Five candidates to add an NHL team

Updated: December 7, 2011, 9:46 AM ET
By Craig Custance

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- One of the appeals of the new realignment plan is the flexibility it provides the NHL if a new ownership group can't be finalized in Phoenix. There are still two groups interested in purchasing the Coyotes and keeping them in Phoenix, and considering how long the NHL has stretched out this process, it's clear the league wants to make it work. But at some point, it's time to pull the plug.

"There are interested purchasers right now in the Coyotes; we're continuing to work with them. We hope to get a resolution," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "It's taken awhile to get to the finish line. We're not there yet but we're still working on it."

Greg Jamison, the former Sharks CEO who is trying to put a group together to purchase the Coyotes, sounded optimistic about the team staying in the desert when he chatted with a few of us during the Sharks game on Wednesday night.

"I think the league and the city have worked very hard to have it stay in Glendale," Jamison said. "I think there's a good chance it could happen. It's taken awhile. It hasn't come easily, let's put it that way. Sometimes it doesn't in these situations."

Contractually, the league can't shop for a new city for the Coyotes prior to Dec. 31. But that date is closing in, and it's unlikely the league and Glendale will enter into another one-year stopgap measure to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix next season.

In other words, there's hope for cities dreaming of luring an NHL team. In the long term, the new league alignment also makes expansion extremely feasible. Once the Phoenix situation is settled, it'd be really easy to plug in two new teams to even up the conferences.

"Yes, you could do that. Depending on where they're located, you might have to do some reshuffling," commissioner Gary Bettman said following the conclusion of the board of governors meetings. "But there was no discussion of expansion."

So while the NHL can't actively shop for a new city just yet, the league certainly has a good idea of what the options are if Phoenix isn't salvageable. Even if they aren't sharing publicly.

"We have a general understanding of the landscape historically, not vis-a-vis Phoenix, in terms of markets that have expressed interest in having NHL franchises, potential ownership groups and the like," Daly said.

So what are the most attractive cities for the NHL right now? Here are five candidates: