Could Hartford be a landing spot for a NHL team? Perhaps

Banners honoring Whaler greats still hang in the arena of the XL Center, 15 years after the final Hartford Whaler game was played below.

Banners honoring Whaler greats still hang in the arena of the XL Center, 16 years after the final Hartford Whaler game was played below.

HARTFORD, Dec. 13 – For the second time this year, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has revealed that he has been in contact with two groups that are interesting in potentially bringing a National Hockey League team back to Hartford. 

“I have indicated time and time again that we would be interested, although probably not at our sole expense,” Malloy said at a press conference Friday. 

The Hartford Whalers left Connecticut in 1997 for North Carolina after spending 25 years in the city in the World Hockey Association and then the NHL. 

“As has been widely reported, there are a number of teams in the NHL that are expected to change hands and there’s also the possibility of additional teams being authorized by the league,” Malloy said. “I have, in the last six months, been contacted by several groups who are interested in knowing that, should they acquire a team and win the rights to move that team, would we be interested in competing for that team?” 

Stories from around Canada and the U.S. frequently mention Quebec, which is currently building a new state-of-the-art hockey facility, Seattle and Kansas City as potential homes for teams that could be moving. There has also been a lot of chatter about a second team in the greater Toronto area, too. 

“No promises (have been) made,” Malloy said. “But I have encouraged at least two groups who have expressed interest in acquiring a team to do so and that we would be active participants should they acquire a team and win the rights to move the team.”

Could an NHL team play in an upgraded XL Center? Perhaps. But most stories written about the possibility of hockey returning to Hartford usually speculate that there is little chance of hockey returning unless there is a new arena in the city.

Malloy is enthusiastic about hockey in Connecticut.

Next season, UConn is joining Hockey East, one of the top collegiate hockey conferences in the nation. And they will be playing some home games at the XL Center in Hartford. The Huskies (6-5-2) will host the UConn Hockey Classic on Sunday, Dec. 29 in Hartford with Quinnipiac facing UMass at 4 p.m. and the Huskies facing Sacred Heart at 7 p.m. 

And there is the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack also playing at the XL Center. Bringing fans into the building has been a challenge since the Wolf Pack abandoned the Connecticut Whale name over the summer. Hartford is averaging 3,400 fans a game after 12 dates. In the previous two seasons, the team averaged 4,500 fans a game. 

The Wolfpack return home on Friday, Dec. 20 hosting Bridgeport and then host Springfield on the next night on Saturday, Dec. 21.

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