Could The NHL Add Another Expansion Team?

Since the NHL will be expanding to 32 teams and the two conferences will soon be balanced, why not start cracking the whip on getting a team in Houston?

The Arizona Coyotes seem to be first in line to move to Houston, with the Ottawa Senators giving them a run for their money. However, if there is solid interest in a market like Houston, the NHL should really look to expand to that city with a “fresh” team for their fans with all the “opportunities” of expansion that the Vegas Golden Knights have recently popularized.

As for the Coyotes, Quebec City would love another chance at a hockey team. With Ottawa, the most elegant solution would be to simply change ownership rather than location. No matter how it shakes out, adding a 33rd team to the NHL would be beneficial in multiple ways.

The Idea

At first glance a 33-team NHL seems anything but balanced, however, it does solve the issue of increasing the number of teams making the playoffs from the current 16 to 20 without bye rounds. Admittedly, total restructuring of the conferences and divisions would be required and will upset traditionalists, but there also could be a return to some lost traditions and the creation of new and exciting playoff rivalries. What follows is a description of a possible 33 team league and the 20-team playoff format.

visual created by Jason Jauch

West Division

Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Colorado, Dallas and Houston

East Division 1

Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, St Louis, Washington, Chicago and Carolina

East Division 2

Montreal, Quebec, Boston, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Florida, Columbus, Winnipeg, Detroit, Nashville and Minnesota

The most noticeable difference in this alignment would be that there are only three divisions/conferences of 11 teams with no further sub-division.

Regular Season

Each team plays four games versus divisional opponents for 40 games and each team plays non-divisional opponents twice for 44 games, bringing the total to 84 regular season games. This total is only two more than is currently played by each team. The NHL has had an 84-game schedule before and it isn’t really that big of a deal, just drop some preseason games.


Making the playoffs is where all the fun starts. Having 20 of the 33 teams earning a berth creates more dramatic storylines as the chase for the playoffs excite packed arenas of fans. The following suggestion for a 20-team playoff format also creates two avenues of advancing to the Stanley Cup for all teams. What this means is, fans of this hypothetical future NHL could see two teams from the same division vie for the cup. Imagine Calgary versus Edmonton battling it out for Lord Stanley’s holy grail, or the Caps and Pens in an all eastern showdown.

This is how it would work… Top four from each division (12 teams) play two rounds best of seven for Division Championship. 1st plays 4th and 2nd plays 3rd the one team standing after the two rounds gets to raise a banner and advance to the next round.


visual created by Jason Jauch

Next, the best eight teams from the entire league play one round best of three in the wildcard quarter-finals, then two rounds best of five in the semi-finals and finals for the Wildcard Championship, which could also be worthy of raising a banner.

visual created by Jason Jauch

The four teams remaining, three division champions and one Wildcard champion get re-seeded with the wildcard champs always being 4th and again 1st plays 4th and 2nd plays 3rd. After two more rounds best of seven playoff hockey we crown one team the Stanley Cup Champions.

Winning the cup requires 16 wins, whether it be four wins in each of the four rounds by division champs or by winning two, three, three, four, and four in the five rounds of the Wildcard route, either way it’s sure to be loads of fun.

All-Star Game

As for all-star game in this or any scenario, just invite the six goalies, 12 defencemen and 24 forwards who are statistically the best at their positions halfway through that season, make piles, throws sticks and play some show-time shinny.


To recap, adding a 33rd team is possible. In order to have a 33rd team in the NHL, there would need to be significant changes to the structure and format of the league. In particular, the playoffs and divisions would need to be altered. With the framework that I laid out above, a 33rd team is definitely feasible.


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