When there’s an expansion franchise in a professional sports league, the people of that city fully embrace the team right away. Look at how Las Vegas and Seattle fans have come to love their new franchises. When teams move, though, there can be an awkward period for the new city as they may feel like they ‘stole’ a team. There have been several instances of that happening in the NHL, and these five moves were the most surprising NHL relocations.
5. Atlanta (Twice)
The city of Atlanta, Georgia has had two attempts at hosting an NHL franchise, and neither time did it end out working for the city. Originally, Atlanta was the home of the Flames, which made sense in terms of team names because if you’ve been to the ATL, you know why they call it Hotlanta, as well. The team would keep the name, but move to the much more frigid Calgary in 1980 after eight seasons of financial troubles.
Just under two decades after the Flames moved, Atlanta got a second chance when the NHL expanded back into the city, and the Atlanta Thrashers were born. The Thrashers lasted just 11 seasons in Atlanta before the team ran into financial peril and, just like the last team, moved to Canada. The Thrashers became the new Winnipeg Jets (more on that later).
4. Quebec to Colorado
One of the best uniforms in sports history belonged to the Quebec Nordiques, who began play in the WHL in 1972. After the league merged with the NHL, the Nordiques came along in the package to expand the NHL’s influence in Canada. The Nordiques were the only pro team in Quebec City throughout their run but were placed up for sale in the mid-1990s.
Nordiques fans could see the writing on the wall when the team was sold, with an investor group from Denver, Colorado making the acquisition. After 16 years in Quebec, the franchise moved to Denver, becoming the Colorado Avalanche. Of course, immediately after moving, the franchise won its first Stanley Cup because life is unfair.
3. Winnipeg to Arizona
When you think of hockey, you think of Canada first and foremost. Before the 1990s, the last thing that you’d probably think of is the desert. That was, of course, before the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights came along. While the Knights were an expansion team, the Coyotes came about by taking an existing franchise.
The Winnipeg Jets had been part of the WHA-NHL merger and was founded in 1972. The team went through a sale as most franchises do, but the new owners wanted desperately to move to a larger city. With that, the Jets moved way down south, landing in Phoenix and becoming the Coyotes. Thankfully for Winnipeg, the Thrashers would move to their city 15 years later.
2. Hartford to Carolina
We’ve already mentioned teams that started in the WHA and have amazing logos, and the Hartford Whalers were one of those teams. The franchise known for playing in a shopping mall and having ‘Brass Bonanza’ blare over the speakers after every goal was a favorite of casual fans around the league. However, being in a small market meant that their days were numbered from the start.
The Whalers simply weren’t making enough money in Connecticut and upgrading their arena proved to be difficult. After 18 NHL seasons in Hartford, the Whalers moved down the Atlantic coast to Raleigh, North Carolina where they became the Carolina Hurricanes. Though the transition period was difficult, Carolina has fully embraced the team.
1. Minnesota to Dallas
If you had to come up with a list of the best American states for hockey, a lot of lists would have Minnesota at the very top. The state is synonymous with pond hockey and is essentially an extension of Canada. For more than a quarter-century, Minnesota was the home for the North Stars, but that would change in 1993.
The team flirted with the idea of moving to Anaheim, but Disney bumped ahead of them in line and the Ducks were formed. The backup plan to move to a larger market was to move the Stars to Dallas in one of the most head-scratching moves in terms of fan support.