NHL Expansion: The League is Playing with Fire in Atlanta

Sep 14, 2023

The NHL is leaving the door open to seriously consider adding an expansion franchise from the Atlanta area if the league decides to expand once again. Doing so would add a 33rd franchise, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski Tuesday. 

“There are potential markets that may be suitable for NHL hockey, so our policy is really an open-door policy,” Daly said “If you are interested and have a plan, come see us and certainly we’ll evaluate it from there. If it becomes something our owners are interested in, we can pursue it. Nothing has risen to that level currently, but that could change.” 

Unless you’re in Quebec City, built an NHL arena and have a fanbase ready and willing to spend to support the return of Les Nordiques. 


The NHL is coming off of a very recent wave of expansion where they added their 31st and 32nd franchises. The Vegas Golden Knights joined in 2017 and the Seattle Kraken joined in 2021. These were the first forays into expansion since the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets were added in 2000.  

What may have soured possible owners in the past was the long, hard, unguaranteed method of building a competitive team. Even if the team ends up becoming highly competitive, there will be several years of difficulty getting fans into the building. In Minnesota and Columbus that was not an issue as they were known hockey markets with successful NHL, minor leagues and NCAA pedigree. The NHL seemed to solve the issue of competitiveness with the latest expansion. Vegas and Seattle have been highly successful under the new expansion draft rules, which allowed them to both be competitive instantly, with Seattle making the playoffs in only their second season and Vegas to have missed the playoffs once in six years, and in the other five years, make two runs to the Stanley Cup Final, and win the Cup in 2023. 


That’s led to more public chatter about further expansion, which has only been aided by the nearly $1 Billion sale of the Ottawa Senators, a small market Canadian Franchise that is seeking an arena in an area of the city better suited to cater to their needs. The sale cost only points to an expansion fee skyrocketing from the $500 million paid in the last expansion to perhaps as high as $1 billion. 

Yet Quebec City, who has everything ready, including the willingness to spend the money, waits. 


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman maintains that expansion isn’t a top priority for the NHL at the moment, stating that the league and the NHLPA are more focused on returning to consistent international tournament participation, such as the Olympics and the league’s own “World Cup of Hockey”. Daly told Wyshynski that they’ll have an “open-door policy” when considering potential markets. 

Daly believes the past reasons why two Atlanta franchises (the Flames and Thrashers) failed can be “overcome” if the league did accept a bid for a third franchise in the area. While Atlanta is the eighth largest metropolitan area, statistically, in the United States. The reasons the franchises failed in the past were partially fueled by a lack of interest, and by extension, a lack of ticket sales. 

They just can’t seem to quit trying in Atlanta 

Daly told Wyshynski that: “Market demographics have changed pretty dramatically since the first time we went there and then again in 1999”. Believing that a more suburban arena location, site, such as the one currently under construction in Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb, would yield better attendance returns, citing the MLB’s Atlanta Braves as a platform for success after their move in 2017. 

This isn’t stopping people from trying to guess what a future Atlanta franchise would be named. Maybe the Phoenix? Because this team keeps rising from the ashes. 



Atlanta is not the only market that has shown interest in the NHL. If there is a decision to add more franchises, there will be significant competition. Cities like Quebec and Hartford would lobby for the NHL’s return there. Also, Salt Lake City and Houston would compete for a western franchise. Any expansion would likely be a two-team plan, with one in the east and one in the west to maintain the balance of teams between the two NHL conferences. 


Blain Potvin

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