The Longer The Nordiques Crisis Drags On, The Worse Canada Looks

As mentioned in previous articles, I suspect that currently NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is working behind the scenes to get Quebec City into the NHL again. Bettman made a tour during 2010 of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them reasonable terms for readmission to the NHL: great fan base (which all three cities have); a proper NHL arena; and a suitable owner.

Winnipeg is already back and now Quebec City is knocking at the door with a brand new, NHL-suitable arena, the Videotron, and a prospective owner, Quebecor. During the recent expansion process, the new Videotron passed NHL scrutiny with flying colors, but the prospective owner, Quebecor did not. Majority owner Pierre Karl Peladeau was already a suspect owner in many of the NHL governors’ eyes because of his support for the separatist provincial political party Parti Quebecois, and whatever little chance he had of becoming an NHL Board member was extinguished when he made public, racist remarks about NHL governor Geoff Molson concerning his suitability of owning the Montreal Canadiens because he is an anglophone Quebecer. Gary Bettmam had no choice but to turn down Peladeau no matter how much money he was offering.

Now behind the scenes, he is trying to find a new ownership group to front a suitable Quebec City bid. He is not going to tell the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier to spend nearly $400 million tax dollars to build a new arena and then reject Quebec City outright. He and the majority of the NHL Board of Governors want Quebec City back in the NHL. They also want that $500 million expansion fee. Recently French Canadian hockey heroes, Patrick Roy quit his job as vice president and coach of the Colorado Avalanche, and Pittsburgh Penguin owner Mario Lemieux is trying to sell his shares in the team. Both have strong ties to Quebec City and it is suspected by this author that the reason for their actions is to become involved in the ownership of a new Quebec City team at Bettman’s request. It is just a matter of time before Quebec City rejoins the NHL.

But the very difficulty of this matter shows how hard it is to place new NHL franchises in Canada. It has long been the contention of this author both on this blog and previous blogs that Canada is its own worst enemy in acquiring NHL franchises and that the real reason that there are only seven Canadian teams is because of Canada itself, not some “anti-Canadian” attitude among the American NHL Commissioner and the American owners of the Board of Governors.

Facts seem to bear out this theory. Canada has long been ruled by cliques who consider the country to be “their country” and exclude everybody else. They are quite willing to put their own interests first to the exclusion of the greater good. NHL history bears this out. During the first NHL expansion of 1967, Vancouver was excluded and had to wait three years until 1970 because Canadian owners did not want to share television money. When the WHA sought to merge with the NHL, it was Toronto Maple Leaf owner Harold Ballard and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who led the fight to keep Quebec, Winnipeg, and Edmonton from joining the NHL. And when Quebec and Winnipeg got into financial difficulties during the 1990s, no patriotic rich Canadian stepped forward save the franchises or resolve the arena problems. Instead both franchises were relocated in the United States for which Bettman took the blame.

New York-New-York-New Jersey and Los Angeles-Anaheim managed to come to terms to allow local teams in each other’s regions, but no compromises have been worked out between Toronto-Hamilton and Toronto-third Southern Ontario (possibly second Toronto, Oshawa, London or Kitchener). A second Montreal team is also probably feasible. In fact these potential franchises might have been created long ago but no Canadian city NHL owner wants to share television revenues or have another franchise move into his territory. Very little broad-minded thinking or generosity would be shown.

Instead of recognizing the truth, Canadians like to take refuge in the myth that Bettman and the NHL are “anti-Canadian”. In light of how difficult it is proving just to get Quebec City back, Bettman and the majority of the American NHL owners would be fully justified in regarding any expansion to Canada to be one big pain in the ass. The cliques in Canada do not want to share anything with anybody else. They just want to look down on anybody whom they consider is “not one of them”.

The longer this Quebec City situation is going to continue, the worse Canada is going to look. Bettman and the NHL are not going to be quick to put more Canadian franchises in the league if it is going to take all this extra maneuvering and diplomacy to make everybody happy. Las Vegas merely paid a fee and built an arena; with Quebec it is a continuing soap opera between Peladeau, Molson, and the other English speaking NHL owners.

Sometimes in other articles on other blogs, this author has speculated on the feasibility of Canada getting out of the NHL all together and forming a league of its own because of the NHL’s supposedly “anti-Canadian” attitude. But I’m now sure that it is not a good idea at all. In light of the elitism in the Great White North, any new all-Canadian league would probably never get off the ground.

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