Hockey fans may soon say hello to the Black Knights of Las Vegas and the reincarnated Quebec Nordiques. Those sports-starved cities were the only two to meet the NHL's application deadline for an expansion team this week, the league confirmed, and are seen as the most serious contenders for new clubs. With arenas close to complete in both places, Vegas and Quebec are further ahead in the game than any other candidates.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league's interest in exploring expansion prior to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas last month, and suggested that 16 separate groups initially were looking to apply for a team.
"Our purpose in initiating the expansion process in the manner we did was not only to explore the possibility of admitting new members to the NHL," the league stated. "But also… to set realistic guideposts to distinguish between bona fide expressions of interest from those indications of potential interest that were, at best, merely hopes or aspirations."
Other cities reportedly interested in franchises, including Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and the greater Toronto region, all seem to have balked at the $2 million application fee and the eventual $500 million expansion fee they would have to pay even before picking a team mascot.
The bid to bring hockey to Las Vegas has attracted the most attention, as it would be the first professional sports franchise to call Sin City home. Vegas is also a likely candidate to land an NBA team down the road, but the iconic city is hockey-ready, with more than 13,000 season tickets already purchased for a new arena opening early next year.
The Vegas group led by billionaire Bill Foley reportedly filed its bid under the name Black Knight Sports and Entertainment LLC, a nod to Foley's time spent at West Point.
While Vegas packs megawatt star power, Quebec has been fighting to get the Nordiques back since the team left town to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, just as the club was on the cusp of becoming a Stanley Cup powerhouse. The Quebec ownership group is fronted by Quebecor Inc., a communications company. The 18,259-seat Videotron Centre in Quebec City will host an NHL preseason game in September and could be hosting Nordiques games as early as the 2016–2017 regular season.
"The process we have outlined for qualified applicants includes at least two more stages of documentation submission," the NHL stated. "We will provide no further updates until there is something substantive to announce."
While the NHL will not accept any late expansion applications, the door to landing an NHL team has not completely shut on those other cities. There is also the possibility that clubs like the Phoenix Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes could be relocated in the near future, and accepting those franchises might be cheaper than taking the expansion route.