In the wake of the NHL’s rejection of Quebec City’s attempt to get the Nordiques back, it has been reported by Canada’s Macleans Magazine that a personal feud may have played a significant role behind the NHL’s decision to crush Quebec’s dream. It is an ugly feud, political and racist.
It involves two of the Province of Quebec’s leading businessmen, former Quebecor CEO and current majority shareholder Pierre Karl Peladeau and Geoff Molson, President and CEO of the Montreal Canadiens.
When the Canadiens were put up for sale by the previous owner, both Molson Breweries and Quebecor made bids for the team. Molson won and Quebecor vowed to take up the cause of returning the Nordiques to the NHL instead. They became the biggest private backer of both a new Quebec arena and a bid for an NHL team. It seemed that Quebec finally had the complete package to get the Nordiques back that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman demanded; a great fan-base, a proper NHL arena, and a rich, solvent owner.
But the unstable Peladeau virtually ruined Quebec’s chances right from the beginning. First he made public remarks about the suitability of Molson, a Quebec anglophone taking over the Canadiens even though the Molson family had previously owned and operated the Canadiens successfully for several periods of its history. Then Quebecor followed that up by attempting obstruct the business activities of one Molson’s business partners.
Peladeau seemed to have no sense that his actions and remarks could have serious consequences. In fact he made his position absolutely ridiculous. On one hand he is publicly attacking a business rival on racist and political grounds while at the same time attempting to become this man’s partner on a Board of Governors.
Do you think Molson wants to see Peladeau sitting across from him at important NHL Board meetings? Do you think Peladeau would want to see Molson sitting there if the situation was reversed? The situation called for tact and healing and instead Peladeau simply blew it up, taking Quebec’s NHL dreams with him.
And what about NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s role in all of this? First of all, he and the NHL’s other governors do not want to become involved in a personal feud. Nor does he want to admit a man to be on the NHL Board who is going to immediately feud with an existing governor. He is obviously going to back Molson against Peladeau.
Yet here he is hobnobbing with the Quebec City mayor, the Quebec Provincial Premier and other important officials both public and private, encouraging a community to spend $400 million on a new arena, all the while knowing that Peladeau would make an unsuitable CEO of a new Quebec team. What was he hoping for? That Peladeau and Molson would patch things up? That Peladeau would disappear from Quebecor and the media giant would then be a suitable Nordiques owner?
Should he not have warned the Quebec City mayor, the Quebec Provincial Premier, and other important officials both in and out of Quebecor, that Peladeau would not be accepted by the NHL before a single dollar was spent on building a new arena? That the ownership factor of a Quebec team was still not acceptable in the NHL’s eyes.
There is a bitter legacy. Quebec, after trying to fully comply with Bettman’s conditions that he set out in 2010 has spent $400 million on a new arena and gets no team. There will certainly be no returned Nordiques as long as Quebecor is to be the owner or at least as long as Peladeau and any similar thinking Quebecor members control the company. Still worse is that Quebecor owns the management rights of the new arena and would have to either be bought out or the company’s ownership and management be remodeled to be more suitable in the NHL’s eyes.
And so once again in the woeful story of Canadian membership in the NHL are Canadians undermining and preventing other Canadians from joining the league. In the 1970s, it was Canadian Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who led the fight to keep WHA Canadian teams Quebec, Winnipeg, and Edmonton out of the NHL. In 2016, the names have been changed to Peladeau and Molson.