When the NHL began looking into expansion, you can bet it wanted to go west. Unfortunately, one of the two bids came in from Quebec City. The Boston Globe covered some of the difficulties that will cause for commissioner Gary Bettman Sunday, July 26.
There could be some impact because of the weak exchange rate of the Canadian to American dollar. Most of it dealt with the obvious geographic ramifications of not having a Seattle bid to choose over the eastern Quebec City.
Right now, the Western Conference is two teams short of the Eastern Conference. With the four divisions, no one team can be added without another unless Bettman wants to seriously imbalance the NHL.
Hence, two more teams almost have to enter the Western Conference—one in each division—regardless of where the expansion teams are. If teams are added in Las Vegas and Quebec City, one of the 17 teams in the Eastern Time Zone would have to be placed in one of the western divisions.
The Detroit Red Wings are closest to the Central Division in both geography and recent, long-standing rivalries. They would give the Chicago Blackhawks another Original Six rival again (the other five are all currently in the Eastern Conference).
If the move is going to be temporary, it might make more sense to put the new team in Quebec City in the Western Conference. The NHL would almost certainly like to add Seattle soon, and could switch the expansion team into the Eastern Conference if a team was relocated from there to the Pacific Northwest.
Unfortunately, the most likely team to need to be relocated is the Arizona Coyotes. Since they are in the Pacific Division, it would be a nice transition for one team but would not help balance the league. The problems this imbalance will cause is just one reason Bettman is eager to keep a failing NHL team in Phoenix.
As you can see, there are no easy solutions. The reality is that even with all Eastern Time Zone teams being in that conference, the Western Conference has three time zones and far more travel. The San Jose Sharks travel more than any other team: 15,875 more miles than Detroit’s league-low travel according to a Yahoo Sports examination of each team.
There is not much of a way around that because there are so many more cities capable of supporting NHL franchises in the Eastern Time Zone. Still, it is important Bettman find solutions that will keep them to a minimum. He can stall but eventually will have to move a team west in divisional play if not actual location.