What The Canadian Census Means For NHL Expansion (And CFL)

Nobody cares about a United States census as far as NHL expansion is concerned because there are too many large American cities without NHL hockey to count. But for Canada with its limited population, the results of the 2016 census that were released on February 1, are critical.

First the established NHL cities in terms of metropolitan population. The only change in rank is that Calgary has now jumped ahead of Ottawa and is now Canada’s 4th largest city. More importantly, Toronto is nearly 6 million and Montreal just over 4 million. So reestablishing the Toronto Toros and the Montreal Maroons again is feasible if an arena can be built and a suitable owner found.

At the secondary level, Quebec is firmly established as Canada’s 7th largest city, finally getting over 800,000 residents. It confirms that it is the logical Canadian city to get a new NHL franchise. Surprisingly, Winnipeg which had been in the doldrums in terms of population growth for some decades, has nearly kept up with Quebec’s growth and now has over 775,000 residents. But Hamilton, which was once close to both Quebec and Winnipeg, has dropped back from them both, but still showed significant growth to nearly 750,000. So a Hamilton team, especially when it is remembered that it can draw fans from significant mid-size cites like Kitchener, London, St. Catharines, and other sizeable southern Ontario towns is probably a feasible choice right now for a second new Canadian NHL franchise.

Long term? Well for a third southern Ontario team if you don’t want to choose both Hamilton and second Toronto, Kitchener leads the way followed by London, St. Catharines, and Oshawa. It would be nice to consider a Maritime team in Halifax which is finally over 400,000, but how wealthy is the Maritime region? British Columbia would likely get a second Vancouver team before it would get a Victoria franchise because the latter city does not grow very much. And the province of Saskatchewan’s growth was disappointing, though in the long term, a Saskatoon or Regina regional franchise is probably feasible.

For those who follow the CFL, the only other professional sports league with a major stake in Canada, if stadiums can be built and suitable owners found, it is a no-brainer to put a team in Quebec City and maybe try experiments in Kitchener and Halifax.

As far as NHL expansion is concerned, Quebec, Hamilton, second Toronto, and second Montreal could all be established right now. In my opinion, Quebec and Hamilton should be granted NHL teams tomorrow. They would be suitable gifts from the NHL on Canada’s 150th birthday.

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12 thoughts on “What The Canadian Census Means For NHL Expansion (And CFL)

  1. Common sense prevails, rare to read as much of the Canadian hockey media are NHL shills. Looking at Forbes club values each year, the Toros v2, Maroons v2 and Hamilton Tigers v2 all make immediate sense with new arenas, as does the secondarily market level with Quebec Nordiques v2, that has an NHL style arena.

    A problem is as the NHL almost always puts American growth first, Seattle (or western other) will be a priority, even though the Toros, Maroons and Hamilton would all likely have higher franchise values and larger fan base, including more new paid NHL fans (not just gate) than any new western American market. So sadly it is a major risk to build a new NHL style arena in Canada. I don’t support public money for the most part, for a new arena, but the Markham attempt has received much negative press. I would like to see some more Canadian clubs with potential to be ‘big clubs’ and boost Canadian Stanley Cup possibilities. Those four new Eastern Canadian clubs, if well-run could really change the balance of power in the NHL, playoff time. I am doubtful the League wants this being American focused. There is also the monopoly the Leafs and Habs maintain in their markets, which hurts Canadian growth. Well-done, entry.

    • Thanks for responding Russ. Like you, I think the NHL could plant the three or four new Canadian franchises right now and they would be money makers and Saskatoon down the road. The only thing I would disagree with you on is the myth of American NHL anti-Canadianism. If you have read some of my other articles on this blog and when I used to write for Bleacher Report, outlining the history of NHL expansion, the main theme is that Canada, not the United States, is to blame for the lack of Canadian NHL franchises. From the very first expansion back in 1967, through the attempts to thwart the merger of the NHL-WHA in the late 1970s, up to the present expansion, it has been Canadians who have been blocking other Canadian cities from joining the NHL.

      No better example exists than the present attempt of Quebec to get its team back. Bill Foley merely pays some money and signs some documents and Las Vegas gets a team. Why can’t Quebec? Because the owner of the bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau is a Parti-Quebecois supporter and made public racist remarks about Geoff Molson, the owner of the Montreal Canadiens. The NHL cannot tolerate an unsuitable owner on the Board and the Quebecor bid was turned down immediately long before the Videotron was built. A second and third southern Ontario team is being blocked because Toronto and Buffalo do not want to share the southern Ontario market with a team and cannot agree on suitable compensation like what happened in New York and Los Angeles. And Canadian franchise owners do not like to share television revenue so a future Saskatoon franchise will probably be opposed too.

      It is ironic that Canada is the second largest country in the world and yet so many cliques and individuals try to thwart other Canadians from establishing themselves and becoming prosperous. This elitist attitude has been around since the days of New France when only public officials controlled everything and the only escape for a habitant was to become a cours de bois. Later the Loyalists set up their version of this elitist government in Upper Canada and in 1837 two rebellions broke out against oligarchic government. When I worked for the Ontario Civil Service, a clique eventually took control of all social activities and started excluding people from promotions, job opportunities and making “outsiders” lives miserable. The ugliest episode recently was the death of the Parsons girl who committed suicide after being consistently tormented by classmates who decided she was not one of them.

      It is a shame that Canada does not have more teams but don’t blame the Americans. Bettman is probably merely carrying out policies that the Canadian franchise owners prescribe. As I wrote in one article, Canada only has 7 NHL teams and Canadians are probably to blame.

  2. Thanks. Eric,

    I admit I am not an insider…

    I think based on my reading it is both. I do not reason it is just one or the other. As I stated: ‘I am doubtful the League wants this being American focused. There is also the monopoly the Leafs and Habs maintain in their markets, which hurts Canadian growth. Well-done, entry.’

    I agree with you that the Leafs and Habs have not wanted competition, therefore the monopoly. However, it also suits the Americans, otherwise surely for financial reasons American owners as the majority would want those three larger Canadian markets we discussed in the League. I have read about the 1967 and 1979 expansions. I have read about Buffalo.

    During the Balsillie court case I have read that NHL lawyers admitted that a Hamilton franchise could be #5 in value. I think it is the NHL in general, both American and Canadian that is showing no interest in that market. Granted, now the arena there would need restoration.

    In the 1980s-1990s I had a subscription to the Hockey News, I remember reading more than once in rumours (Fischler from New York etc…) that US owners did not like visits from Canadian teams other than Leafs-Habs. People in the US could not relate to QC, Winnipeg and hypothetically, Hamilton, in particular. It is theory, but I doubt those views have changed today. I was reading about a desired, yes desired move of Winnipeg to Phoenix by some owners, back when I was in Secondary school in the late 1980s. Now of course I cannot document these, now with citations, but I remember them. There is a consistent view. Also listen to Bob McCown, he states at times that clearly the NHL is a US sports league, American focused.

    Yes, Canadians are also to blame, the teams and the culture. Because of the shill media, looking online many Canadian fans buy the ‘kool-aid’ that the game will grow more with more new clubs in the USA. That the game cannot grow in Canada. On the HF boards, Zone Nordiques etc…I have seen what you have stated, but there is also a rumour that QC did not want to pay 500 million due to the Canadian dollar at the time. I would not blame them as according to Forbes, based on Ottawa and Winnipeg, QC would not be worth 400 million, forget 500 million. Via relocation may be their best bet.

    But, I think we agree that the monopoly type attitudes of corp. Canada is significant in preventing more Canadian clubs, yes. If the seven Canadian clubs were stronger in wanting more Canadian clubs, the American owners may back down in focusing more on places like Seattle etc.. Somewhat satirically, I would love to see a group as trillionaires build new arenas is Toronto, Montreal and Hamilton (maybe restoration) and watch the NHL spin as relocation rumours abound. Being from BC, an arena in Surrey would be a laugh, then the relocation rumours. Lol. Thanks.

    • Thanks for replying Russ. Some of your comments are right on and some need clarifying.

      1. Money. Actually in recent years, more money is made on average from Canadian franchises than American ones especially when the two dollars were at par because of better attendance. It may have changed because of the fall of the Canadian dollar. So American franchise owners are not necessarily opposed to having more Canadian franchises in the NHL based on profit.

      2. You are right about Hamilton. It would probably be one of the most valued franchises in the NHL if it could get a team. I have even read that it may be ranked as high as third.

      3. Don’t mix up American owners with American television. American owners may not object to more Canadian franchises but American television does not like more Canadian franchises in ANY of the big 4 leagues. First, they cannot count Canadian viewers in their ratings and second, many American fans do not relate to Canadian teams so they are a poor draw in American cities and on American television which hurts ratings. But even that is not always true. A few years ago, Vancouver had a great playoff rivalry with Chicago and when Edmonton had Gretzky, they were always a great draw on the road. But that is why you seldom see Canadian teams on American television.

      4. The US is larger and has more wealth so there is bound to be more American teams and be focused on the United States. In fact there are some American cities which I believe SHOULD have a team and don’t. Seattle was the first American city to win the Stanley Cup, and would have a great rivalry with Vancouver, possibly Edmonton, Calgary and all the California teams. So would Portland, Milwaukee, a returned Hartford, and in the long term, Spokane. What I object to is that these American cities and the Canadian ones are being passed over in favor of questionable places like Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Miami. etc. Some of these franchises like Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Dallas have been successful but too many of the recent expansion teams don’t have grass roots support and were chosen to please American television.

      But I have never read that any American owner or Gary Bettman and John Ziegler have been actively anti-Canadian the way Toronto Maple Leaf owner Harold Ballard and ex-Torontonian Jack Kent Cooke were when they fought the WHA merger. Montreal also objected to Quebec coming into the league until a boycott of Molson beer was organized. That swung Montreal (owned by Molson Breweries in 1970s) into casting a vote in favor of the merger.

      In MLB, the baseball Commissioner has been pro-Montreal so that if Montreal can find an acceptable owner and build a suitable stadium, you might see the Expos reborn again. There is also talk about a returned Vancouver to the NBA. There was once talk about Ottawa getting a major league soccer team, but nothing came of it. So I don’t think Americans, especially at the board table are very anti-Canadian.

  3. Oh, for clarity, in light of my 1980s Hockey News comments, I have read and heard Winnipeg got back in the League because at the time there was no other place for them to go. Seems to me KC was the American preference at the time. Eric, thanks for the stand taken.

    • Thanks for commenting on this article, Russ. You are right that there was no competition from other American cities with Winnipeg when Atlanta was put up for sale. What I was surprised about was that Bettman approved the Winnipeg arena which is only 15,000 seats. But Bettman and the NHL Board (including all the American owners) also liked the Winnipeg owners, Dave Thomson (the richest man in Canada) and Mark Chipman. When you consider how they dislike Pierre Karl Peladeau, they may have been the main reason (along with the Winnipeg fan base) that the Jets came back. Kansas City has the arena but doesn’t have the grass roots support and an enthusiastic owner like Winnipeg did.

  4. Quebec City is hockey-mad and would love the Nordiques back. Plus they have strong financial backers. But the NHL would unbalance their conference structure to put a team in Quebec right now. The only way to get one there would be to move an existing team, and the era of unstable ownership in the East is over. Florida, Tampa, Carolina, and the Islanders seem to be doing ok for now.

    More likely, the NHL will put teams in places like Seattle, Kansas City, or even Portland, Houston, or San Antonio. Sad but true.

    Seeing how much Gary Bettman likes hockey in the desert, maybe Kamloops should apply for a team. They’re as close to a desert as Canada has.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Chris. You are absolutely right about Quebec being an overwhelming winner with a franchise. But obviously you have not read lots of my other articles. First you are right about the problem of unbalancing the conferences. Second you are wrong about Bettman. He actually WANTS to put a team in Quebec City. One tell-tale sign of this was the granting to Quebec an exhibition game during last year’s World Cup. The NHL would not have done this if they did not like Quebec City and its arena.

      We have to go back in time to understand what is really happening. In 2010 Bettman made a tour of all three cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg and Hartford and offered them reasonable terms for readmission to the NHL: Great fan base (No problem in all 3 cities); a proper NHL arena; and acceptable ownership (No mention of a $500 million entry fee back then). Winnipeg is back and Quebec and Hartford are both actively trying to return (Hartford recently announced plans to renovate their old arena with $250 million). Quebec has the arena and the fans but is stuck at the ownership factor. The potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau, of Quebecor is considered unsuitable by Bettman and the NHL Board. He is a known supporter of the Parti Quebecois separatist political party and made public, racist comments about one of the members of the NHL Board, Geoff Molson, owner of the Montreal Canadiens about his suitability of owning the Canadiens because he is an English speaking Quebecer, remarks that were probably offensive to not only Molson, but also to the vast majority of the NHL Board. So he has a lot of enemies on the Board.

      The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on their Board no matter how much money they are offering. Believe me Chris, Bettman and the NHL WANT Quebec City (one of the better NHL franchises like you say) back in the league and that $500 million entry fee, in spite of the conference imbalance problem. But so far at least in public no suitable Quebec City owner has stepped forward. You can read lots of my other articles dealing with this problem. One solution would be to transfer an existing NHL franchise to Quebec and the obvious one is the Arizona Coyotes, but the NHL does not to upset the conference balance any further. But it may come to that. And no existing eastern conference team (Detroit and Columbus are the obvious 2) wants to be shifted to the western conference even temporarily. So for now, until the ownership problem is solved the Quebec bid is put into suspension.

      One other thing. Seattle and Portland would be great NHL franchises. They have deep roots in Canadian hockey, competing in the CHL for the Memorial Cup for years. They have great hockey fan bases just like Quebec. Seattle is actually the first American city to win the Stanley Cup (the Metropolitans). The only surprise is why they have not joined the NHL sooner. Houston (a previous failed NHL bidder several times) and San Antonio have more questionable hockey fan bases. I have written an article listing my 10 choices for the next 10 NHL franchises. (You can read and comment on that.) Houston is not on my list but I could take a chance on Houston simply because they are the largest metropolitan North American market without a hockey team, they are located in the western conference and they have a potentially great rivalry with Dallas.

      Thanks for commenting and feel free to read and comment on my other articles.

  5. All great ideas, and I agree with everything you wrote. But as long as Bettman is at the helm, the NHL will NOT expand into Canada. But with regard to the CFL, they should most definitely expand into Quebec City, Halifax and somewhere in western Ontario. Maybe London.

  6. Thanks for replying Brian. I think you are being harsh on Bettman. He would not have offered reasonable terms for Quebec and Winnipeg to return in 2010 (No mention of a $500 million expansion fee then) if he was anti-Canadian. Believe me, both he and the NHL Board including Geoff Molson of Montreal want Quebec back but they cannot stand the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau, who made public racist comments, supports the Parti Quebecois, and is viewed as untrustworthy. The NHL showed its true attitude to Quebec by granting them an exhibition game at the recent World Cup, and Montreal plans to play two more pre season games there next year. The NHL loves the market, its arena, but cannot have a public racist on its Board. And Bettman during a recent trip to Edmonton to see its new arena for the first time was so impressed that he wants to give the city a future All Star Game and be the host to an NHL draft. That’s hardly the attitude of an anti-Canadian.

    As for CFL choices, I like all of them. I think they are the obvious choices for CFL expansion unless the league wants to try American expansion again. But when will we see these new Canadian teams?

  7. No further NHL expansion in Canada is going to happen until Bettman retires…. As far as the CFL goes fans want to see smaller End Zones, bigger name American players (eg. Flutter, Rocket Ismael etc.), and some Canadian QBs!

    • Thanks for commenting, Don. Obviously you haven’t read most of my other articles about Bettman/Zeigler/Americans/NHL being “anti-Canadian”. That’s a myth made up by Canadians, and not opposed or commented on by the Canadian franchise owners who are only too willing to let the Americans take the blame for few Canadian NHL franchises. All through the history of expansion, it is Canadians opposing other Canadians and refusing to share markets and television money that have kept Canadian cities out of the NHL. During the first expansion of 1967, everybody in Canada expected Vancouver to be one of the 6 cities to get a team, but the owners of Toronto and Montreal did not want to share television money and Vancouver became St. Louis. Vancouver had to wait for 3 years until 1970. The pattern had been set.

      When there were talks of merging the WHA with the NHL, it was Montreal, Canadian owner Harold Ballard of Toronto, and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke who owned the Los Angeles Kings who led the fight against the merger, and Quebec, Winnipeg, and Edmonton had to wait until 1980 to join. It was only when fans in the province of Quebec threatened to boycott Molson Beer (owners of Montreal) that Montreal gave in so that the merger could take place. Only Ottawa, Calgary and the return of Winnipeg have entered the NHL without any objection and hindrance.

      Bettman is NOT anti-Canadian. In 2010, he made a tour of the 3 cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s and offered them terms for readmission. Winnipeg is already back and Quebec is knocking at the door. And when he visited Edmonton this year to see their new arena this year, he was so impressed that he wants to award Edmonton some time in the future with an All Star game and a chance to hold the NHL Draft. That’s hardly the actions of an “anti-Canadian”.

      As for the situation in Quebec, the league WANTS the Nordiques back. The NHL loves the Quebec fan-base, wants the Quebec-Montreal rivalry restarted, and loves the new Videotron arena which they awarded with a World Cup exhibition game and allowing the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason games there, which they would not do if they did not like the arena. And while the Videotron was being built, Bettman was openly consorting with the Montreal mayor and the Quebec provincial premier encouraging the arena to be built.

      The problem is that the NHL cannot abide the potential owner of the Quebec Nordiques, Pierre Karl Peladeau who has made bad enemies on the NHL Board, particularly Geoff Molson of the Montreal Canadiens. He made inappropriate, public racist remarks about Molson, obstructed his business activities, is a pro-separatist, and is generally untrustworthy. So they will not accept him as a member of the NHL Board. If a suitable owner for the Nordiques can be found, Quebec will be back in the NHL.

      You’re right about the CFL’s status, at least in Toronto. The CFL has a bad image there, is viewed as “minor league” which dates back to the victories of the Blue Jays in MLB. And they do need to do something to get more Canadian quarterbacks in the league. But most teams don’t have the money to afford big name American players. And the memory of Montreal hiring 3 big name Americans back in the 1980s who were a bust in the CFL deters the teams from doing that.

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