Wednesday is reportedly the day the NHL will confirm what we’ve all expected for months: The league is expanding to Las Vegas, becoming the first major pro sports team to take up residence in the city.
That will no doubt come as a relief to hockey fans in Vegas, since history has shown that new NHL teams have a way of falling through. The league’s expansion era began in 1967, and has seen the league continue to grow ever since. But it’s history of near-misses dates back even further, and includes some cases where a new team seemed to be all but a sure thing.
So today, as we await the official arrival of Las Vegas to the NHL family, let’s look back on some of the times when the league seemed headed to a new home, only to have it fall through.
The NHL’s roster of teams remained unchanged for 25 years between 1942 and 1967, a period of time that every fan now knows as The Original Six Era. Those six teams serve as the league’s foundation to this day, with a celebrated history and tradition that the league actively embraces and promotes. Which may be why it’s been all but forgotten that at one point, that group was supposed to become an Original Seven.
Back in the early 50s, pro hockey was booming in Ohio thanks to the AHL’s Cleveland Barons. By 1952, the team had set its sight on a move to the NHL, which was open to adding a seventh team. The Barons’ application for membership was received, debated and formally accepted by the NHL’s board of governors.
But that approval came with a catch: The Barons had to secure funding, an amount later reported to be in the $500,000 range. They failed to do so, and the deal fell apart. Barons attendance eventually faltered, and the team fell on hard times as the years went by, eventually moving to Jacksonville in 1973.
The NHL did eventually come to Cleveland, relocating the California Golden Seals in 1976 and reviving the Barons name. That move ended up being a disaster, lasting for just two years; the team folded in 1978, making it the last franchise in North American major pro sports to do so.