blank'/> THE PUCK REPORT: History of NHL Expansion

Monday, October 2, 2023

History of NHL Expansion

Since the league's beginnings in 1917, the NHL has welcomed 38 teams. Of those, thirteen have relocated to a new city, eleven have changed their team name while remaining in the same city, and six have fallen on financial hard times and folded their operations

The chart below shows the history of NHL expansion by year, team name and the expansion fee levied on the buyer by the league.

YearExpansion TeamCost
1917       Montreal Canadians None
1917 Montreal Wanderers# None
1917 Ottawa Senators^# None
1917 Quebec Bulldogs^*# None
1917 Toronto Arenas* None
1924 Boston Bruins $15k
1924 Montreal Maroons# $15k (includes $11k to Canadiens)
1925 Pittsburgh Pirates^# $12k
1926 Chicago Black Hawks* $12k
1926 Detroit Cougars* $12k
1926 New York Rangers $12k
1967 California Seals*^# $2m
1967 Los Angeles Kings $2m
1967 Minnesota North Stars^ $2m
1967 Philadelphia Flyers $2m
1967 Pittsburgh Penguins $2m
1967 St. Louis Blues $2m
1970 Buffalo Sabres $6m
1970 Vancouver Canucks $6m
1972 Atlanta Flames^ $6m
1972 New York Islanders $11m (includes $5m to Rangers)
1974 Kansas City Scouts^ $6m
1974 Washington Capitals $6m
1979 Edmonton Oilers $7.5m (includes $1.5m to WHA)
1979 Hartford Whalers^ $7.5m (includes $1.5m to WHA)
1979 Quebec Nordiques^ $7.5m (includes $1.5m to WHA)
1979 Winnipeg Jets^ $7.5m (includes $1.5m to WHA)
1991 San Jose Sharks $45m
1992 Ottawa Senators $45m
1992 Tampa Bay Lightning $45m
1993 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim*   $50m (includes $25m to Kings)
1993 Florida Panthers $50m
1998 Nashville Predators $80m
1999 Atlanta Thrashers^ $80m
2000 Columbus Blue Jackets $80m
2000 Minnesota Wild $80m
2017 Vegas Golden Knights $500m
2021 Seattle $650m

* Team was victim of NHL Renaming
^ Team was victim of NHL Relocation
# Team was victim of NHL Contraction

As indicated by the footnotes above, several teams have endured change in the form of renaming, relocation and contraction.  The ordering of the symbols indicates the chronology of these events.  The number of NHL teams and regular season games played by year may be found here.

The first five members of the NHL in 1917 gained admission without having to pay an expansion fee.  Since then, all teams have paid a fee to join the league.  Hovering between $12,000 and $15,000 in the 1920s, expansions fees jumped to $2 million in 1967 and tripled three years later in 1970 to $6 million where they remained (save surcharges to other teams and leagues) through the remainder of the decade.

After a twelve year span of a 21 team NHL, expansion began again in 1991 with fees 7.5 times higher than those paid by teams entering in the 1970s, ultimately ending up over 13.3 times by 2000. Current franchise valuations estimate the value of NHL teams ranging from $290 million (Arizona Coyotes) to $1.5 billion (New York Rangers).  

On December 4, 2018, the NHL Board of Governors unanimously approved a yet-to-be-named Seattle team as its 32nd franchise. The club, coming at a cost of $650 million (30% increase over the cost of Vegas Golden Knights, which entered the NHL in 2017) shall compete in the Pacific Division commencing in 2021. The NHL expansion draft to fill their roster is scheduled occurred in June 2021.

Despite the escalating costs of purchasing a NHL team through expansion, the inflation calculator shows these teams to be more than holding their value in the terms of purchase price. This does not account for the annual operating losses for most NHL teams, which in the case of the Phoenix Coyotes resulted in losses of $54 million in 2009.
* See also History of NHL Contraction.
* See also History of NHL Relocation.
* See also History of NHL Team Renaming.