Houston once was home to professional hockey, as was Hartford. Could either team be getting another franchise? PIC: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune
When residents of Tempe, Arizona rejected three measures on Tuesday to build a mega-complex that would include a new hockey arena for the Arizona Coyotes, the clock on their days in The Copper State began to tick.
In the past, it seemed like NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did everything he possibly could've to keep the franchise in Arizona. He resorted to comments vowing to keep the franchise in the Phoenix area multiple times over the last few years. But even Bettman commented after the rejected measures on Wednesday that the league is now "looking at all options."
Two cities immediately come to mind that have previously hosted hockey franchises. Here are the cases for Houston & Hartford.
"Houston should be very bullish on getting a team at some point," ESPN's resident hockey expert John Buccigross told media this past week...and it's no secret why. Houston, being the fourth-largest city in the United States, has a thriving sports market; it plays home to the Houston Rockets (NBA), Houston Astros (MLB), and Houston Texans (NFL). This is a market that has been hungry for a hockey team, and it seems as they've emerged as frontrunners in the race for the Coyotes.
Notably, the Coyotes struggled securing the proper funding to thrive in the Phoenix area; it doesn't seem that a move to Houston would present the same problems for the franchise. Houston has a diverse and robust economy, driven by industries such as energy, healthcare, aerospace, and technology. The presence of plenty of Fortune 500 companies and a large population of high-income magnates could provide a solid corporate sponsorship base & support the financial stability of the team. They wouldn't need a new arena to compete in Houston, as the city is already home to the Toyota Center, the home of the Rockets. A few minor modifications would be needed, but the venue can already hold just shy of 18k for hockey games that they've previously hosted, including Toyota's stint as home ice for the AHL's Houston Aeros, who became the Iowa Wild in 2013. And of course, I am all for a Houston-Dallas rivalry; the Dallas Stars have emerged as a perennial threat to any NHL team, and adding a geographically-close competitor would do wonders for hockey in an emerging market.
It seems that an NHL team coming to Houston is inevitable. Let's see if the Coyotes are the franchise to pack their bags to The Lone Star State, or if they'll have to wait for an expansion team. One thing is for sure: if they kept the Aeros' logo, it'd be awesome.
Hartford has a rich hockey history, particularly with the Hartford Whalers, who played in the capital of Connecticut from 1979 to 1997. The Whalers had a dedicated fan base and a strong connection to the community. Of course, in essentially the heart of New England, Hartford has a strong hockey culture and a history of supporting NHL teams. The area is home to passionate sports fans who could rally behind a new team. By moving to Hartford, the Coyotes could tap into a market with a built-in fan base and potentially attract new fans from their neighboring states in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The XL Center in Hartford, although in need of renovations, has the potential to be a suitable arena for an NHL team. With some upgrades and modifications, it could provide a modern and exciting venue for hockey games; it already hosts a bulk of the UConn men's basketball home games.
Of course, the state of Connecticut has shown a willingness to invest in sports facilities, which could aid in the necessary renovations and finding multiple sponsors in a very business-centric state. Governor Ned Lamont has already mentioned he'll be chatting with both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Coyotes brass. It's a less-likely option, but it's one worth considering.