this move.
Beginning with the most likely outcome, what would happen if the Phoenix Coyotes moved to Winnipeg? The NHL, in all likelihood, would have to reorganize its Western Conference divisions for travel purposes if none other. Whom the NHL would move is, of course, sheer speculation, but the inclusion of a team like Vancouver in the Pacific Division, and the assumption of the then vacant Northwest Division spot by the team in Winnipeg would seem practical. For Stars' fans, the possibility of seeing Vancouver an additional two times does not sound particularly alluring, however.
Another possible outcome, (we're working from the reasonably possible to the obscure here) is that the Phoenix sale buys itself time, allowing the Thrashers to jump on the opportunity to move to Winnipeg. In that case, an instance of conference realignment would occur. According to LeBrun, Columbus and Detroit would be the first teams to make the jump from the Western to the Eastern Conference. One would think Columbus would be the most likely of these, as Detroit's conference rivalries with Chicago and others should be sacrosanct.
The issue hitting closest to home for Stars fans would be the prospect of an NHL team moving to Houston. Any likelihood of this occurring, of course, is sheer speculation, but worthy of discussion nonetheless. If either the Thrashers or Coyotes move to Winnipeg, and the remaining team chooses to move to Houston, what are the implications for the Dallas Stars? One would like to think that being the only NHL team in Texas currently grants the Stars a larger market to exploit. From Oklahoma City, to Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and even into Louisiana, the Stars should, in theory, dominate their surrounding area with regard to individuals interested in professional hockey at the NHL level.
Whether that occurs is an entirely different debate. While the Stars do enjoy a television contract with Fox Sports Houston currently, the significance of that revenue (if it is even separate from their Fox Sports Southwest contract) is not something of which I am aware. What is clear is that on a nightly basis, the majority of fans attending Stars games come from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area. Thus, attendance should not be directly affected by a team moving to Houston. More reasonably, decreases in revenue could be foreseen in merchandise sales in southern Texas -- the current significance of those, again, being entirely unknown to this author.
On a positive note, a team in Houston could create a natural rival for the Dallas Stars. One thinks of the rivalry between the Spurs and Mavericks, or the Aggies and Longhorns -- Texas is certainly a state large enough that teams may compete for fans and succeed financially at the same time. If anything, such a rivalry could even bolster local interest and media attention. We've seen the success of hockey in Cedar Park, in Allen, and in Houston already with the Aeros (as well as other metroplex-area teams). Who is to say that an NHL team in Houston wouldn't improve the standing of the Dallas Stars rather than worsen it?
In reality, this entire debate remains a pipe-dream and a slim chance until a definitive plan to relocate the Coyotes or Thrashers appears -- and, if Pierre LeBrun has any credibility, the next few weeks should demonstrate the plausibility of such an occurrence. At that point, as LeBrun states, a domino-like effect could send both franchises into relocation. However, until the first domino tips, Stars fans, I would anticipate the continued pleasure of meeting our canine division-mates and their (sometimes?) mustachioed bench boss for the foreseeable future.