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Las Vegas NHL expansion rumors turn into a reported 4-team expansion in 2017

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Updated story: the NHL has denied the rumors as of Wednesday morning.

Bruce Bennett

Tuesday, Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province published a piece stating that NHL expansion to Las Vegas was a done deal. At least, that's what the title of the article said. Now, Tony Gallagher's work has had some people question his sources in the past, so a number of people weren't exactly feeling confident about this report. Agent Allan Walsh has been raving about expansion since the last NHL lockout - how it was to be on the NHL's agenda the moment business-as-usual resumed.

Well, perhaps it has some legs after all.

Sports Illustrated reported this tweet by Howard Bloom of The Sports Business News:

Perhaps the most interesting part of that tweet is the year 2017. The NHL had said that they were going to give the current realignment scenario a three-year trial when it was approved in 2013. The start of the 2017-2018 season would be five years after the current realignment takes place, suggesting that perhaps the NHL has had an eye to expand for a couple of years now.

It's no coincidence that the NHL has put their end of the season awards in Las Vegas. One, it gets players to attend. But two, it also draws fans to attend as well. By now, the NHL is very familiar with that city, especially considering that the Los Angeles Kings like to have a preseason game there every so often. So it should come as no surprise that they'd want to put a team there - particularly before any other major North American sport moves into town.

Seattle has been practically Gary Bettman's and Bill Daly's second home for the past year or so. They visit that town on a regular basis and know the city and county leadership well. The NHL is chomping at the bit to put an NHL team in Seattle - and everyone knows it. Including Chris Hansen, despite his group holding out for an NBA team before constructing his new arena. A rumor cam e to light during the 2014 winter Olympics that a post-Olympics announcement of expansion to Seattle was forthcoming.

And, as it wouldn't be good politics to put expansion teams in the United States and not in Canada, of course Toronto would get a second team, breaking up the monopoly by the Maple Leafs in the lucrative southern Ontario market (which has been desired for years) and Quebec City get another team.

One of the problems - and there are many - with this scenario is that Las Vegas, Seattle, and Toronto all need arenas. Quebec City is in the process of building a new one, so they're doing alright in that regard. Despite having an arena, Kansas City has seemingly fallen off of the NHL's radar.

As for the rest.... Las Vegas one possibly in the works and could play at the 17,500-seat MGM-AEG Arenaat the MGM Grand.  Las Vegas actually broke ground on a new 20,000 seat pro sports arena in May of this year Seattle's is contingent upon an NBA team going there under the current agreement and could in no way play in either Key Arena nor the Tacoma Dome for longer than a season. And then Toronto's (Markham's really) is considered dead in the water right now, so would they share Air Canada Centre?

But I guess three years is long enough to work something out, yes?

Another looming issue if this actually happens  is realignment. If all of those cities get expansion teams, then that leaves the NHL with 34 teams total. If divided among two conferences equally, you'd get 17 teams each. There is no way to divide that number of teams into equally into divisions. So if it turns out to be a 34-team league, it looks as if the Wild Card format is here to stay.

And if unequal divisions are potentially going to be the order of the day, does that mean they'll stick with unequal conferences? Or does a team like Columbus get moved back to the Western Conference? The realignment issues and resulting playoff implications are almost as big of a story as the potential expansion itself.

Again, so far as any comments from the NHL's offices, or anything official from any major hockey news outlets, nothing has been said. This is all just hearsay and speculation, so far as it goes right now. However, where there's smoke there's often fire, so this is perhaps something to keep an eye on.

UPDATE:

The National Hockey League has denied the expansion report this morning by way of Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. He refused comment but said that things are "not in the plans."