Don’t be fooled by the smokescreen that the NHL and certain former French Canadian hockey players are throwing up. The truth is trickling out, slowly but surely and starting to match the predictions this author has suggested.
First, the current “official” version of events. Quebec City gets rejected by the NHL because of the low Canadian dollar and because the league has unbalanced conferences. Mario Lemieux decides to sell his shares in the Pittsburgh Penguins. Patrick Roy mysteriously suddenly quits being coach and vice president of one of the teams he played for, the Colorado Avalanche and his friend and former teammate, Joe Sakic.
But yesterday the NHL published two news articles on its website that gives out clues about what it really wants. They concerned two people who happened to be in Quebec City for a World Cup exhibition game between Team Europe and Team North America. Naturally the arena was sold out with fans wearing Quebec Nordiques uniforms.
The first person just happened to be native son, Patrick Roy, who dropped the puck for the ceremonial face off. What he said was important and what he did not say was more important. He spoke a few generalities about his reason to quit and that it only took 15 minutes to tell general manager Joe Sakic – himself an ex-Nordique – about the “philosophical reasons” for his decision to resign. Does it really only take that long to explain to your boss about making such a serious, consequential decision? Then he also dropped a further clue about what is really happening when he made comments that he would do all he could to help Quebec City get a team.
What he did not say is that behind the scenes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is looking to put together a suitable ownership group to own a Quebec City team and that Bettman, probably with ex-Nordique Sakic’s full knowledge and approval, asked Roy to quit and be part of such an ownership group. Bettman made a tour during 2010, of the three cities who lost their teams in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission: a great fan base (which all three cities have), a proper NHL arena, and an acceptable NHL owner. But the head of Quebecor, the recent bidder for an NHL expansion franchise, Pierre Karl Peladeau, a supporter of the separatist provincial party Parti Quebecois, made inappropriate, racist, remarks about one of the NHL owners, Geoff Molson, the anglophone owner of the Montreal Canadiens virtually ending any chance that a bid by Quebecor would be accepted by the NHL.
So Bettman has been busy behind the scenes ever since trying to find a suitable ownership group. He knows the NHL’s and his own personal reputation is on the line. He cannot make such an offer as he made back in 2010 and then renege when a city complies with his terms. He cannot tell the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial premier to spend nearly $400 million of taxpayer money on an arena and then reject the city. He also wants another $500 million expansion fee. It will not be surprising if Roy is eventually found in an appropriate ownership group or that another French Canadian hockey hero, Mario Lemieux who is currently selling his stake in the Pittsburgh Penguins also resurfaces as a Quebec City owner.
The other notable visitor to the same game was NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly who reiterated what everyone knows; that there is nothing wrong with the new Quebec City Videotron Center as an appropriate NHL arena. And would the NHL even let the Videotron Center host a World Cup exhibition game if it was not satisfactory? He also expressed a desire to one day see Quebec City back in the NHL. But like Roy, he carefully refrained from expressing what was really going on, that the previous Quebec City bid was rejected because of an inappropriate owner. He also did not forecast when Quebec City would get a team. Obviously he knows that more behind the scenes background work has yet to be done and he does not want to jeopardize it, but if anyone can read between the lines, it can strongly be suspected that Quebec City will be back in the NHL soon, probably to coincide with Las Vegas joining the NHL.
So in public the NHL maintains the charade that Quebec City was turned down because of the Canadian dollar and that the conferences are unbalanced. And there are just those “coincidences” of Roy quitting and Lemieux selling his Penguins shares. Significantly neither the Quebec City mayor, nor the Quebec Provincial premier who have every reason to curse and accuse Bettman and Daly as double-crossers who have led the politicians to waste taxpayer money on an arena have not uttered one negative comment about them. Probably before even one shovel went into the ground to build the Videotron, Bettman told them that Quebecor was an inappropriate owner but to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem.
All that Nordique fans can do is keep watching for the next steps to occur to bring the Nordiques back and read between the lines. The appearance of Roy and Daly at the recent World Cup exhibition game are the latest steps along the path. But how many steps will we see before the final one, that a new Quebec City bid by appropriate owners is accepted by the NHL is open to speculation.