NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, recently held “preliminary discussions” about the possibility of an NHL franchise in the area, reports The Athletic’s Katie Strang.
Fertitta purchased the Rockets for a reported $2.2 billion in September. Last month, he told a local reporter that he was also interested in having an NHL team join the Rockets in Houston. On Thursday after the news of the meeting broke, Fertitta reiterated his interest in bringing the NHL to Houston on Twitter.
All of this makes Houston the latest team to hit the NHL radar in addition to Seattle and Quebec City.
Bettman denied to The Athletic that the NHL is considering relocating any of its current 31 teams, but there are also a number of franchises with uncertain arena situations, including the Coyotes, Islanders, Flames, and Senators. The league could also add a 32nd club to rebalance after expanding to Las Vegas this year. The Golden Knights paid out a $500 million expansion fee to enter the league.
Houston is the fifth-most populated metropolitan area in the United States after New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas-Fort Worth, so it’s not hard to see why the NHL would be interested in moving there. Having a potential owner and arena already in place with Fertitta and the Toyota Center only makes the city even more appealing.
Back in 1998, then-Rockets owner Leslie Alexander tried to buy the Edmonton Oilers as part of a $82.5 million transaction that would’ve moved the team to Houston. The deal fell apart, however, when an Edmonton-based group stepped in with the necessary money to keep the team in Alberta.
The Houston Aeros, an AHL team, played in the city from 1994 to 2013 before relocating to become the Iowa Wild after failing to reach a new lease agreement with the Toyota Center. There’s been no significant professional hockey presence in the country’s fifth-largest metro since then.
These may only be preliminary discussions as part of the much more complicated process involving a lot of people and even more money, but this is undeniably interesting for the NHL’s future geographic footprint.