In the wake of the Winnipeg relocation, there has been speculation about what will happen next in the NHL.
The current hot-spot remains Phoenix, but two cities have surfaced as possible destinations for the NHL.
The first, Quebec is hardly new. In fact, commissioner Gary Bettman, in his annual state-of-the-league gave his usual discouraging remarks in order to cool off Quebec's enthusiasm for getting a franchise.
But if Winnipeg, with a smaller market, and the smallest arena in the NHL can get its team back, Quebec, with a brand new 18,000-plus arena, an intense rivalry with Montreal and a market encompassing all of Eastern Quebec and the four Maritime provinces, seems almost a foregone conclusion.
The new arena is scheduled to open in 2015.
But relocation of an existing franchise isn't the only way Quebec could get a team; expansion may now be a possibility.
An interesting behind-the-scenes factor appeared during the Phoenix-Atlanta-Winnipeg conflict.
Why did the NHL put up so much fierce resistance to save Phoenix and yet meekly surrendered Atlanta, a much larger and better market to Winnipeg?
Shifting Atlanta instead of Phoenix will allow conference realignment. Detroit, which has long complained that playing western games, especially in the playoffs, was hurting its television ratings and revenue, now has the opportunity to be placed in the east where every game will be played in Detroit's Eastern Standard Time zone.
Columbus is in the same boat.
The NHL has publicly stated that it will oppose franchise shifts to the death, so they will be reluctant to relocate any more franchises.
Besides Phoenix, the worst trouble spots are Florida and Columbus.
The resolution of the Detroit situation shows that the NHL wants a balance between Eastern and Western franchises and no more complaints about alignment, so any expansion/relocation will take this factor into account.
Recently, it has been reported that the NHL has been talking to a Seattle group about a getting a team. The only surprise is why it has taken so long.
Unlike the NHL expansions of recent years to American markets unfamiliar with hockey, Seattle has deep hockey roots.
In fact, Seattle was the first American city to win the Stanley Cup, and could have won another, but the 1919 influenza epidemic in the city canceled an on-going series against Montreal, the only year the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded.
Seattle also has a junior team that is a member of the WHL branch of the CHL, that competes for Canada's top junior prize, the Memorial Cup.
It would also have an intense rivalry with its Vancouver neighbor and the other West Coast teams.
A Quebec/Seattle expansion pairing would be an ideal solution. It would keep the balance the NHL wants by placing one new team in the east and one in the west.
Expanding the league to a symmetrical 32 teams, like the NFL makes sense for the NHL.
Both leagues would then be organized into two conferences of four divisions, with potential for growth to the next symmetrical figure of 40 teams.
In such a new alignment, the league might look like this:
Montreal-Ottawa-Quebec-Boston (with potential to add Hartford later)
Detroit-Buffalo-Toronto-Pittsburgh (with potential for a shifted Columbus or a Hamilton team)
New York-Long Island-New Jersey-Philadelphia
Colorado-San Jose-Seattle-Vancouver (with potential for Portland to be added)
Los Angeles-Anaheim-Phoenix-Dallas (with potential for Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio)
Chicago-St. Louis-Nashville-Columbus (with potential for Kansas City)
Edmonton-Calgary-Winnipeg-Minnesota (with potential for Milwaukee or a regional Saskatchewan team)
Another alternative would be to shift Phoenix to Seattle and Columbus to Quebec.
But in view of the fact that no fans in an existing market like to see their team leave town, expansion should be the preferred path for the NHL.
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