The hockey world exploded overnight with reports first saying the NHL had a "done deal" in place to expand to Las Vegas, and then another report that stated there would be four new teams in the NHL by 2017 in Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Toronto.
Four new teams, including one in Toronto—it must be August, a perfect time to pounce on another NHL expansion story.
The rumors about expansion have been in full sway the past few years, especially when it comes to Las Vegas and Seattle and the way NHL realignment worked out—the Western Conference is ripe for adding two new teams. However, logistical issues abound for both situations, the least of which is the fact that no one knows exactly what the fanbase for hockey would look like in Vegas and there still isn't a viable arena solution in Seattle.
Nonetheless, Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Sun had this to say about a deal being in place:
But recently the nature of the rhetoric has changed so much that the question is becoming not if, but when.
And then the ultimate question. Will they be able to limit the number of new teams to just two?
Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determined being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City.
Well, that sounds nice and all—except for the fact that there's a done deal in place without an actual owner of this proverbial expansion team. Just a small detail. The NHL will figure that out later.
There is certainly smoke coming from the trees when it comes to expansion; there is a big push in Seattle for hockey to come to the city and Gary Bettman and company have visited several times over the past few years. There's also the fact that the NHL has regularly traveled to Vegas for its awards show each year since 2009.
Much of the speculation about expansion is built around a supposed windfall in expansion fees, which is what has led to further reports that the NHL would be moving to not two but four cities in the next three years.
NHL expansion - four teams added by 2017, Quebec City, Toronto, Seattle, and Las Vegas $1.4b in expansion fees— Howard Bloom (@SportsBizNews) August 27, 2014
This certainly sent the hockeysphere into overdrive—a new team in Quebec City and then one in Toronto? Is that even possible given the politics at work around the Maple Leafs?
The NHL, through Bill Daly, categorically denied any formal plans to expand to Las Vegas or any other city:
"It's not in our plans, there is absolutely nothing new in that," he has admitted to TVASports.ca.
And if it were an organization struggling with financial difficulties, such as the Florida Panthers, who moved to "Sin City" instead?
"We have no move in sight, whether in the case of the Panthers, or any other team besides," replied Daly.
Something is definitely happening, otherwise you wouldn't see two separate reports from two completely separate reporters essentially saying the same thing -- the NHL is very close to getting ready to expand and possibly to Vegas and Seattle first.
The issue is that Quebec City has been pouring a vast amount of money into an NHL-ready arena and Vegas will have one by 2016; would it be fair to bypass QC for Seattle after they've put so much work into trying to lure an NHL expansion team?
What about relocation? Despite new ownership, there's genuine concern about the financial viability of the Florida Panthers and there's constantly talk about the need to eventually move the team if something doesn't change in the near future. Could QC be in line for such a move while Seattle and Vegas get the expansion teams?
32 teams in the NHL is already stretching the talent level fairly thin but it would make sense for the NHL to look into moving into these new markets. 34 teams, however, sounds downright ridiculous for a league that could—financially—stand for some contraction rather than aggressive expansion in the next three years.
All of this is just speculation at this point and there's likely some truth hidden somewhere in all of this mess, but before we discuss final plans to expand the NHL to Las Vegas, perhaps it would be best to find an actual owner of said team first.