Flickr Las Vegas, Nevada

It's official: Las Vegas is getting an NHL team. Which means Sin City is losing its status as one of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas without a major professional sports team.

For Las Vegas, an NHL team is a hard-won victory for a city that has long desired a professional team of its own. And it comes even after the city has taken the lead to become the new home of the NFL's Raiders franchise.

From zero teams to potentially two -- that's quite a coup for Vegas sports fans. And it shortens the list of major metro areas that don't have a single pro sports team of their own. Here's a look at the 10 best candidates, at least in terms of metro population, now that Las Vegas is out of the way.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque might look at cities like Green Bay, Portland and San Antonio, and wonder: If they can, why not me? Those small-market cities have all managed to built very successful professional sports team despite a relatively small fan base.

Albuquerque has a similar makeup: With 900,000 residents and Santa Fe not too far away, the city could make a case for supporting a pro team of its own. Instead, it is likely to be overlooked in favor of cities that are larger and in less isolated areas.

But don't worry, Albuquerque residents: You've still got the minor league Isotopes.

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Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha, Nebraska

Between Nebraska football and the College World Series, Omaha has shown it can embrace a local sports tradition as well as any city in the country. And it seems fitting that the self-proclaimed "Amateur sports capital of the world" would make a decent home for a professional team.

There was a time, back in the early 70s, when Omaha was a part-time home to the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, an NBA franchise that had come from Cincinnati. Omaha hosted a handful of home games for that period of time, before the team transitioned fully to Kansas City.

The Kings are now out in Sacramento, and neither Kansas City nor Omaha has an NBA team right now. Just a thought.

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Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii

Road games would be a nightmare, no question. That alone might make a Hawaii-based team more of a pipe dream than a viable option. But Honolulu could sustain a team, if it came: The city has nearly one million residents in its metro area, and it's a hub of tourism for the island.

Some renovations to Aloha Stadium might be needed, but the local fan base would surely be fired up to have a team in competition with the mainland.

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Providence, Rhode Island

Providence, Rhode Island

Rhode Island's capital is home to 1.6 million people, many of whom might be happy to embrace a local team instead of a regional franchise like the New England Patriots. They've got the Pawtucket Red Sox as a minor-league attraction, but a professional hockey team would be a natural choice, and a convenient rival to the Bruins to the north.

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Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham, Alabama

You could put a pro team here, but what would it be? Alabama folks care about one sport and one sport alone: College football. It's one of the few places in the country where an NFL team might not be the biggest show in town.

Still, with more than 1.1 million people in its metro area, Birmingham does have the population to potentially sustain a pro team, and it was home of the Stallions in the old USFL for three seasons in the 80s. But in the long term, it's just doubtful whether its residents have any room in their hearts to adopt another sports team.

Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford, Connecticut

In fact, Hartford did have a professional team once, and not too long ago, either. As one of the WHA teams absorbed into the NHL in 1979, the Whalers played at the Hartford Civic Center until 1997. Unfortunately, it wasn't a terribly successful franchise: During its run as an NHL team, the Whalers only squeaked out a single division title.

Perhaps related to its mediocrity as well as the struggle of being in between the Boston and New York markets, the team struggled to build a strong local fan base. Amid low ticket sales and weak corporate support, the team moved after the 1996-97 season and became the Carolina Hurricanes. Things have fared better down south, where Carolina has won two conference championships and a Stanley Cup. Hartford, meanwhile, doesn't look close to getting another pro team anytime soon.

The Patriots used Hartford as leverage in the late 90s to get new stadium built in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and it actually reached a point where New England owner Robert Kraft signed a preliminary agreement with the governor of Connecticut.

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Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville has been a historical stopover for teams across several leagues, including the NFL, MLB, and ABA before it merged with the NBA. With nearly 1.3 million people and strong sports traditions in basketball, baseball, football, horse racing, and even boxing -- it was the childhood home to Muhammad Ali -- Louisville has always been a great sports city.

Here's a thought: The Louisville Sluggers. Built-in tradition, and a potential cash cow in a city where pro sports are overdue.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach, Virginia

It's an often overlooked metropolitan area, but Virginia Beach and the surrounding area home to 1.7 million people. With neighboring Norfolk in that metro area and Richmond in the general vicinity, Virginia Beach could easily pull in enough fans to support a professional team.

Locals have talked for some time about building an area to accommodate an NBA or NHL team. Now that Las Vegas is off the board, Virginia Beach is near the top of the list for largest cities without a pro team of their own. Surely the calls for their own pro team will grow louder.

Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas

If its current growth rate holds, Austin may well come off of this list one day. The city's population has seen double-digit growth in recent years, as young people have been flocking to the Texas state capital.

Pro teams abound in Texas, split between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. But Austin's nation-leading growth might build a case for a team of its own.

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Riverside-San Bernadino, California

Riverside-San Bernadino, California

Welcome to Riverside and San Bernadino, California, which form the largest metro area that still doesn't have a pro team of its own. With nearly 4.5 million residents, Riverside-San Bernadino is the 13th largest metropolitan area in the country. But it stands in the shadow of the nearby Los Angeles metro area, which has sports teams to spare: Two MLB, two NBA, two NHL, and at least one NFL franchise, with another possibly on the way.

Southern California is saturated with professional teams, which makes Riverside-San Bernadino a tough sell to the sports leagues. Size matters, but it isn't everything. At least L.A. isn't too far away.

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