Let's say the future NHL has teams in Las Vegas, Seattle, and Quebec City. The approach for this can be done in a number of ways.
I'm personally not sold on the idea of hockey working in Las Vegas, as it has the potential to become another money losing team in the sunbelt. Regardless of my opinion, it is very likely the NHL is going there soon.
With these three possible teams, here's how the league should approach putting a franchise in their cities.
Option 1: Two Relocations, One Expansion
Las Vegas and Seattle, Western Conference
Now that Andrew Barroway is the majority owner of the Coyotes, the NHL should grant him the opportunity of moving to either Seattle of Las Vegas. One city will get the relocated Coyotes, with the other can be granted an expansion franchise. This would allow the League to occupy the two markets that it has been eyeing for years while still collecting the millions in expansion fees that it wants. The good part about this is that the Divisional alignments wouldn't have to change as the Coyotes currently play in the Pacific Divison, where a team in Seattle or Las Vegas could still be a part of.
Quebec City, Eastern Conference
An article on TSN recently published comments of an NHL owner about the possible relocation of the Panthers. The Panthers have a long lease with their current arena, something which people seem to think is preventing them from moving. This owner (who requested anonymity with TSN) said that people who think they can't get out of their lease are kidding themselves. He also personally stated that he and a lot of other owners know that hockey in south florida isn't working out.
The panthers would be a perfect candidate to relocate to Quebec City as the money losing team will finally have a chance to turn a profit in a new city, and like the Coyotes situation the franchise wouldn't have to switch divisions.
Option 2: Two expansions, one relocation
For the sake of the current divisional alignments (16 teams in the Eastern Conference, 14 in the Western), the two expansion teams would have to go to Seattle and Las Vegas to even out the conferences. Quebec would still get a team that is relocating (Panthers, Hurricanes etc.). This situation would be ideal for the NHL because the League has the opportunity to cash in when it comes to expansion fees. The estimated expansion fee for a Vegas team would be $450-$500 million. The potential to bring in close to an extra billion dollars in revenue has the NHL pursuing the ideas of expanding to Las Vegas and Seattle.
The problem? Adding two more franchises would lessen the odds of winning the Stanley Cup for every team, as well as dilute more talent in the NHL as there are now 46 more roster spots available. Yes that means more jobs, but there aren't that many superstars to go around.
Option 3: Three relocations
This would probably be the smartest move, although the NHL would miss out on the extra cash from the expansion fees. Bettman seems to think that every team has great fans and great financials, but who is he kidding? This season, the three worst teams in attendance (according to ESPN) are the Coyotes, Panthers, and Hurricanes. Last season Dallas was in the bottom three as well. Basically the majority of the teams in the sunbelt have a difficult time attracting fans to their games, and their financial struggles are well known around the hockey world.
Here is how the relocation should work:
Florida Panthers to Quebec City, Arizona Coyotes to Las Vegas/Seattle, and Carolina Hurricanes to Las Vegas/Seattle.
This would move three financially struggling teams with a lack of a fan base to the three desired cities. The best part about this move? The Conferences would be equal in teams again. The current 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West is absurd as Eastern teams have to beat out two more teams than the west to make the playoffs. Moving Carolina to Vegas or Seattle would put 15 teams in each Conference, making them equal again. The NHL could then go back to its original 3 divisions of 5 teams per conference.
Although there would be no expansion fees, the League would be moving these financial black holes from the sunbelt into markets where they have the potential to make millions.
What is stopping these teams from relocating in the first place is the ego of the man that put them there, isn't that right Mr. Bettman?