The worst-kept secret in the NHL is that an expansion to 32 teams is bound to happen sooner than later. Reports, rumors and speculation all make it sound as though expansion is a matter of when it's going to happen and not if it's going to happen.
However, commissioner Gary Bettman stated on Tuesday afternoon that things aren't that cut and dry. In speaking with the assembled media in between meetings at the NHL Board of Governors gathering, Bettman stated that expansion is not something the league has decided upon yet.
Bettman says lots of expressions of interest in expansion. NHL is willing to listen. However, decision to expand hasn't been made.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) December 10, 2013
Bettman says franchises have never been stronger. Says everything in due course if due course is going to happen. Very much undecided.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) December 10, 2013
New arenas are being built around North America, with the project in Seattle having the most heat around it, at least in terms of media reports. Speculation has remained that the project could potentially become the home of an NHL team, as Bettman reportedly recommended to the Board of Governors in July that the league should consider opening the market to an expansion franchise. In addition, it was viewed as the primary relocation option if the Phoenix Coyotes were unable to resolve their negotiations with the city of Glendale.
However, Seattle isn't alone, as prospective opportunities in Quebec City, Kansas City, Portland and even Markham, have been discussed as potential avenues for future NHL growth. Of course, prospective is the operative word and things have always appeared to be up in the air, which is basically what Bettman is saying.
Beyond speculation, the NHL would benefit from expansion because the league currently has a disparity in its alignment with 14 teams in the Western Conference and 16 teams in the East. Two more teams would fix that issue. Not to mention, expansion franchises come with expansion fees, which would generate a healthy chunk of revenue for the NHL. According to the report in July, an expansion franchise would be opened in the Seattle market for $275 million.
Of course, everything in due course ... if due course is going to happen.