The Calgary Flames Could be Moving
The Flames franchise has been in Calgary, Alberta since 1980 when they moved from Atlanta. Calgary is a great hockey city, and the Flames have never had a problem with attendance or fan support. Despite this support, the Flames could soon find themselves in another city. The Flames have been playing in the same arena since 1983, and it is well documented that the team and NHL want a new arena built. The Mayor of Calgary, however, refuses to spend taxpayer money on building a new rink. This is where a major problem arises.
Flames ownership appears insistent on receiving at least some public money for the building of a new arena. The local government in Calgary appears insistent on not spending tax money on a private rink. Talks between the two sides have grown very sour, and there appears to be some bad blood brewing between the team and the city. It does not matter which side you take in the argument, and there are plenty of people on both, there are only two ways this can end. Either the Flames get a deal done for a new arena, or they relocate.
Talks apparently have gotten so bad between the sides, that they no longer exist. Flames President Ken King stated earlier this week that the team is no longer pursuing a new arena in Calgary. He also said that the Flames are not actively seeking a new home. Whether talks have really stalled out, or if this is just a scare tactic to get a deal done remains to be seen. King had stated earlier that the team would not use the threat of relocation as a scare tactic, they would just go and move. President of hockey operations Brian Burke has also said that if the team does not get a new arena, they will move. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has also been vocal about the Flames needing a new building to play in.
The lines seem to drawn in the sand, and neither side is willing to budge. The team and league want a new arena built, and the city is unwilling to pay for it. While the Flames moving seems hard to believe, it is now a very real possibility. I can't imagine the Flames staying in Calgary if a deal is not made in the coming year or two. The Flames moving is not ideal for the NHL, but that does not mean they won't do it. Losing Calgary as an NHL city would probably mean one less Canadian team, and would also end the Battle of Alberta between Calgary and Edmonton, which is one of the NHL's most historic rivalries. However, the team needs a modern building to play in.
Now, to be clear, I do not think the Flames are going to end up moving. Calgary would be a huge loss for the NHL, and the Flames would be a huge loss for the city of Calgary. I think a deal eventually gets done. However, if the Flames do decide to leave, where could they go?
Seattle has an ownership group and arena plan in place to become the 32nd NHL team. They are going to get an expansion team, not a relocation team. Seattle could have a team as early as 2020, which if things stay exactly how they are now, would fix the imbalance between the Eastern and Western Conferences, but give the Pacific Division 9 teams to the Central's 7. That means a team needs to get moved to Central. Detroit and Columbus are staying in the East, they did not get moved a few years ago, just to get moved back. If the Flames stay in Calgary, it will likely be Arizona or maybe Vegas that move to the Central. Seattle is going to be in the Pacific Division. If the Flames move, though, things get interesting.
There are two locations that stand out as possibilities that would completely fix the alignment issues in the NHL, and I think the league would push for one of these two locations. Kansas City is one, Houston is the other. The NHL has been talking about the possibility of a franchise in Kansas City for a while, but nothing substantial has ever materialized. KC is not a large market, but a small, hardcore fan base could support the team enough to keep them there. The Chiefs have been successful in Kansas City, but comparing football to hockey in the United States in idiotic. Hockey is the least popular of the big four sports, and the Royals have struggled financially when the team has not been good. If an MLB team struggles there, an NHL team definitely will. I am skeptical about Kansas City supporting a team in the long run. Relocation is certainly a more viable way for Kansas City to get a team than expansion, however, and the Flames are playoff contender, so they might be good enough to attract an audience.
Houston, surprisingly, I think is the best option for the Flames, or any relocating team. The state of Texas has been very supportive of hockey over the years, despite being a warm weather state. Numerous minor league teams play or have played in Texas, and the Stars move to Dallas has been an overwhelming success. Houston is a huge city, a great TV market, and already has a natural rivalry with Dallas. The NFL, NBA, and MLB already have teams in Houston, all that's missing is the NHL. I think a team there would be successful and great for the league. They would certainly do better than Arizona and Carolina have done. They also would perfectly aligned the NHL, with 16 teams in each conference and 8 in each division.
I hope the Flames stay in Calgary. I think the Flames will stay in Calgary. I think the team is important to the city, and the city is important to the NHL. However, if the Flames do not get a new building and have to move, I think Houston is the best option for them to move to, with Kansas City as a backup plan. Hopefully a deal gets done and the team does not have to move. Also, we are not far away from Seattle getting a team, you can bank on that.