The St. Louis Blues want to make Kansas City a permanent stop on their preseason schedule.
The Blues will face the Dallas Stars in an NHL exhibition game at 7 Saturday night at the Sprint Center, in their first appearance in Kansas City since 2008. And Blues CEO Chris Zimmerman hopes it’s the first of annual visits.
“We’re committed for the next few years to this event,” Zimmerman said. “We know there are a lot of hockey fans, and we believe still a lot of Blues fans in Kansas City, so we’re looking forward to getting there and hope we have a great crowd on Saturday.”
The Blues draw fans from Kansas City for regular-season home games, and St. Louis games are televised locally on Fox Sports Midwest, making this market important to the Blues. A crowd of about 12,000 is expected.
“Our goal is to continue to build our audience and get people as excited about what’s happening here in St. Louis right now,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve got a good young team that is knocking at the door, and exposing the team at this point of the year to Kansas City hockey fans is a really good thing for us.”
NHL21, the grassroots organization that is dedicated to helping bring an NHL team to Kansas City, sends groups of fans to St. Louis for games anywhere from five to 10 times a season.
“It is awesome that the Blues have agreed to come to Kansas City to play at Sprint Center,” said Paul McGannon, president of NHL21, “and we hope to see them play some NHL teams like Detroit, New York Rangers, Toronto, Montreal … teams that have not played here since the 1970s until NHL decides about our future.”
The 30-team NHL has not expanded in 15 years, and though rumors have been swirling that the league is considering adding up to four cities between now and 2017, commissioner Gary Bettman earlier this week reiterated his stance that the league has no immediate plans to expand.
The cities in contention for an expansion or relocated franchise include Las Vegas, where an arena managed by AEG — which runs the Sprint Center — is under construction; Seattle, which has no arena suitable for the NHL; Quebec City and suburban Toronto.
“I know people think I have this list tucked away in a vault with cities lined up,” Bettman said this week at a luncheon in Toronto. “We don’t. … It’s a very important business decision to make, and you do it for the right reasons at the right time.”
The most critical component for an expansion or relocated team is local ownership, and no one has publicly stepped up to make a bid for Kansas City.
“These franchises don’t work without highly committed ownership,” said Zimmerman, whose franchise is owned by a local group of 16 individuals which purchased the club in 2012.
An NHL franchise in Kansas City, which last was home to the expansion Scouts during 1974-76, would give the Blues a natural rival, something that interests Zimmerman.
“I don’t have a crystal ball on what happens next around expansion,” Zimmerman said. “The exciting thing for the Blues and the NHL is right now is in both television ratings, social media engagement … the fiscal health of the NHL has never been better.
“It’s going to be an interesting time, and how the city shows in the participation in games like this, will be one of the many factors people will look to as they assess whether NHL hockey will return to Kansas City.”
Saturday’s game marks the first NHL preseason game in Kansas City since 2011, when an announced crowd of 17,779 watched the Los Angeles Kings play the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game between Colorado and the New York Rangers scheduled for 2012 was canceled because of a lockout, and there was no game in 2013.
The Blues and Los Angeles Kings drew just 11,603 in 2008 for a split-squad game when both clubs left key players at home. Zimmerman promises a representative club when the Blues, who had the third-best record in the Western Conference last season, come to Kansas City.
“We’ll have a good lineup with significant NHL players,” Zimmerman said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the building, seeing the crowd and getting a chance to talk with the hockey and Blues fans in Kansas City.
“It’s NHL hockey … for people who love the game, there’s nothing better than seeing it up close in a fantastic facility.”