The NHL is eyeing expansion, with commissioner Gary Bettman naming Salt Lake City, Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Omaha all as cities that have expressed interest in housing an NHL club. Houston and Omaha are the only cities on the list not currently housing an ECHL club, though Omaha makes up for it with the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Division 1 NCAA team and the USHL’s Omaha Lancers juniors club. Houston did host a minor league club from 1994 to 2013, though they relocated to Des Moines Iowa ahead of the 2013-14 season. The city has been without professional hockey ever since, though this season does mark the first time since World War II that the University of Houston has hosted a club hockey team.
How the NHL will go about reconfiguring divisions if one, or all, of these five cities receive a team is unclear. The list seemingly places three clubs undeniably in the Western Conference – Salt Lake City, Houston, and Omaha – while Atlanta would settle back into their place in the Eastern Conference. Cincinnati would be the toss-up, with the city situated perfectly on the line of conference ambiguity. It’s west of Detroit and Columbus – two teams that have spent time in both conferences – but still east of Nashville, a city that could reasonably mark where the Western Conference ends and the Eastern Conference begins. It seems most likely that Cincinnati will be the balancing piece in any new NHL expansions, if and when they happen.
Other notes from around the league:
- The Ottawa Senators are open to shopping around defenseman Lassi Thomson, per team reporter Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun. A recent report on Sweden’s Expressen shared that the defenseman could return to Scandinavian hockey, joining the SHL’s Malmo Redhawks. This rumored move could be a driving factor in any trade talks, as Ottawa will surely want a return on their investment and any recipient will want to ensure they’re getting a long-term piece. Thomson, 23, has spent all season in the AHL, totaling 11 points through 40 games. He’s also added 40 penalty minutes and a -11. All of these stats are a step down from Thomson’s 2022-23 season, when he managed 33 points, 28 penalty minutes, and a -9 through 56 AHL games. The former 2019 first-round pick played two seasons in the Liiga, Finland’s top league, after being drafted and before his career in North American pros began at the end of the 2020-21 season.
- Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Newhook is aiming for a return soon, says team general manager Kent Hughes. Newhook was announced as out for 10-to-12 weeks in early-December after suffering a high ankle sprain. That projection places his return in mid-February, at the earliest – though his return to the ice in late January suggests he’s progressing nicely. Newhook has appeared in 23 games with Montreal this season, scoring seven goals and 13 points. It’s his first time playing in Canada since his two-year stretch in the BCHL prior to being drafted. The Canadiens traded a 2023 first and second round draft pick, as well as Gianni Fairbrother, to the Colorado Avalanche this summer in exchange for Newhook.