Courtesy of “BadChoiceMilk” on Twitter

It’s been over a quarter century—26 years, to be exact—since the Hartford Whalers relocated, leaving Connecticut to become the Carolina Hurricanes. And while Governor Ned Lamont concedes the $80 million recently allotted to stadium upgrades won’t be enough to make the XL Center “NHL ready,” he still feels Hartford has a strong case, emerging as a prime contender to land the Arizona Coyotes.

“I’ve talked to [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman. Right now, the Coyotes don’t have a place to play on a permanent basis, so they’re looking around to find options, and Connecticut is definitely on the radar screen,” Lamont told Dennis House of WTNH News 8. “It’s a hockey center here. We love hockey. We have the National Champions here. And the fact that the Rangers and the Bruins are nearby is a good thing because it means we have a lot of hockey interest.”

Unable to secure funding for a new venue, the Coyotes don’t seem to have a future in Phoenix, spending last season at Mullett Arena, a 5,000-seat facility on Arizona State’s campus. Houston and Atlanta are larger media markets than Hartford while Quebec City (still licking its wounds from the Nordiques abandoning them in 1995) recently built Videotron Centre in anticipation of landing an expansion team. But the nostalgia associated with the Whalers brand along with a determined group of investors could swing the momentum toward Hartford.

“We’re going to have to step up, we’re going to have to show that we can sell the luxury suites. We’re going to have to show that we’ve got a buyer group if they want to make a change. We’ve got to show that we’re ready to upgrade the XL Center and make sure it’s NHL ready. I think we can do all three of those things,” said Lamont, who made a similar appeal to MLB in 2020, offering up Hartford as a temporary home for the Toronto Blue Jays amid the COVID pandemic. “It’s enough to get started, enough for us to do all the lower luxury suites. We’ll get that done over the next few years. It’s going to cost a lot more than [$80 million] to bring it up to NHL standards. If we get the Whalers back, we’ll do it.”

Since the Whalers left the state in 1997, the closest Connecticut has come to landing a major-league team was the New England Patriots, though owner Robert Kraft was merely using Hartford as leverage to get a new stadium built in Foxboro.

“They’ve expressed real interest. There’s a lot of negotiations out there. I’ve got a development group, that says, ‘Boy, if the Whalers were back in Hartford, I’d be very interested in doing more economic development and housing in that greater area.’ And these are folks that have done it before, so that means a lot,” said Lamont, now in his second term as governor after an unsuccessful United States senate bid in 2006. “They know what they’re doing.”

Even in the late 90s, the XL Center, then known as the Hartford Civic Center, was seen as one of the league’s worst venues and not much has changed since. Still, Lamont is hopeful the NHL will someday return to the Insurance Capital, with the newly available Coyotes presenting the perfect opportunity to overhaul an aging stadium in desperate need of upgrades.

“We’ve got to do this. The XL Center is badly in need of a real facelift,” said Lamont, citing the success of UConn’s Men’s and Women’s basketball teams as another reason to pump money into XL renovations. “Let’s get it done.”

[WTNH News 8]

About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.