Happy Birthday Canada: You Still Only Have 7 NHL Teams

2017 is Canada’s Sesquicentennial (150 years) and the Centennial of the NHL which Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL Board intend to celebrate all through the year. In 1917 the NHL was an all-Canadian affair. 50 years later in 1967, there were 4 American teams to 2 Canadian and then 10 American to 2 Canadian. Today the score is Am 31 Can 7.

Should there be more NHL Canadian teams? Unquestionably. Why are there no more? Two of the answers are obvious. The United States is more wealthy and has a larger population. Fair enough. Unless there is a dramatic shift in climate accompanied by a mass migration north, or a war of conquest by Canada, the United States is bound to have more teams. But only 7 Canadian teams. Only 7?

Are any more Canadian cities feasible right now? Quebec is the 7th largest city in Canada and built a beautiful new arena but they got turned down by the NHL in 2016. Hamilton has a suitable NHL arena which the city council will modify further if they are awarded a team. There is the possibility of second Montreal and third southern Ontario teams too. And in the long run, a Saskatchewan team probably located in Saskatoon. Right now there is the possibility of 4 new teams, making a total of 11.

Quebec (twice under different names) and Hamilton were once members of the NHL. So was a second Montreal team, the Maroons. And when the NHL was competing against the champion of the western leagues, Western Canada Hockey League, and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (which also contained franchises in Portland and Seattle [the first American city to win the Stanley Cup], American cities that somehow still do not have an NHL franchise) for the Stanley Cup, franchises from Victoria, New Westminster, Regina, Saskatoon, and Moose Jaw were competing at the highest professional level. In 1907, the little town of Kenora won the Stanley Cup. That is at least 9 more Canadian franchises in professional hockey history. It proves that professional hockey at the highest level has shrunk in Canada, not grown. It confirms that Canada is under-represented in the present NHL.

The first NHL American team, the Boston Bruins, did not join the league until 1924. Big money and then the Depression whittled the number of Canadian teams down to two by 1940. But bad economic times, an increase in operating expenses to own and run a professional hockey team, and a difference in population do not tell the complete story of why there is only 7 teams in the present NHL. Three ugly Canadian traits, greed, elitism, and bad faith do.

When the first expansion of the league occurred in 1967, it was assumed that Vancouver would be one of the new teams. But Vancouver’s franchise became the St. Louis Blues, much to the howling of fans right across Canada. It seems that the franchise owners from Toronto and Montreal did not want to share Canadian television money or the Canadian market with anyone else. Vancouver would finally get its franchise three years later in 1970. But the ugly pattern of excluding new Canadian teams led by existing Canadian franchise owners had begun.

It is a myth, held by many Canadians to this day that NHL American franchise owners led by NHL American leaders John Ziegler, and Gary Bettman are anti-Canadian and do not want more Canadian franchises. Nothing could be further from the truth. At every point in NHL expansion history, we see Canadians showing bad faith, no generosity, and thwarting and excluding other Canadians.

After seeing the difficulty of adding new Canadian franchises to the NHL by the Vancouver episode, other rich Canadians abandoned the idea of buying their way into the NHL. Instead with American partners, they sought to compete against the NHL by starting a new league, the WHA. The NHL franchises of the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, and the would-be-returned Quebec Nordiques were born.

The Canadian franchise owners of the WHA had a very different attitude to adding new Canadian teams than their NHL counterparts. The best attendance for the WHA came from Canadian cities. The very survival of the WHA depended on them. Edmonton so believed in the Oilers that they built the modern Northlands Coliseum before the NHL-WHA merger which would be their home until 2016. At one time Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto would briefly have WHA teams. There would even be a Canadian division set up.

As player salaries skyrocketed, there was pressure to merge the leagues. The main opponents were Canadian Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke of the Los Angeles Kings. So Canadian franchises were excluded from the NHL by Canadians until 1980 when the leagues merged. Today both Edmonton and Winnipeg are in the NHL and Quebec desperately wants to return.

After the merger, Calgary got its team the following year when the Flames became the first of two Atlanta franchises to flee to Canada. Hamilton built a modern arena and should have got a team until the bidder, Tim Donut, made the mistake of questioning the NHL’s expansion terms, and a returned Hamilton became a returned Ottawa Senators.

But in the bad economic times of the 1990s, Winnipeg and Quebec which had both refused to build modern, adequate arenas when they joined the NHL and tried to get by on the cheap, could no longer be feasible NHL franchises. No new Canadian owners believed in the teams or new arenas. This combination of bad economic times and bad faith would result in the shift of the Jets to Phoenix and the Nordiques to Denver.

Elitism, bad faith, and exclusion still keep Canadian NHL franchises to a minimum. They are traits that have been around since the beginning of Canadian history. New France was a society in which everyone knew his place. There was the Governor, Bishop, Intendant, a few appointed public officials, and seigneurs at the top and the mass of habitants at the bottom. The only escape was to become a renegade coureur de bois fur trader.

When the Conservative Loyalists fled from the United States after the American Revolution they simply created a British branch with these traits. After the War Of 1812, they passed legislation making it more difficult for Americans to immigrate to Canada and own land. In 1837, two rebellions were fought against elitist, oligarchic government in the two sections of Canada.

I have seen these traits in Canada almost every day of my life. In almost every job I would ever have in Canada, there would be somebody picking on somebody else. People who had positions would use their power to exclude others from promotions, salary increases and impose penalties making peoples’ lives miserable. The ugliest incident I would see occurred a few years ago. Ask the family of Rehtaeh Parsons who committed suicide what it is like when a group of elitist, exclusionists decide that someone “is not one of them”.

As for the NHL, Commissioner Gary Bettman turned down Quebecor’s bid to bring back the Nordiques without a second thought because its owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau, a known supporter of the provincial party Parti Quebecois which has twice tried to take Quebec out of Canada by referendum and passed discriminatory legislation against minority languages, made inappropriate, public, racist remarks about one of the NHL Board Of Governors, Geoff Molson, owner of the Montreal Canadiens. The NHL will not tolerate a public racist on its Board of Governors. Peladeau destroyed the dream of every Quebec Nordiques fan right across Canada by his exclusionary, elitist remarks.

The main reason why Hamilton or other potential second and third southern Ontario NHL franchise cities like second Toronto, Oshawa, Kitchener, and London do not have a team is the opposition of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres to having new, competitive franchises in their market. Other regions like New York-New York-New Jersey, Los Angeles-Anaheim, plus every similar situation in the NFL, NBA and MLB have managed to work something out. But in implacable Canada, all these potential NHL franchise cities remain excluded. The same elitist opposition will probably show itself should anyone try to bring back the Montreal Maroons. And of course should a future bid for a Saskatoon franchise or anywhere else in Canada appear, there will be grounds for exclusion on the basis of sharing television money.

In the United States, Bill Foley, the new owner of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, merely pays some money and signs a few papers to become an NHL franchise owner. In Canada, somebody’s rump has to be kissed repeatedly over and over. Is it any wonder why Gary Bettman and the NHL are reluctant to put new franchises in Canada? On the contrary, they would be fully justified on turning their backs forever on a country that consistently raises objections and opposition, shows little faith and refuses to respond in moments of crisis as what happened to Winnipeg and Quebec in the 1990s, and shows little generosity or willingness to share.

So happy 150th birthday Canada. Once you had the majority of teams competing for the Stanley Cup. But today it is 7. Only 7. Ask yourself why.

Last Chance For The Columbus Blue Jackets?

One of the more hopeful things to happen for the NHL so far in this season is the upward swing of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since the start of the season, the Blue Jackets have been playing good steady hockey which has taken them to first place in the tough Eastern Conference. From 15th to the top of the standings in one year is quite an accomplishment. Nobody saw this coming. Coach John Tortorella is getting the Blue Jackets to play the way he failed to get Team USA play in the recent World Cup.

The problem IS that nobody saw this coming. The success of the Blue Jackets on the ice has not translated to success off the ice. Columbus is 4th last in attendance this season, averaging 13.5 thousand per game, approximately 75% capacity.

There are several reasons for this sad state of affairs. Columbus has always been a precarious franchise; more than once there has been talk of the franchise being moved. For starters, Columbus is located in what I have termed the “Death Valley” of major professional hockey, Ohio-Indiana.

This is a strange area for hockey. It is a northern United States climate, close to the Canadian border. For that reason alone it should be a hockey-loving area. Wrong. Ohio-Indiana is the graveyard of many NHL-WHA franchises from the 1970s. Who remembers the WHA Cleveland Crusaders, Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, and the NHL Cleveland Barons? Who remembers that the top two NHL scorers of all time, Wayne Gretzky, and (recently displaced by Jaromir Jagr) Mark Messier got their professional start in these cities? All these franchises folded within a few years because of horrible attendance. Strange though it may seem, the Columbus Blue Jackets are the most successful major professional hockey franchise in Ohio-Indiana history. They have lasted 16 years so far. (Note: See my article about Cleveland on this blog for more details about this.)

One of my colleagues on this blog, Amanda, wrote an article about the AHL champion Lake Erie Monsters (located near Cleveland) and complained that they were not getting the media coverage they deserved. By her account, the Monsters are actually surpassing the Blue Jackets in fan support. But the NHL with its memory of the horrible attendance of the Cleveland Barons hope the Monsters rest in obscurity. That is why when the NHL starts talking about expansion, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis are never mentioned. To date nobody can explain why hockey is so unpopular in an area so close to the Canadian border and located between such hockey loving cities as Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis in the west and Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the east.

But the low attendance for the Columbus Blue Jackets can be explained by more than the fact that they live in a cursed hockey area. Their horrible history has dampened the enthusiasm for many hockey fans and stunted the growth of hockey in Ohio-Indiana. In 16 years, the Blue Jackets have only made the NHL playoffs twice and have failed to win a playoff round. Maybe the low attendance can be explained by fans tired of false hopes and are saying “Show me” before jumping on the bandwagon.

Not only does Tortorella have to keep up this high standard of play during the regular season to attract more fans, he has to get this team over the hump to win at least one playoff round to make believers of the disillusioned. One other problem is that with the possible exception of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and defenseman Seth Jones, there are no stars on this team. This is a low-key team made up of cast-off players from other teams that is playing good, solid hockey. There are no big shooters to capture the imagination of the fans. Nobody realizes or believes that this is a good team. Most fans probably figure the Blue Jackets will collapse or bow out meekly in the first round of the playoffs. Hopefully aa fans continue to see the Blue Jackets win, they will start supporting the team.

What happens if the Blue Jackets continue to win during the regular season, do well in the playoffs and the fans still do not support the team? Well this is Death Valley for professional hockey and one more team leaving the area is nothing new. And unlike the Arizona Coyotes that the NHL does not want to move to the east because it will make the league conferences even more unbalanced, the Blue Jackets can be moved anywhere because they are an Eastern Conference team.

In the east, Quebec and Hamilton have arenas and they want a team. In the west, the NHL would not be sorry if the Blue Jackets landed in places like Portland, Milwaukee, Seattle, Houston or Kansas City.

So this may be the last chance for Blue Jackets to be a success in Columbus. If a successful team on the ice is still not enough to draw fans, maybe the owners will conclude that it is time to leave Death Valley like their predecessors did and play hockey elsewhere. It is said that Quebec is eying the Carolina Hurricanes if they cannot get an expansion team because currently Carolina has the worst attendance in the NHL and the owner wants to sell. But Quebec will gladly welcome the Blue Jackets instead if Death Valley adds one more notch to its belt.

Unreformed World Junior Championship Still Has The Same Problems

On December 26, the most significant international hockey tournament since September’s World Cup, the World Junior Championships begins in host cities, Toronto and Montreal. Many of the same problems in international hockey that were apparent at the World Cup might appear again here, only they are more significant because this is where they first become noticeable. You cannot fix the problems of the World Cup without fixing the problems of the juniors first. The two most significant questions of the tournament are is Canada so far ahead of everybody else and is there any improvement in the “B level” countries.

At least there is one significant improvement over the recent World Cup. There are 10 teams, not 8 and there are no hybrids like Team Europe and Team North America. All are national junior teams. There are two divisions; Group 1 has Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Denmark and Switzerland; Group 2 has Canada, United States, Russia, Slovakia, and Latvia. In other words, the “traditional big 7″ (including Slovakia which was mysteriously not allowed to ice a team at the World Cup and was the core of hybrid Team Europe) and supposedly the three best “B level” countries. But will there be any significant changes?

During the Sidney Crosby era, for the most part hockey has been a Canadian game at the top level. Canada has won 16 straight meaningful matches dating back to the Vancouver Olympics of 2010. Total domination. They have pulled away from the other “traditional big 7″ countries. It is not just that Canada has improved but that the other 6 countries are getting worse. At the World Cup the other 5 countries played horrible hockey and it was hybrid Team Europe who would be Canada’s opponent in the Final. Russia continued its terrible play since 2010. It is only a ghost of its once-mighty self. The USA could not win a game and Sweden could not beat either of the hybrids. This was typical of the whole tournament.

But it starts at the junior level and earlier. Canada’s CHL junior league consistently gives them an edge in development all the time. No wonder there is a line-up of American and European boys trying to join the league to compete against Canada’s top juniors. They know they will receive top training in preparation for the NHL and future international play. The national development programs of all the other countries in the world just don’t measure up. It is time for an overhaul based on the CHL model.

The other problem is the expansion in quality of hockey around the world, in this tournament symbolized by the play of the three “B level” countries, Switzerland, Denmark, and Latvia. Are they going to make an impact and finally be true contenders? Since the famous Canada-USSR match of 1972, there has been no real improvement in quality anywhere. The “big 7″ have not grown to a “big 10″ or better. Four decades of non-development.

Most hockey fans do not know that a great portion of the World Junior tournament has already been played. At the “1A Level” tournament in Germany, 6 “traditional B level” countries, France, Germany, Norway, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Austria have battled it out. Next year Belarus will take their spot at the top level in place of whoever gets relegated in this upcoming tournament. Norway will go down to “1B”.

There are about a dozen teams stuck at the “B level” of play since before 1972. After the Canada-USSR series, there was talk that hockey would become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But it can never become that if the quality of play remains so bad outside the “traditional big 7″ countries.

Recently, Boston and Los Angeles held “development camps” for Chinese players. But China is so bad it is in one of the bottom levels of international play. The camps were fine but getting China to improve a little is not going to help the growth of international hockey now. Getting the dozen “B Level” countries over the hump so they can compete as equals with the “traditional big 7″ will. That will mean a significant growth of international hockey.

Ideally fans would like to see a World Cup, a World Junior Championship and other significant international tournaments with 16 teams or better, all with a chance to be the champion just like at soccer’s World Cup. And once all the B-levels are improved, then start working on the lower level countries. There are about 50 ranked countries playing hockey around the world. The goal should be to have inter-country games during the off years to see who makes the World Cup of Hockey every four years, just like soccer does.

Unfortunately there does not seem to be any coherent plan to develop hockey and improve quality. As noted above, there has been no significant changes in four decades. The quality of curling has improved around the world for both men and women but is that a fair comparison? Nevertheless the sport of curling has succeeded while hockey has failed.

Improvement starts at the junior level and earlier. The results of this tournament are signs about the development of hockey around the world. Are fans going to see anything significantly different or the same old thing?

Bettman Ignored His Own NHL Expansion Rules

In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford and offered them terms for readmission to the NHL. All the terms made sense and were reasonable. They can be grouped into three general factors: A suitable NHL owner; a proper NHL size area; and a great fan base (no mention of a $500 million expansion fee).

So far Winnipeg is back; Quebec is trying (stuck at the ownership factor); and Hartford has yet to be heard from. But looking back all through Bettman’s time as Commissioner, it is obvious that he has frequently ignored his own wise, sensible factors, particularly the last one. This is because he and the NHL Board of Governors had one other overriding goal; to raise the status of the NHL in the United States to the level of the NFL, NBA, and MLB so that they could get a rich American television contract.

Bettman’s strategy was to make hockey appear to be “America’s winter game”. To create this illusion, he and the NHL allowed new franchises to be planted and old ones to be moved to many markets where hockey was an unfamiliar sport. It was like buying a new house and then planting seeds in different parts of a new, unfamiliar garden to see if they would grow.

So Quebec Nordiques were allowed to depart to Denver, the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix, Minnesota North Stars to Dallas, and the Hartford Whalers to Raleigh, North Carolina. New franchises came to San Jose, Anaheim, Miami, Minnesota, Nashville, Columbus, and Atlanta. Some of them were successful and Bettman can take a well-earned bow but there have been years when as many as 10 (including many older franchises) teams were losing money.

Near the bottom of this year’s attendance figures are many of the “usuals”; Carolina, Florida, Arizona (unfamiliar hockey markets); Columbus (The “Death Valley” of major league hockey. See my article on this blog about Cleveland and Ohio-Indiana); and the New York Islanders (bad arena).

Whether they were moved or granted expansion franchises, cites like Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, Raleigh, and Columbus have obviously not had the crucial third factor that Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford had; a great fan base. Now a similar city, Las Vegas has been granted a new franchise. Will it follow the pattern of its desert cousin, Phoenix?

As for the goal of becoming a “big 4″ sport in the United States, the NHL did get better television deals from NBC and ESPN but not as good as baseball, basketball, and football. Hockey has grown in the United States but the NHL is still ranked number 4 among the four major sports leagues. NBC will still not show any Canadian teams as their game of the week unless they have to because Canadian television markets cannot be included in American television ratings.

Meanwhile the two areas where hockey was popular, Canada, and the northwestern United States, were consistently ignored as expansion sites. Except for a returned Minnesota, and possibly San Jose and Denver, none of the new franchises during Bettman’s time as Commissioner can be said to be cities where hockey was loved.

Ironically the NHL might have got a better American television deal if they had expanded into American hockey markets where the sport was popular instead of putting franchises into money-losing locations. Cities like Seattle, Portland, a returned Hartford, and Milwaukee still have no teams. Probably the NHL would be better off financially if these cities had been considered for expansion instead of the money losers listed above.

The worst and most embarrassing moment for the NHL and Bettman personally so far had to be the shift of the Atlanta Thrashers (the second time Atlanta lost an NHL franchise to a Canadian city) back to Winnipeg. The fight to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix and out of Hamilton was also a black mark. Now the latest rumors have the city of Glendale fed up with the Coyotes, an open desire to have them gone with no tenant in the arena and no fee to be paid to the NHL, and their potential shift across town to Tempe, Arizona if a new arena can be built.

All these unfortunate financial disasters would not have happened if Bettman and the NHL Board had followed their own wise advice and selected cities with a proven love for the game of hockey. Phoenix, Miami, Raleigh, and Columbus are still problems for the league while cities in the northwestern United States and Canada have their noses to the glass, on the outside looking in, and starve.

Are The Sedins Hurting The Canucks?

Just call me the king of hot takes. I AM THE STEPHEN A. SMITH of hockey. Put all your pitchforks away you Canucks fans and hear me out. I promise it won’t be too long.

I think most people agree that the Sedins are productive NHL players. 60-70 points each doesn’t seem too out of reach. They also make a lot of money. At $7M a year, you could consider them slightly overpaid, but not grossly overpaid to the point of Rick Nash and his almost $8M contract with 36 points last year. At 36 years old, the decline has been coming, with his lower point totals and CF%.

The Canucks need a rebuild. The good news is that most of their older veterans will be off the books by the 2018-2019 season. Accordingly to CapFriendly, they will have $43M to play with by then. But here come’s the bad news. The Canucks think they have a winning team, and have been trying to add pieces to make it a cup contender. Loui Eriksson’s contract is a prime example of that. A $6M contract for 5 more years after this one? That’s tough. In the short term, there is some relief. Derek Dorsett is out for the year, and in theory, can help with LTIR relief. Yet, that’s not something that is sustainable. So what does this all have to do with the Sedins?

What if the Canucks trade the Sedins to expedite the rebuild? We’re operating on the fact that they are willing to waive their NMC. It seems unlikely, but could be possible. At age 36, their window to win a cup is closing fast. Like I mentioned before, they’re good for 60-70 points, and even with a decline rate of 10%, 45-52 points in their age 39 season, is nothing to be ashamed about. There are a bunch of team who would love to add a guy like that for a playoff run. But there’s one big issue. $7M is a lot of money, and who would acquire one, but not both of the twins? A trade like that would definitely be veto’d by the twins. In theory, it is possible for the Canucks to retain the max 50% on both the twins to make it a more attractive target, but that still leaves the other team with a $7M cap hit. There aren’t that many teams with the cap space to take on both of them even at the discounted $7M cap hit. Take out the teams who are not in play off contention and there are possibly only a few teams with the type of players the Canucks could use.

Is it impossible? No. Unlikely? Probably. The Aquilinis have wanted to sell the Canucks for a while and it’s much easier to sell a winner than a loser. Could they be holding them back? It’s possible, but until the Canucks can clear the older, heavier contracts, the team will be perpetually stuck adding pieces to a broken machine.

Possible New Chapter In Arizona Coyotes Story

After a few years of quiet, there may be fresh series of episodes in the Arizona Coyotes soap opera (I mean story). If no one wants to see the team play (Arizona still has one of the poor attendance records in the NHL), at least it still gets the media’s attention by its survival status.

It is being reported on the Internet that the citizens of Glendale who fought to the death to keep a tenant in their arena and out of Hamilton, Ontario are now sick of paying fees to the NHL as part of that bargain and want someone to take the team off their hands and leave them with an empty arena in peace. It is rumored that the Coyotes will not be moved far, but to the other side of Phoenix, in Tempe, Arizona in yet another new arena to be built.

It hardly needs mentioning that this latest possible series of chapters in this regrettable epic is yet another major embarrassment to the NHL and its status in the United States. Aiming to prove to American television to win a lucrative contract, Gary Bettman and the NHL Board have let franchises move or be planted anywhere in the United States to show that hockey is “America’s game”. The old Winnipeg Jets were shifted to questionable desert Phoenix. Hartford left New England for warm, sunny, doubtful Carolina. Right now some of the lowest attendance figures in the NHL are in Phoenix, Arizona, Raleigh, Carolina, Miami, Florida, and an ill considered move by the New York Islanders to Brooklyn. This new report of a possible Coyote move, however close it may be, is not a good omen for the possible success of the NHL’s newest desert team, Las Vegas. Meanwhile cities like Quebec City and Hamilton who are dying for an NHL franchise and Portland which has deep roots in Canadian junior hockey and might have submitted a bid during the last NHL expansion until it saw that $500 million expansion fee are without teams.

It is doubtful that the Coyotes will move to Tempe, at least in the near future. There are a lot of multi-million dollar hurdles to be overcome before a single shovel begins construction of a new arena. Given the fact that it takes nearly 2-3 years to build an arena or stadium, the residents of Glendale are going to be stuck with the Coyotes for probably at least half a decade.

If they want the Coyotes to move immediately, their best chance is for an investor to move the team out of Arizona. But Hamilton and Quebec fans can forget about a move east because that would unbalance the NHL conferences even more. Canada’s best chance for the Coyotes is still Saskatoon if they can find an owner and build a suitable arena.`

More likely the Coyotes would be moved to a western American city. Right now Portland is the perfect choice. Milwaukee would be a top contender if they could find an owner. Other reasonable choices to where the NHL might have a chance of success are Kansas City, Houston, San Francisco (if they follow through with their rumored new arena), and Oklahoma City. Seattle, the best choice of all still cannot settle its arena problem.

Bettman and the NHL Board have noone to blame but themselves for this continuing mess. Jim Balsillie and Hamilton offered them a reasonable way out a few years ago, but the NHL fought vehemently against this obvious solution. Their reward has been a few years of money-losing quiet and now the possibility of more regrettable chapters in what seems to be a never-ending franchise struggle for survival.


“Calgary Next” Better Be Built Right

Now that the new arenas in Edmonton and Quebec are opened, what’s next on the new arena front in Canada? The is talk about two new projects; a new downtown arena in Ottawa and “Calgary Next”, a joint arena-stadium project costing $890 million (according to the official planners) or costing as much as $1.8 billion (the realists?).

This proposal first saw light of day in 2015. Naturally NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman turned up in January urging the project be accepted.

(Note to Bettman: Straighten out your Quebec City mess first and get a proper owner for a returned Nordiques team before urging new NHL arenas elsewhere.)

But such projects need to be well thought out before anything is built. Such projects are so complex they can become meaningless and when they are finally built, problems that were not envisaged come to the fore.

Here are two good examples in Canada. When the Olympic Stadium was built for 1976, it was assumed it would be the permanent home of the Montreal Expos and Montreal Alouettes. But nobody liked to watch football and baseball games there. Today the Alouettes play in a much more modest stadium and the Expos are gone, in part because Montreal would not build a new stadium to replace the Olympic Stadium.

The Skydome in Toronto was a similar project that blew up in the faces of its creators. First of all it was built to house the Toronto Blue Jays, the Toronto Argonauts, get the Olympics and an NFL team. But the initial seating, 48,000 was too small for the Olympics or an NFL team. And for baseball, there are some seats in the outfield in the upper deck where it is impossible to see if the fielder catches the ball if it is hit to that side of the outfield. Then it was decided that nobody liked watching a football game in the Skydome and now the Toronto Argonauts play at BMO field.

So if Calgary wants to build a new home for the Flames and Stampeders it had better be done right. This is a long term project and you had better get it right the first time or you will have to live with serious, costly consequences for a very long time. Here are some factors to consider before accepting the project. Remember that the thinking should be for the long term and not just for immediate needs.



The arena section is said to be the new home of the NHL Calgary Flames, the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, and the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League. But what about the NBA? Is there a market for professional basketball in Calgary? A new arena would certainly make Calgary a serious contender for an NBA expansion team. Until the Mortgage Meltdown, it seemed all four major professional leagues in North America, NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB were headed to 40 teams, meaning two conferences of four divisions each with five teams in each division. Currently there is no talk about getting an NBA team but it should be a factor when considering this project.


The new stadium is supposed to be big enough to house a CFL field for the Stampeders, a soccer field (a new Major League Soccer team?) and serve as a field house facility for the general public. But has anybody considered bringing a MLB team to Calgary? Because of the cold weather, any baseball team would have to play indoors, so this is an ideal project to build a stadium to bring Major League Baseball to Calgary. Currently there is talk of returning baseball to Montreal again if the city builds a suitable stadium. Why not bring baseball to Calgary (and Vancouver) too? Remember, you only get one shot at this so take in all the factors and possible tenants too.


There is talk that this complex should be built on reclaimed contaminated land, but factors to consider should be parking, accessibility from public transit, and the impact of the complex on nearby neighborhoods.


It almost goes without saying that the design of the arena-stadium should allow all patrons to see the entire field and not have fiascos like the SkyDome seating. Size is a trickier factor. Is the seating for the hockey/basketball arena enough to generate enough revenue for the Flames to sign top draft choices, stars, and free agents? In today’s NHL/NBA you cannot win by being able to sign one good player. A professional team has to be able to afford to sign several star players. The stadium is said to be anywhere from 30,000 to just over 40,000. Is that big enough? Is that big enough to get an MLB baseball team? Calgary is no longer the city of 500,000 it was back in 1980. It is Canada’s fifth largest city with a population of over one million. Do you want to host the Grey Cup game and if you do, do you want attendance to be 50,000+? Do you want the Summer Olympics? They want a grand march-in stadium of 60,000+. So does the NFL, if you want it. All these factors have to be considered.


The official cost is listed at $890 million but I have seen figures as high as $1.8 billion. If you consider all the possible factors and potential tenants (and they have not been so far), the cost could be much higher. Unforseen factors could be discovered and of course there is the “corruption” factor that nobody ever takes into account. The recent Toronto Pan American Games did not come in under budget.

“Calgary Next” is an exciting project that could solve the long term facility problems for the Flames, Hitmen, Roughnecks,and Stampeders, and perhaps bring Major League Soccer, the NBA, and Major League Baseball too. Calgary should take its time to consider everything before accepting a project of this size. It should be prepared to ask for major modifications, especially if it wants to bring in tenants as yet unconsidered like the NBA and MLB. Take your time to consider everything and get it right. Remember, you only get one shot.