Why Salt Lake City won't be getting an NHL expansion franchise anytime soon

The owners of the NBA's Utah Jazz want to bring an NHL expansion team to Utah.
Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz
Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

Smith Entertainment Group, owners of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, have announced they want to bring an NHL expansion team to Utah. The Jazz are Utah’s only team in the four major North American sports (they do have an MLS team called Real Salt Lake) so basketball would be the NHL’s only competition.

Utah also has a decade-long reputation of being a Winter Sports capital, hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics and currently bidding for the 2034 games.

The other main thing the NHL always looks for is an arena for potential teams. Smith Entertainment Group assured the league any potential team could share the Delta Center until a new arena is built. Delta Center opened in 1991 and currently hosts the Jazz.

The last two NHL expansion teams got brand-new arenas in Las Vegas and Seattle. Quebec City built the entirely new VideoTron Centre without the guarantee of an expansion franchise.

Utah might be the next place that the NHL goes if there is another expansion.

Even if Delta Center is old, it’s still up to professional hockey standards and located in the United States. That last part is what caused the NHL to skip over Quebec City in the last expansion bid, the new VideoTron Centre and all.

We hate to break it to Utah hockey fans, but Salt Lake City isn’t getting an NHL team anytime soon. If we’re going to be more specific, an NHL expansion team isn’t coming any time soon. That’s even with the last round of NHL expansion being proven successful with the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken.

“32” seems to be the magic number for the NHL in regards to teams. Why? Because that’s the most amount of teams among the four major professional sports in North America. The NHL matches the NFL with 32 franchises. The NBA and MLB still are at 30 teams a piece.

Expansion carries a significant risk. The NFL proved that a sport can have 32 professional franchises, so the NHL matched their number.

The NHL also committed to an initial round of expansion (as opposed to just taking applications) in 2016 by admitting the Golden Knights. That was 14 years after the NFL admitted its 32nd team the Houston Texans.

To put it bluntly, the NFL has a lot more money than the NHL, so if either of the two leagues were willing to take a risk and expand beyond 32 teams it would be the NFL. The NHL would likely sit back, watch, and evaluate their options.

Once the NHL is convinced more than 32 teams are viable for the financial health of the league as a whole, then they might consider the next round of expansion. With that would come the typical expansion discussions such as conference realignment, expansion drafts, etc.

That doesn’t close the door on a franchise relocation. Smith Entertainment Group specifically mentioned bringing an expansion team to Utah with no mention of relocation. Maybe Utah doesn’t want “someone else’s team”.

That’s the sentiment some players and fans feel about the Oakland A’s move to Vegas in baseball. Even if relocation is an option, a potential Utah NHL team would have to temporarily share an older arena with an NBA team, which is an arrangement the NHL isn’t necessarily thrilled about.

Remember, the last two expansion teams got new and hockey-centric facilities (even though Seattle shares their arena with the city’s WNBA team).

Sorry to all those fans who want an NHL team in their area. Until another league goes where no league has gone before, to 33 or more teams, the NHL is staying put.

That’s not a testament to whether hockey can work in Utah (the city does have a minor league affiliate for the Colorado Avalanche), but a testament to the league's financial health as a whole. Just because the NHL is financially stable and making money doesn’t mean expansion is a feat they should take lightly.