There are a number of potential scenarios resulting in Portland landing pro franchise. This post will explore them and discuss their feasibility.
NHL: An NHL team would require an owner or ownership group willing to pay the NHL’s expansion fee. Bill Foley was awarded an expansion team in Las Vegas for $500 million. It is highly unlikely it will go up from there, but it’s not expected to drop, either. There are not a lot of people for whom that is possible (let alone desirable), but we identified and reached out to some to start a dialogue. Alluding to progress in those talks is the best we can do in a public forum.
The NHL current has an imbalance between the Eastern and Western conferences, with 16 and 15 teams, respectively. The conferences are separated by time zone, with every team on Eastern Standard in the Eastern Conference (except Nashville). The Western Conference spans Pacific, Mountain and Central, with the teams on Mountain Standard split between the Pacific and Central Divisions. The NHL needs a team in any of those three time zones to round out the Western Conference.
Feasibility: Nobody in Portland is itching to pony up $500 million for a franchise, and there are not many people with local ties that could even feasibly muster up the fee. This is the least likely of the possibilities.
AHL: Seattle would need a affiliate if they get an NHL team. The NHL expected a bid from an ownership group in Seattle during the last round of expansion, and there are a few sites and possibilities for them to get an NHL-ready arena. They are widely considered the front runner for the 32nd franchise. Having their top prospects nearby for call ups would be desirable, so Portland would be the first on Seattle’s list for AHL affiliate destinations.
Roughly half of the AHL’s teams are owned by their NHL affiliate. The other half are independently owned, and then pay an affiliate fee to the NHL club, who then supplies their roster with contracted players. An AHL team in Portland could operate under either model, and arguments could be made in support of either as the preference. We would welcome either AHL ownership model with open arms.
Interestingly, Las Vegas has yet to choose a location for their AHL affiliate, and while initial reports indicated the Chicago Wolves were receiving consideration, Las Vegas’ owner Bill Foley demonstrated a preference to own the AHL franchise rather than have an agreement with an existing affiliate and ownership group. Foley has also stated that he may find an affiliate in the short term while a long term location for the AHL team is determined.
Feasibility: The NHL appears to have an abundance of patience for Seattle to get their arena situation together, which is a topic to be elaborated upon in many future blog posts. Las Vegas would also be well advised to consider Portland for their AHL affiliate. Should relocation not preclude it, this feels like the inevitable path to pro hockey.
NHL: Teams relocate occasionally in the NHL due to issues including (but not limited to) ownership, venue, fan support, public perception, and any combination thereof. Should a team want to relocate to Portland, we would be a plug-and-play destination with as few roadblocks as possible for an American city.
The above-mentioned conference imbalance means that a team from the Eastern Conference could move to the Western Conference, resulting in the chance for a city in the Eastern time zone to land an expansion franchise. Quebec City publicly funded an NHL-ready arena and submitted an expansion bid at the same time as Las Vegas, but was denied. Hockey pundits speculated it was due to concerns with the value of the Canadian dollar as well as the perpetuation of the conference imbalance.
The arena woes plaguing the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes are well documented, and without the passing of a bond to fund a new location in Phoenix, they will need to move in the near future. Portland, Kansas City, and Houston are the only cities lacking pro hockey with NHL-ready arenas within the geographical footprint of the Western Conference. Rumors were also recently published claiming officials from the Coyotes toured the Moda Center.
Feasibility: All eyes are on what happens in Phoenix. If they can’t get the bond passed and have to move at the 11th hour, Portland would absolutely be in play. Blazers owner Paul Allen has the spare cash to buy an NHL franchise at a discount, and if the Coyotes wind up being available in a fire sale, other individuals, collectives or investment firms would show interest. This is the ideal situation, but the stars need to align.
AHL: On January 25, 2015, it was officially announced that five AHL franchises would relocate to California to be near their NHL affiliate. The migration had two notable exceptions: Vancouver and Phoenix. Phoenix has since relocated their AHL affiliate to nearby Tuscon, but Vancouver’s AHL affiliate remains in Utica, New York, with a lease signed through 2019. They are expected to move their team west at the end of their lease (at the latest), and Portland would be a logical destination for them.
Another notable tidbit of the California migration: San Jose’s AHL affiliate now plays in their same arena while they search for a permanent home for the team. In the immediate vicinity, both Oakland and Sacramento have arenas suitable for the team, but relocating the affiliate to Portland is far from out of the question.
It’s also possible for Calgary and Edmonton to decide their affiliate would be better suited closer by with better airport access. Neither is in proximity to an airport with direct flights to their parent teams’ city. PDX flies direct to Calgary on Air Canada, and has numerous flights to Vancouver on a daily basis as well.
Feasibility: Vancouver’s AHL affiliate is likely moving west from Utica; Portland will at least receive consideration. The franchises in California aren’t likely to move so soon after their initial migration, but stranger things have happened. This would be the most sporadic and unanticipated of the possibilities.
So What Does It All Mean?
There are a number of ways Portland could land pro hockey. We have the facility, we just need the pieces to start falling into place. Keep an ear to the ground, as it seems inevitable.