Rumors surfaced around the NHL trade deadline that NHL expansion might be back on the cards. Specifically, the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and Houston, Texas popped up in those rumors. However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman threw cold water on those rumors.
“There continues to be a number of people, entities and cities expressing interest in having an NHL franchise where they don’t have one, places like Atlanta, like Houston, like Quebec City,” Bettman said.
“But we’re not in an expansion mode right now, and it’s not really something, at least right now, that’s anywhere close to front burner for us,” he continued.
Bettman has overseen NHL expansion rather recently, so the news isn’t entirely surprising. The NHL welcomed the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 and the Seattle Kraken in 2021-22.
However, Houston and Atlanta are interesting hockey markets. Houston has no NHL history, but they aren’t strangers to hockey. The city hosted the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association from 1972 to 1978.
Houston received an expansion team in the International Hockey League in 1994, and were named the Aeros as a tribute to the WHA team. The new iteration of the Aeros operated from 1994 until 2013.
Atlanta, however, is certainly no stranger to the NHL. Before becoming the Calgary Flames, the Flames played in Atlanta from 1972 to 1980 when the team relocated to Canada.
Atlanta received an NHL expansion franchise in 1999, nicknamed the Thrashers. The Thrashers operated from 1999 until 2011 when they were sold and relocated to become the modern iteration of the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s hard to imagine Gary Bettman overseeing NHL expansion so soon. However, if it does happen, these two cities could certainly be at the top of the list for the NHL to consider.