It's hard to imagine now, but as recently as 1967, the NHL had only six teams. In the 56 years since, it's expanded more than 400 percent—adding 26 franchises to get to its current 32.

The most recent expansions came when the Vegas Golden Knights began playing in 2017-18 and the Seattle Kraken commenced on-ice operations in 2021-22.

Still, we may not be quite done with the growth curve.

Though Commissioner Gary Bettman declared as recently as January that the league is "not in an expansion mode," the scuttlebutt picked up steam after NHL Network's Kevin Weekes attached a zipped lips emoji to his Sunday retweet of the "NHL To Houston" message that suggested the league's 33rd and 34th franchises would go to Houston and Atlanta.

That said, Bally Sports Midwest reporter Andy Strickland tweeted a day later that a league source told him that the two cities had indeed expressed an interest, but neither is ahead of any other would-be candidates and that nothing official is happening soon.

So, while it may or may not be imminent, the B/R hockey staff picked up on the market-swelling interest and came up with a list of six cities the league ought to at least consider—whether positively or negatively—when pondering the expansion question.

Take a look at what we came up with, and drop a thought or two of you own in a comment.


1. Atlanta

If you feel like you've heard this before, you're right.

The mere suggestion that Atlanta is being considered for a franchise prompts instant blowback from those who believe two strikes for the Georgia capital are more than enough.

The city was initially awarded a team in the early 1970s when the league was amid an all-out war with the rebel World Hockey Association. The Atlanta Flames debuted in the 1972-73 season and were never transcendent, though they did reach the playoffs six times in eight seasons—going 2-15 in postseason games and never winning a series.

Stagnating attendance helped prompt a sale to a group in Calgary, Alberta, and the team relocated to begin the 1980-81 season and has remained there since.

Chance No. 2 came when the Atlanta Thrashers began play as the league's 28th team in the 1999-2000 season. They lasted 11 seasons and made the playoffs once—losing four straight games to the New York Rangers in 2006-07—before financial losses and ownership issues prompted a sale and subsequent relocation to Winnipeg, Manitoba, as the rebooted Jets.

The move made Atlanta the only city to lose two NHL teams, which is all the reason many need to cross them off the list for another. Nevertheless, Atlanta is also the largest U.S. television market, per, without a team and the largest market to not have a team in all four major North American sports leagues. And the contrarians in the audience may point out that Washington, D.C. had and lost two baseball franchises and still got a third when the Montréal Expos relocated.

So it may happen. And it may work this time. But given the number of other cities pining for a first or second bite at the NHL apple, it's hard to fathom Atlanta's third bite taking priority.