The NHL in Houston? A fresh round of speculation has begun.
This spring will mark 10 years since Houston last had professional hockey.
But speculation about the NHL coming to the nation’s fourth-largest city never seems out of season, with a new round of talk in recent days.
It had ESPN hockey anchor and play-by-play announcer John Buccigross tweeting “Houston will have an NHL team next time with Atlanta.” His colleague, analyst Kevin Weekes, chose to go the stealth route, tweeting a photo of the Houston skyline with two eye emojis and a question mark on Tuesday.
— Buccigross Twitter
— KevinWeekes Twitter
The speculation intensified Tuesday afternoon on “The Jeff Marek Show” on Toronto sports radio station The Fan 590. The host said, “I don’t know how close or far it is, but there’s definitely something with Atlanta and Houston and the NHL.”
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, a major hockey news outlet, agreed with Marek.
“Something is happening, but I think the question is how far down the road we are,” Friedman said. “The NHL is trying to throw some cold water on this, which I get. They don’t want things to get out of hand here.
“The one thing that I think and I absolutely agree with Jeff is that I think that Houston will one day be an NHL town, yes. I just don’t know if it’s expansion or displacement.”
That really brought the proverbial cold water out of the NHL on Wednesday, with deputy commissioner Bill Daly telling the Daily Faceoff that “expansion is not our priority right now.” The NHL expanded to 32 teams with the additions of Las Vegas and Seattle in 2017 and 2021, respectively.
The Arizona Coyotes, the subject of countless relocation rumors over the years, have an arena plan in Tempe that will go to a public referendum on May 16. The Coyotes, who played from 2003-22 in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, moved to Arizona State’s Mullett Arena. this season. The venue has an NHL-low capacity of 4,600, making it highly unlikely as a long-term solution.
“If this whole Arizona situation doesn’t work out with the new building, I have to think Houston is the likely location, right?” Said Friedman: “It’s a natural rival for Dallas; it is the largest market in the US that does not have a team. There’s a lot that makes sense there.”
Houston has a hockey-ready arena at the Toyota Center, but the obstacle to putting a team there is Rockets owner Tilman Feritta, who controls events at the facility. When Fertitta bought the Rockets in October 2017, he said “I’m going to put an NHL team here tomorrow” as the owner or owner of the arena if the situation worked out. A month later, he said he was “very interested” in bringing the NHL to Houston, but “it’s going to be a deal that works for my organization, the city, NHL fans throughout the region and the NHL Board of Governors.” . .”
In May 2019, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there is “nothing to focus on” about the league coming to Houston, noting that “unless there is a new arena, Mr. Fertitta will check entry point”.
Since then, Alex Meruelo purchased the Coyotes in July 2019. The Ottawa Senators, following the death of owner Eugene Melnyk in March 2022, are expected to be officially up for sale later this year, but the franchise is expected to remain in Canada’s capital.
According to Friedman, the arena situation is the biggest obstacle in the way of Houston joining the NHL.
“The only thing with Houston is they really don’t have an arena,” Friedman said. “Obviously, there’s one where the Rockets play, but the league has met with that ownership group before and was blown away by what it heard. I think if they go there, they want to go there in their (building) situation.
“And the guy I’m looking for (for that) is Tim Leiweke. Tim Leiweke is an arena problem solver. For example, one of the reasons why the Seattle Kraken are in the NHL is because they couldn’t get an arena for a long time and he went in there and solved that problem.
“I’ve said this before, but I believe the long-term game there is solving this problem. And if that happens, I believe Houston will be in the league.
The NHL’s flirtation with Houston has gone on for nearly 30 years. When the Minnesota North Stars were relocating in 1993, they looked at Houston before settling on Dallas, Stars chairman Jim Lites said.
In 1998, then-Rockets owner Leslie Alexander attempted to purchase the Edmonton Oilers with the intention of eventually moving them to Houston, but a clause in the team’s lease allowed a group of local investors to override Alexander’s offer and keep the team in Alberta.
Houston has not had a professional hockey team since the American Hockey League’s Eros moved to Des Moines, Iowa, after the 2012-13 season.