Does the NHL have its eyes on playing in North Dakota?

Hockey in North Dakota (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
Hockey in North Dakota (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /

North Dakota is home to a beautiful hockey rink in Ralph Engelstad Arena. Could the NHL be thinking ahead to hold future events there if all goes well?

It’s now day 32 without the NHL. That Dr. Fauci guy on the press conferences is starting to remind me of Doc Emrick. If he starts saying things like “he shoots, he scores” I’ll officially know I’m losing it, but if he says “Henrique, It’s Over” I might start cheering at my television.

The NHL seems no closer to a return since last week when the rumor of playing out the season at Ralph Engelstad Arena was thrown around. Apparently now the NHL is also looking at other neutral site locations. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said there’s no timeline to decide on a season cancellation, and the league may be be pushing back the start of next season of next season to accommodate.

The thought of a partnership between North Dakota and the NHL still remains interesting. North Dakota is home to arguably the best non-NHL hockey rink in the world, after all. Could the NHL playing out their season there be a test run for the future?

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Let’s go back to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Without a suitable place to play, the then New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City for the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 NBA seasons.

The temporary move was successful enough to show that Oklahoma City themselves could host an NBA franchise. Eventually, that’s exactly what happened when the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City for the 2008-2009 NBA season.

Now North Dakota isn’t the ideal place for an NHL franchise. Ironically the reason it’s a top choice for coronavirus play, low population density, is also a fairly good reason not to put a professional team there. There might be more to it than just a hockey team, however.

Even if the arena and area aren’t suitable for an NHL franchise expect the NHL to take notes on how things work out if the rumored plan to play in North Dakota turns out. Since a franchise might not be in the cards, maybe other neutral site events? Maybe the Ralph Engelstad Arena could host an All-Star Weekend, or the long going on and off NHL sanctioned World Cup of Hockey.

Even better, Ralph Engelstad Arena might be the perfect place for an NHL Draft and combine. Although the combine has long had its home in Buffalo, Ralph Engelstad Arena presents the opportunity to have both events in the same place.

Although fans attend both events, they do so in smaller numbers and this is only taking place a few days of the year. Low population density would be bad for continued support, as would be required by a team that regularly plays at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but for an annual occurrence should be just fine.

Previous non college hockey events at the arena include Minnesota Wild exhibition games and the 2005 World Junior Championship. The surrounding area and market limit the type of events that would be economically viable, but if that didn’t stop events in the past than why stop now.

If this proposed move to North Dakota just to finish the final chapter of the 2019-2020 NHL season is somewhat successful, North Dakota will be on Gary Bettman’s short list of non-NHL cities.

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Of course this is all speculation. If history repeats itself, which it usually does, we can expect to see more action in North Dakota in the future. Just how much and what exactly remains to be seen.