A longer look at why we don’t have hockey in Houston

Some fascinating stuff here.

“I think it’s surprising that if you look at the growth of the NHL and you see that Atlanta and Houston aren’t represented, that is sort of shocking given the size of those markets,” said Neil Smith, former general manager of the New York Rangers.

“I think (Houston has) got everything, but it doesn’t have an owner. That’s the only thing. I think it has everything you want in a major market with a building that’s got the revenue sources you need to support a major league team. I think it would be a great place.”

In December 1990, then-Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut said “San Diego, Miami, Houston, Seattle, Atlanta. The NHL believes our future is in these cities.”

In the years since, 17 markets have gotten new teams via expansion or relocation. But not Houston.

“Other (Sun Belt) markets like Dallas, Tampa Bay, Florida and even Carolina, those teams are all good, and their markets are great, but they don’t honestly compare to Houston,” former Aeros and NHL enforcer John Scott told the Chronicle in 2017. “I don’t know why there hasn’t been discussion of a team in Houston, because it’s kind of a no-brainer. If Dallas can support a team, Houston can obviously support a team.”

While Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has expressed more interest of late in bringing an NHL team to Toyota Center, Houston has been passed by another market with the Arizona Coyotes’ move to Salt Lake City for next season made official Thursday.


When he bought the Rockets in October 2017, Fertitta said he “would put an NHL team here tomorrow.” Last fall, Rockets president of business operations Gretchen Sheirr said making Toyota Center “hockey ready” was part of the building’s future renovations.

While he’s been open to adding an NHL team, Fertitta — who bid $5.5 billion for the NFL’s Washington Commanders last year — has included caveats through the years such as “whatever we do has to make sense” and “it’s got to be good for both of us.”

This week, Fertitta told the Houston Business Journal that he was not allowed to bid for the Coyotes because “the NHL views Houston as an expansion target, removing the ability for us to purchase and relocate an existing team.” He added that he was still committed to bringing pro hockey to Houston in a partnership with real estate developer Ira Mitzner, the CEO of the Houston-based RIDA Development Corporation.

But given how quickly Smith moved to acquire an NHL franchise after buying the Jazz in December 2020, Fertitta’s interest in landing a team has been questioned by hockey insiders.

“Tilman Fertitta being interested in a hockey team, it’s almost passive aggressive, because does he really want a hockey team?” said John Shannon, a veteran Canadian analyst and sports television producer who also worked four seasons in the NHL office. “Maybe he does. He doesn’t want to pay what (commissioner Gary Bettman) wants him to pay, I’m sure, if it came to fruition. But he doesn’t want the competition for an arena, for sure.

“If Ryan Smith in Salt Lake City owned the Rockets, this might be a different discussion because he’s a huge hockey fan and wants a hockey team. … I don’t think there’s a huge advocate in Houston at this point other than Fertitta, who’s trying to probably make the best business move, as opposed to being a passionate hockey fan.”


While Houston might lack an outspoken in-market advocate, it does have an influential champion who has Bettman’s ear.

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, longtime chairman of the NHL’s board of governors, said in October 2018 that “clearly the one area that is missing is Houston, because that’s a great city.”

“Oh, Mr. Jacobs carries a lot of juice, absolutely,” Shannon said. “He’s one of Gary Bettman’s closest confidants.”

Former NHL player Nick Kypreos, a longtime analyst and radio host for Canadian cable network Sportsnet, said Jacobs’ influence shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“I think he carries a lot of weight, and if he’s in the corner of Houston, it’s just another reason to take Houston seriously,” Kypreos said.

But Jacobs’ support goes only so far.

“Until there’s a building to play in, they’re not going to Houston,” Dallas Stars chairman Jim Lites said. “I think Houston would be absolutely the best expansion market in the United States, but until the guy who controls the building there wants to have an NHL team, it isn’t going to happen.

“I’ve had people come to me and ask me about (who) would be interested in acquiring an expansion team or transferring a franchise there, and I know Gary doesn’t stand in its way. But he won’t give a franchise away just to get one there, nor should he.”

See here for the most recent entry in this saga. The bottom line is that if Tilman Fertitta, who controls the arena in which the hockey would be played, really wanted an NHL team, he’d be very likely to get one. If that’s what you want for Houston, now you know who to direct your pleas to.

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5 Responses to A longer look at why we don’t have hockey in Houston

  1. Bill Brooker says:

    The NHL massively promotes Putin supporters
    The NHL effectively lets Putin write policy for the league

    Houston cant pay its employees, keep the water system running or pay for pensions. Its an obscenity to have taxpayer funded groups like HCHSA and NRG Park spend money on ice hockey.

    HCHSA already has started to do so, by promoting a “Hockey Day” in Houston in otder to attempt to manufacture the appearance of grassroots support of Ice Hockey. The NHL appeals mostly to demographics already catered to by HCHSA funding.

    The HCHSA appears to have a de facto ban on Gay male players on heavily promoted teams in HCHSA sponsored events. Investing in a league that deliberately bans Gay Pride would be another massive insult from HCHSA.

    Taxpayer funding on the Final Four, CFP Playoff, The Turning Point USA linked Texas Bowl, NFL, MLB, NBA etc hasnt provided financial success to Houston. Its risible to think that HCHSA funding of Ice Hockey will provide any net benefit.

    HCHSA has diverted a billion dollars in the recent era from our taxpayers. Its all been a waste. Lets not add to the bill.

    The NHL aint coming without taxpayer support. Expect massive pushback if they try that. Given the NHL’s association with Putin supporters and bans on Gay Pride, a Houston based NHL team would be a bad thing even in the unlikely event that one came here without taxpayer assistance/promotion.

  2. C.L. says:

    This would be a really good read if you’re wondering why Houston hasn’t had a hockey team in a very long time….


    …and very little of it has to do with Putin or HCHSA.

  3. Thomas says:

    If the NHL really wanted a hockey team in Houston, there would be one here by now.

    I’ve long since reached the conclusion that the NHL really isn’t interested in the Houston market. They pay lip service to us but their actions – and excuses – tell the tale.

  4. Jason Hochman says:

    I don’t know, hockey seems to me more of a Canadian and upstate New York kind of sport. Houston doesn’t seem to fit the image of a place for an ice sport. Although they do have an ice rink in Discovery Green every December.

  5. C.L. says:

    @Dr. Hochman, crazy right ? Kind of like Phoenix, Tampa Bay (2020 and 2021 Champs), and Las Vegas (last year’s Stanley Cup champs) – they just don’t fit the image of a City with an ice sport ! That wacky NHL !

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