First, I hope everyone keeps the tragedies of this summer in their hearts and minds throughout the year, and that the hockey community can use these to help educate itself on many of the underlying issues on the fringes of the game that contributed in any way to these horrible events.
That said, I hope this becomes a better season than last year, and I personally have more than a few of my next games planned out (if anyone has some cheap tickets to the Winter Classic...)
Ok, on to what I already wrote.
The NHL is most certainly on the ascension. With the reversal of fortunes for many premier teams like the Rangers, Blackhawks, Capitals and Penguins, along with the emergence of young marketable stars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the NHL is at a place is has not been since Gretzky skated. And, with the recent relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg, the NHL will soon see a shift in the divisional system, whether a simple realignment or a full revamp remains to be seen.
Therefore, I believe it is the perfect time to add two new cities to the NHL. Now, many cities have tried to attain a relocated team, and some teams have been close to moving, but many in the NHL brass have been adamantly against relocating unless it is completely necessary, as in the case of the Phoenix Coyotes. I humbly submit that the two cities added should be Kansas City and Quebec City. Each of these cities has NHL history, and both present good cases for a team.
Kansas City has a brand new arena in the Sprint Center, which is certainly enticing. It also has a geographic advantage of being one of the larger Western cities that neither has a team nor is close enough to another city for a conflict (like Seattle would be). The fan base has clearly come to exist, as proven by Tuesday’s sell out preseason game between the Penguins and Kings. If you can sell out a preseason game in a non-NHL market, especially given the fact that the biggest star of the two teams (Crosby) is still dealing with a recovery, you might have something on your hands.
Quebec City has roughly the opposite problem. The Nordiques were pushed out by economic problems which have since been rectified (namely the salary cap and the improvement of the Canadian Dollar over the USD since the mid 1990s) and even now has a strong fanbase. If you can get 1000 people on a bus to Long Island (which Google Maps says is over 800 kilometers) to lobby for a terrible team to relocate to your city, that’s dedication. The problem, then, is their arena situation. The only arena in Quebec is the Colisee Pepsi, which the Nordiques played in. If a team were to move there, they would be the second smallest NHL venue. However, for an eastern city, it is one of the few that doesn’t have large hurdles in its way, like Hamilton, which is in 3 markets, or Atlanta, which just lost its second team.
However, this is really the best time for expansion, especially if the NBA makes good on their idea of a lockout.
UPDATE::: I added the realignment for the proposed expansion (given that realignment almost certainly has to happen).
In doing this, I tried to preserve as many historical rivalries as possible. Admittedly, some could not be kept, but hopefully new geographical rivalries could spring anew, like one between Kansas City and St. Louis.