NHL Expansion Plan Seeks to Add Teams for First Time Since 2000-2001 Season

Karri Ramo, Nate Thompson
The Associated Press
Las Vegas, NV

The National Hockey League last added teams prior to the 2000-2001 season. But now the NHL is on the cusp of announcing a new plan set to expand beyond its current number of 30 teams.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the new plans after the league’s governors meeting at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Starting with the 1991 addition of the San Jose Sharks, the league expanded from 21 teams to the now established 30.

The new plan is reportedly an open-ended one with the league steering clear of setting a maximum number of new teams that it will accept. Seattle, Quebec City, and Las Vegas appear as three possible franchise cities.

Vegas is also an interesting choice as many professional sports leagues have avoided the town due to the prevalence of gambling there.

Applicant cities would be invited to submit their proposals but Bettman himself has already hinted that he strongly favors a Las Vegas bid, as the league meeting in Sin City suggests.

Two weeks ago, the NHL chief hinted at the coming expansion process.

If after our discussion in June where I’m going to report where all of the expressions of interest stand, including what Las Vegas has been able to accomplish with the ticket drive, if the board has any interest in pursuing it, my recommendation would then be to open a formal expansion process. The board may say, “That’s interesting, but we still don’t want to do anything.” That’s an option. And even if they green light a formal expansion process, it doesn’t mean we’re going to expand. It means we’ll go through the steps of looking through things, and the conclusion at the end of that process could be very well, no expansion.

So it would just be a question of possibly looking at the expressions of interest and looking at them a little more seriously than we have.

But Wednesday he made it official.

“We will, probably starting in early July, accept formal applications from entities, people that are interested in pursuing an expansion team,” Bettman said after the meeting. “We will then go through a formal vetting process.”

The league may be approaching this expansion more cautiously after being hit with accusations that it expanded too quickly in the past.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com