HENDERSON, Nev. — NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly is optimistic a third franchise in Atlanta would yield better results than two previous failed expansion teams in the market.
“I think some of the challenges that we’ve seen in the past in Atlanta can be overcome,” Daly told ESPN at the NHL/NHLPA player media tour on Tuesday.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said that expansion isn’t currently a priority for the league.
“Having said that, particularly with the success of the Vegas and Seattle expansions, there are more people who want to own professional hockey teams,” Daly said.
The Golden Knights (2017) and Kraken (2021) were added to the NHL in recent years, finding immediate financial success as well as success on the ice thanks to revamped expansion draft rules.
“There are potential markets that may be suitable for NHL hockey, so our policy is really an open-door policy,” Daly said “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 of those potential markets is Atlanta, where the NHL has failed twice in establishing a franchise through expansion. The Atlanta Flames played from 1972 to 1980 before relocating to Calgary. The Atlanta Thrashers played there from 1999 to 2011 before relocating to Winnipeg to become the second coming of the Jets.
But there has been speculation about ownership groups seeking to bring the NHL back to Atlanta for a third time, specifically to its suburbs. Sites like Alpharetta and south Forsyth County have been discussed as potential homes for another team.
Daly said the Atlanta market is much different now than it was for either of the NHL’s previous expansion attempts.
“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,” he said. “I think a lot of bigger businesses are in Atlanta [now].”
Daly said the location of the rink will be a key to the success of any potential Atlanta franchise. The Thrashers played in what’s now known as State Farm Arena, home of the NBA’s Hawks, which is located in the city of Atlanta.
“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 Braves moved from Atlanta’s Turner Field to Truist Park in Cobb County in 2017.