If as it seems likely that Quebec City will be admitted back to the NHL when the league expands, any comments on websites or other media that Quebec is “too small” to be a front-runner or seriously considered, should be disregarded. Unless something completely catastrophic happens like the Canadian dollar going completely into the tank, an earthquake, avalanche, or some other natural disaster striking the city, or that Quebec Province separates and a war breaks out between them and Canada, Quebec City is going to be a permanent member of the NHL this time, in fact one of its stronger members.
Though the Canadian dollar has sunk and could go even lower, with a rich owner like Quebecor, a new Quebec franchise would hardly be threatened the way it was in the 1990s. Still, with a devalued dollar, the bright prospect of a returned Quebec team has been dimmed. What seemed such a sure thing a year ago now has a major obstacle in its path. Quebec with its fan base, a proper NHL arena, and a rich, solvent owner is still a sure-fire winner, but the sagging dollar makes things a lot tougher.
When Commissioner Gary Bettman made his 2010 tour of the three cities who lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and stated his three conditions for re-entry, fan-base, arena, and ownership, there was never a problem in Quebec with a fan-base. Since its WHA days when Quebec was one of the main cornerstones for that league’s survival in the 1970s, Quebec has had almost complete sellouts for every game the Nordiques played. In fact it was part of that fan-base, 80,000 Nordiques fans who signed a petition urging the team to return in a proper arena, that really got the corporate sponsors and the politicians’ attention that building an arena and getting the team back was a popular, vote-getting issue.
Quebec always had a strong fan-base, both in the NHL and WHA. The real problems were the other two conditions, the arena and ownership and now that they have been solved, with Quebec building a $400 million, 18,000 seat arena, and being owned by billionaire Quebecor, a new Quebec franchise should be one of the more valuable franchises in the NHL.
Those websites and media commentators who say that the Quebec market is too small are not looking at the complete picture. All they are pointing to is the city limit area that is approximately 500,000 people. But metropolitan Quebec is Canada’s seventh largest city and likely to top the 800,000 mark in the mid-decade Canadian census. Indeed it would not be improper to compare Quebec with Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa in 1980 when they had 500,000-700,000 people, the time when those three cities really started to grow until today they now have over 1 million residents. Quebec is Canada’s coming city.
Furthermore the Quebec market is not limited to metropolitan Quebec. A new Nordiques will be marketing all through eastern Quebec province and probably the Maritime provinces too. The Maritimes are already tied to Quebec in hockey terms through the Quebec Junior Hockey League which operates a Maritime division. So Quebec’s total market is probably several million people.
If the NHL can welcome back Winnipeg which has a smaller city population than Quebec and markets in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Northern Ontario and only has a tiny 15,000 seat arena, they will have no problem accepting the much larger Quebec market and an 18,000 seat arena.
The Quebec Nordiques-Montreal Canadiens rivalry may have been the best in the NHL when it existed. Bring it back as soon as possible and the new Quebec team with a proper arena and good ownership will make it a permanent NHL fixture this time.