NHL open to Atlanta expansion again: ‘Times have changed pretty dramatically’

NHL open to Atlanta expansion again: 'Times have changed pretty dramatically'

Could the third time be the charm for the NHL in Atlanta?

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league doesn’t have any imminent relocation or expansion plans, but it believes the Georgia capital could be a viable location for a new team 12 years after the Thrashers moved to Canada.

“I think some of the challenges that we’ve seen in the past in Atlanta can be overcome,” Daly told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski on Tuesday.

He added: “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. I think a lot of bigger businesses are in Atlanta (now).”

The NHL first ventured to Atlanta in 1972, where the Flames played until 1980 before relocating to Calgary. The Thrashers entered the league in 1999 but became the Winnipeg Jets in 2011.

The recent success of the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken – the NHL’s 31st and 32nd teams – has generated more interest from potential owners, Daly noted.

“There are potential markets that may be suitable for NHL hockey, so our policy is really an open-door policy,” he 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.”

Daly pointed to the Atlanta Braves’ 2017 move from near downtown Atlanta to suburban Cobb County as a model the NHL could borrow.

“I also think that rink location will be important with any decision to locate a franchise in Atlanta,” he 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.”

Salt Lake City has also been tabbed as a potential future NHL destination after Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith said in June that he’s keen on bringing a franchise to the area. His comments came in the wake of the Arizona Coyotes’ failed bid to secure a new arena deal in Tempe, an issue that has yet to be resolved.

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