32 teams may just not be enough for the National Hockey League. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke with ESPN at the NHL/NHLPA player media tour and suggested that Atlanta, Georgia, home of two previous NHL franchises, could get a third try at a team in the future.
Atlanta became the first city in the NHL’s modern era to have two teams relocate to different markets when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg in 2011. The NHL previously had moved the Atlanta Flames to Calgary in 1980.
“I think some of the challenges that we’ve seen in the past in Atlanta can be overcome,” Daly told Greg Wyshynski.
The NHL has added both the Vegas Golden Knights (2017) and the Seattle Kraken (2021) in recent years, and commissioner Gary Bettman has been reluctant to talk about expanding further anytime soon. “We’re not in an expansion mode right now,” Bettman said last March. “It’s not really something, at least right now, that’s anywhere close to the front burner for us.”
According to Daly, however, that doesn’t mean the league is entirely closed off to the possibility. “Particularly with the success of the Vegas and Seattle expansions, there are more people who want to own professional hockey teams,” Daly said. “There are potential markets that may be suitable for NHL hockey, so our policy is really an open-door policy.
“If you are interested and have a plan, come see us, and certainly we’ll evaluate it from there. If it becomes something our owners are interested in, we can pursue it. Nothing has risen to that level currently, but that could change.”
One such proposed project, planned for the Atlanta suburb South Forsyth, has already said that they “want to be ‘ready’ for an NHL team”. There are no specific dates in mind for the project’s fruition, but the development is the brainchild of Vernon Krause, the CEO of Krause Auto Group.
The $2 billion “arena and entertainment district” known as the Gathering at South Forsyth took a step forward in recent weeks, hiring on Frank Ferrara as senior project executive.
Ferrara spearheaded Arizona State University’s ice hockey program as the school’s chief financial officer and senior associate athletic director. He was also a major lead in the school’s efforts to select the development group for Mullet Arena, the current home of both the Arizona Coyotes and the school’s teams.
The development team highlighted Ferrara’s involvement in helping the Coyotes adapt to Mullett Arena in a press release announcing the hire. “Ferrara helped manage the successful integration of an NHL tenant into the arena programming, including scheduling and the construction of an adjacent $19 million facility complete with NHL team locker rooms and support facilities,” the release states.
A major sticking points for the NHL, however, will be where cities will fit new arenas. “I also think that rink location will be important with any decision to locate a franchise in Atlanta,” Daly said. “I think if you use the Braves as an example, they struggled, as I understand it, attendance-wise for years, even though they had a very successful team on the field. Their latest stadium is in a perfect location and sells out regularly.”
The Gathering would be located in Forsyth County along Georgia Highway 400. According to US Census data gathered by Urbanize Atlanta, Forsyth’s current 260,000-resident population shot up by 132 percent between the years 2000 and 2019, making it the state’s fastest-growing county this century.
Atlanta is the eighth-largest metropolitan area in the US according to the US census bureau and is only growing. “I think times have changed pretty dramatically and the market demographics have changed pretty dramatically since the first time we went there and then again in 1999,” Daly finished. “I think a lot of bigger businesses are in Atlanta [now].”
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