January 30, 1989

Glenn Dickey’s column today in the San Francisco Chronicle recounted his recent conversation with Don Webb, a high-ranking representative for one of the companies bidding to bid a new arena in China Basin on the northeast side of town. Webb contended that a new arena would be a boon to the area’s hopes for a new National Hockey League team.

“The NHL has to be convinced that it makes sense as a long-term strategy, and it does, from a scheduling standpoint,” he said. “Right now, the LA Kings have a long distance to go for any game.  With Vancouver also having a team on the west coast, San Francisco fits nicely between those cities.”

San Francisco Chronicle

January 9, 1989

Per The Sporting News, NHL owners were recently polled concerning expansion. Eight were for it, eight were against it, and five were unwilling to commit to a side. Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall placed himself firmly in the “pro” category.

“I can’t come up with a Wayne Gretzky every five or six years,” he said. “We’ve got to have some opposing teams and rivalries that the fans here can relate to.”

New York Islanders president Bill Torrey was sympathetic, but measured. “Philosophically, we’d like to do something out there to help McNall,” he said, “but a lot more work has to be done. Expansion is not as close as some are making it out to be. The talent pool is the major thing. We might have the buildings, the fans and media support, but we’ve got to put players in shirts and pants.”

While the NHL was far from identifying possible new cities, Milwaukee and San Jose were already working to attract the league’s attention.

The Sporting News

Prologue

From 1967 to 1979, the NHL experienced its first expansion boom, growing from 6 to 21 teams during that span. For the next decade the league experienced a substantial increase in popularity that stemmed in part from increased television exposure in the United States and coincided with the rise of a more explosive, high-scoring style of play best embodied in the person of Wayne Gretzky. At the time of Gretzky’s trade from from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, the Kings were the only United States team based west of the Mississippi. The presence of the game’s greatest player in a relative hockey wasteland alerted many to the idea that it was time to grow the game and the league once again.