At the midpoint of the century, what will the "Coolest Game on Earth" resemble?
Last year, I posted an article titled "What Will the NFL Look Like in 2050?" It was pretty fun guesstimating what the future of America's Game held, so I decided to take a stab at predicting the fate of the National Hockey League as well.
Really, where the League is headed in terms of expansion is anybody's guess. Like everybody else on the planet, I think it's only a matter of time until Gary B. reverses course and starts uprooting the failed sunbelt teams further west and north of the border -- a once-unthinkable proposition now made a necessity due to the high number of faltering franchises currently in the NHL.
In terms of structural changes to the game, I think the League is pretty happy with the post-Lockout rule changes, which have made the game way faster and heavier on the offense. It's tempting to hypothesize that at least one franchise -- probably one of the larger Canadian teams -- would at least TRY to move their team, full-time, to an outdoor stadium, but it's ultimately too hard a sell for the rest of the NHL ownership base. Clearly, the NHL wants to expand over the next three decades, but with a finite amount of viable franchise spots in North America, where could they possibly turn to fulfill their economic quotas?
Well, let's just say it looks the National Hockey League is heading towards some very interesting locales in the not-too-distant future....
2014 -- The Phoenix Coyotes change their name to the Arizona Coyotes. They will continue to play at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
2015 -- The New York Islanders relocate to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY. In 2016, they officially change their name to the Brooklyn Islanders. In honor of lease-holder Jay-Z, the team officially changes its colors to black, orange and blue.
2016 -- The Nashville Predators relocate to Hamilton, Ontario. The team, now known as the Hamilton Predators, play their first game at the FirstOntario Centre during the 2017-2018 season.
2017 -- The Arizona Coyotes relocate to Quebec City. The team, rechristened as the Quebec Nordiques, begin play at the Quebecor Arena during the 2018-2019 season.
2018 -- The Tampa Bay Lightning relocate to Paradise, Nev. Changing their name to the Las Vegas Lightning, the team begins play at the MGM-AEG Arena in the 2019-2020 season.
2019 -- The Edmonton Oilers relocate to Seattle, Wash. Renamed the Seattle Totems, the team begins play at a renovated KeyArena starting in the 2020-2021 season.
2020 -- The Florida Panthers relocate to Houston, Tex. Changing their name to the Houston Apollos, the team will begin play at a remodeled Toyota Center at the start of the 2021-2022 season.
2021 -- The St. Louis Blues relocate to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The new team, the Saskatchewan Scots, play at the 30,000 seat Douglas Arena, which has been vacant for three years prior to finally luring the ailing Blues north of the border.
2022 -- As part of a new, multi-billion dollar entertainment complex, the new home of the Los Angeles Kings, a 30,000 seat arena in Downtown L.A. called Ingram Arena opens just in time for the start of the 22-23 season. The new home of the Lakers and Clippers as well, the arena is situated just meters away from Farmer’s Field, the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Raiders.
2023 -- The Buffalo Sabres declare bankruptcy. They are purchased by Rogers Communications, Inc., who make plans to relocate the team to Toronto. Following a year of anti-trust lawsuits with the Maple Leafs and Predators, the ownership group eventually agrees to move the team into a new arena in Kitchener. The Kitchener Blades officially take the ice at the beginning of the 2026-2027 season.
2024 -- The Anaheim Ducks are sold to Kaiser-Permanente -- now one of the nation’s ten wealthiest companies -- who then relocate the team to a new arena in Riverside, Calif. Rechristened as the Riverside Emperors, the team begins play in 2027.
2025 -- For the first time in half a century, the NHL expands, as two new teams -- The Atlanta Firebirds and the Oklahoma City Boomers -- join the league. With 32 teams in the league, the NHL realigns to 16 teams in each conference, with four divisions apiece.
2026 -- A huge scandal breaks out involving the Las Vegas Lightning ownership group, with the NHL forced to take possession of the team after the entire executive board is indicted on, and then found guilty of, extortion and racketeering. Portland, Ore and Austin, Tex begin massive campaigns to relocate the team to their respective cities, with the League officially awarding Austin the franchise two years later. The new team, the Austin Rattlers, begin play in 2030.
2027 -- The San Jose Sharks relocate to Santa Clara after being purchased by Google. Renamed the Silicon Valley Sharks, the team begins play at a new arena, just feet away from Levi’s Stadium, in 2030.
2028 -- The league announces it will expand to 34 teams. A year later, the cities of Richmond, Va. And San Francisco, Calif. are awarded NHL franchises. The San Francisco Condors and the Virginia Colonials make their respective on-ice debuts during the 2032-2033 season.
2029 -- The Montreal Canadiens defeat the Los Angeles King in six games, marking the first time a Canadian team has hoisted Lord Stanley since 1993.
2030 -- With abysmal ticket sales, the New Jersey Devils dye their home ice red as part of a publicity stunt. Due to poor player vision, a preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings is suspended in the second period.
2031 -- In an NHL first, the Blue Jackets become a dual city team, splitting half their home games at an arena in Columbus, Ohio and Cleveland, Ohio. The team changes its name to the Ohio Jackets.
2032 -- The Atlanta Firebirds announce they will relocate to Edmonton, Alberta. The newly rechristened Edmonton Shalers begin play in 2033. NHL Commissioner Sidney Crosby promises there will never, ever be a franchise in Georgia again.
2033 -- The New Jersey Devils relocate to Hartford, Conn. Originally called the New England Whalers, special interest groups force the team to select a different moniker, the Connecticut Noreasters.
2034 -- Victoria, British Colombia and Portland, Ore. are both granted NHL franchises. The British Colombia Crowns and the Portland Pioneers are scheduled to begin play in the 2035-2036 season.
2035 -- An intense labor dispute forces the cancellation of the entire NHL season. With arena funding yanked, the Pioneers ownership group votes unanimously to move the franchise to Trenton, NJ. Once again called the New Jersey Devils, the new team takes the ice in 2036.
2036 -- The National Hockey League announces a merger with the Kontinental Hockey League in Eurasia. The NHL and KHL agree to keep their leagues separate, with the Cup champions from each league facing off in an annual “Super Bowl” match-up.
2037 -- In the first “Global Championship Game,” the Riverside Emperors defeat Dynamo Moscow 3-1. The event -- held at a neutral site in Hamburg, Germany -- is the highest rated game in NHL history. Event broadcaster Fox attributes the game's success solely to the new and improved "colored" puck technology.
2038 -- The Vancouver Canucks and British Colombia Crowns merge into a single team after the Crowns are, essentially, sued into bankruptcy by the Los Angeles Kings for trademark infringement. The new team is simply called the Vancouver Canucks, despite playing several games a year in Victoria. The same year, Portland finally lands its own NHL franchise, with the Pioneers taking the ice for the first time in 2040.
2039 -- The long suffering Toronto Maple Leafs win their first Stanley Cup championship in approximately 70 years, besting the highly favored Detroit Red Wings in a thrilling seven game series. The team then goes on to lose to Minsk Dinamo in the annual “Global Championship Game,” 4-2.
2040 -- The NHL agrees to a five-year “transitional plan” that would see 12 KHL teams absorbed into the National Hockey League. The teams will consist of merged KHL squads, with each new team allowed one pick from a league-wide NHL talent draft. The league officially changes its name to the "International Hockey League" in preparation.
2041 -- Double tragedy strikes when Conn Smythe Kopitar award winner Douglas Aienhannder of the Seattle Totems plunges to his death while posing for a photograph. Hoisting the Stanley Cup overhead behind a volcano, both Aienhannder and the iconic trophy are destroyed by boiling magma when the gifted left winger accidentally tumbles over a guardrail. An all-new trophy, the Bettman Cup, becomes the League's new championship hardware.
2042 -- The first “Eurasian Division” teams, the Moscow Petros and the St. Petersburg Tsars, join the International Hockey League.
2043 -- The Minsk Eagles, Prague Valecniks and Moscow Troykas join the INHL.
2044 -- The Volgograd Tanks, the Kiev Missiles, Helsinki Jokers enter the league.
2045 -- The final four “Eurasian Division” teams begin play, with the Budapest Citadels, the Belgrade Tigers, the Warsaw Hammers and the Sofia Buglers entering the league.
2046 -- Considering the heavy Eurasian presence in the league, the INHL introduces a new conference championship trophy, the Putin Cup, at a dedication event in Kiev. Less than 300 Ukrainians are killed in sectarian violence during the formal ceremony.
2047 -- Climate change results in an unexpected global ice shortage, leading to a heavily shortened, 18 game regular season. A decisive game seven in a championship series between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Petersburg Tsars is cancelled when, mid-game, 13 players drown.
2048 -- With 48 teams in the league, the league is split into two conferences -- the Atlantic/Eurasian Conference and the Pacific/Central Conference, with four divisions and 24 teams apiece. The top four teams from each division (eight per conference) then duke it out in a 16-team tournament staggeringly similar to today's Stanley Cup Playoffs format.
2049 -- An exhibition game between the Sofia Buglers and the Silicon Valley Sharks is played in Antarctica. There were no survivors.
2050 -- The Montreal Canadiens defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in what is largely hailed as the greatest Putin Cup Finals in League history. The low-scoring, defense-oriented series smashes ratings records in Ontario and Quebec. Meanwhile, the series is bested in the ratings in the U.S. by a re-airing of "Diff'rent Strokes."