Evander Kane believes the third time might be the charm for NHL hockey in Atlanta.
The current Edmonton Oilers forward and former Atlanta Thrashers star is adamant Georgia’s capital city could support a team this time around.
“You talk about a great city to live in, a great city to be a part of,” Kane told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “The fan base. Everybody talks about a lack of fans, but the fanbase we had there was so awesome. They were so passionate about us as a hockey team. We had fans at practice all the time.”
Kane was drafted fourth overall by the Thrashers in 2009 and spent the first two years of his NHL career in Atlanta before the franchise relocated to Winnipeg to become the Jets.
“As an 18-year-old, I loved being there,” Kane said. “Great travel. Four other major sports. There’s lots to do. It’s a hub, you can get anywhere in the U.S. or even internationally from Atlanta. There’s so many good things I have to say about it. I would be 100% supportive.”
Atlanta was home to the NHL’s Flames from 1972-80 before relocating to Calgary, and home to the Thrashers from 1999-2011.
NHL expansion is not imminent, but commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t rule out the eventual possibility.
“We’re not in a mode where I’m saying, ‘Okay, if you’re interested in expansion, submit your applications,'” Bettman said. “We’re not there. We’re just getting expressions of interest. And as you all know, I take meetings all the time on a variety of subjects, and if somebody wants to talk to us, we talk to them.
“If somebody came in and said, ‘Okay, we have a building, this is our market, this is our ownership group, we’d really like to go.’ Then we’ll take a look at it and decide whether we’re inclined to expand at this point in time.”
Relocation is perhaps a sooner likelihood. The Arizona Coyotes, notably, have been the subject of relocation rumors after failing to secure a deal for a new arena in Tempe in May. The club has two seasons left on their lease to play at Mullett Arena, a 4,600-seat rink on the campus of Arizona State University. After that, the Coyotes will again be without a home.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in September that he sees Atlanta as a viable NHL market despite the two past failures. Houston, Quebec City, and Salt Lake City are among other locations that have seen speculation as feasible NHL homes.
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