Why an ESPN analyst thinks Salt Lake City is a bad choice for NHL expansion

Hockey analyst Greg Wyshynski says SLC would be ‘one of the whitest cities in the league’ if NHL chooses to expand there.

(Sue Ogrocki | AP) Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty (8) celebrates his game-winning goal with teammates Jaret Anderson-Dolan (28) and Anze Kopitar (11) in overtime of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 5, 2023.

Salt Lake City has got it bad for a National Hockey League team.

Jazz owner Ryan Smith submitted a bid to the league last week after publicly flirting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for months. Utah lawmakers passed a resolution this week supporting the endeavor.

But one ESPN hockey analyst thinks the league would be better off expanding elsewhere. The reason? Not enough racial diversity.

“Demographically, it’s going to be one of the whitest cities in the league if you look at the census numbers compared to places like Tempe, [Arizona], or Houston or other places,” Greg Wyshynski said during a radio appearance on the Canadian network Sportsnet. “There’s a certain amount of redundancy there of the NHL.”

Salt Lake potentially being “one of the whitest cities” in the NHL might be true. In the league’s current 27 U.S. cities, Denver, where the Colorado Avalanche play, has the highest population of people who identify as white at 65.7%, per the U.S. Census Bureau. Salt Lake’s white population is 71.3%.

For comparison, the other two U.S. cities that want an NHL team, Atlanta and Houston, are each just 40.8% white, according to the census.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Utah Legislature on Friday passed SJR 12, a joint resolution supporting an NHL franchise in the Beehive State.

Several NHL All-Stars gave their thoughts on Salt Lake as a potential expansion city this week, per ESPN. Many said they’d never been there before, but had heard good things and would welcome it. But a couple of them who had experience in Salt Lake were more effusive.

“We played there this year for one of our preseason games,” Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks said. “I think it was a cool spot and the fans when we played were great. So I think it would be a good opportunity for expansion or whatever team, but I think it’s a good city.”

Added Jeremy Swayman of the Boston Bruins: “I’d love it. I got to visit Salt Lake City a couple of summers ago. They’ve got some pretty great mountains there, so I know I’ll enjoy that trip. Any city that’s willing to put an NHL rink there, I’m in love with.”

Bettman has reportedly fielded interest recently from at least four cities vying for an expansion team — Salt Lake, Atlanta, Houston and Quebec City. The commissioner has said that while he has had discussions with those cities, there are currently no plans for expansion.

But that hasn’t stopped speculation about Salt Lake City as a possible NHL market. Recently, the Arizona Coyotes have had trouble getting a new arena for their team, fueling speculation that if a solution doesn’t come soon, the Coyotes could relocate to SLC.

Wyshynski said Salt Lake getting a team would make more sense as a relocation rather than expansion. The NHL, he said, has been trying to expand to new markets where it can grow hockey fandom. It recently expanded to Las Vegas and Seattle, cities not previously known for hockey.

“I know that we haven’t probably gotten to the point of really parsing what the market is,” Wyshynski said of Salt Lake. “And it’s clearly a thriving market. They’ve talked about MLB moving there, too, so I’m not trying to bemoan it.

“I’m just saying that for a league that is constantly trying to push into new demographics and reaching new audiences and going to where hockey isn’t and things of that nature, Houston has me much more excited than Salt Lake City. And in some ways, Arizona has me more excited than Salt Lake City.”

It’s unclear how many NHL players identify as white. But in 2022, the NHL released a report that looked at, among other things, the amount of racial diversity throughout the entire league. The report found that 83.6% of employees identified as white. That figure includes, but is not limited to, players.