In part 1 of this series on the results of the new Canadian census as far as its effects on the NHL (and CFL) are concerned, the positive results are clear. If suitable arenas and owners can be found, the NHL could add second Toronto, second Montreal, Quebec City, and Hamilton franchises right now. But are there any other things that can be discerned from the results? This part probes a little deeper into possible NHL consequences including new franchises, arenas, etc.
Nothing has changed
Before the 2016 census, the greater Toronto area could have welcomed back a returned Toronto Toros (WHA) if another arena could be built and a suitable owner found. The new census merely confirms it. Toronto, Chicago, and the California bay area are North American metropolitan areas that could probably support a second NHL franchise just like Los Angeles and New York.
Metropolitan Montreal has cracked the 4 million barrier which should be proof enough that it has joined the above three metropolitan areas that could support a second NHL franchise. Build a new arena, find a suitable owner and bring back the Montreal Maroons.
No large Canadian city is enjoying the rate of growth that Calgary is experiencing right now. It has surpassed Ottawa as Canada’s 4th largest city and is pulling away from both Ottawa and Edmonton, its closest rivals. It is too early to consider it as a challenger to Vancouver as Canada’s 3rd largest city but it is on the distant horizon if this rate of growth continues. The real significance of this growth is not for another NHL franchise but for a new arena to replace the Saddledome. “Calgary Next” is on the table right now. Since the city is growing so quickly, NHL tickets will become a hot commodity, and a new arena should be in the 19-20,000+ range for seating. “Calgary Next” also includes a new domed stadium for the CFL Stampeders. And Calgary is big enough and is growing fast enough to also consider getting an NBA team and a MLB franchise before making a final decision on both an arena and stadium.
3. Quebec City
Metropolitan Quebec passed the 800,000 mark and with its new Videotron arena, it is the leading Canadian city to get Canada’s 8th NHL franchise. Unfortunately it has not been able to resolve the ownership factor which includes racist issues. Find a suitable owner and Quebec gets the Nordiques back.
After being in the doldrums, metropolitan Winnipeg is now nearly 780,000. That’s good news for the Jets who need a larger market to sell more tickets and merchandise. But the old Winnipeg arena which was around in 1980 when the Jets joined the NHL was only 15,000 seats for a population of around 500,000. The new Winnipeg arena which was designed for a minor league franchise seats the same 15,000. With a population that is now over 50% larger, when is the size of the Winnipeg arena going to become an active issue and a new, larger arena built?
Compared to the growth of Winnipeg and Quebec, metropolitan Hamilton’s growth to 750,000 is disappointing. But since the Hamilton market also includes the cities of Kitchener, Burlington, Oakville, Guelph, London, St. Catharines, etc., Hamilton like Quebec could be awarded an NHL team right now. The Hamilton arena has over 17,000 seats and the city is willing to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena to 18,500. Unfortunately the large expansion fee and additional financial compensation to Toronto and Buffalo is a deterrent to investors. Show some generosity and get this city into the NHL as soon as possible.
Metropolitan Kitchener including Waterloo and Cambridge has clearly established itself as Canada’s 10th largest city. It passed the 500,000 mark during the latest census. The longer Hamilton and Toronto remain without a team, the more a rival Kitchener becomes for a second or third southern Ontario NHL franchise.
Perhaps it maybe too early to consider Oshawa for an NHL franchise with a metropolitan population of near 380,000 but putting the third southern Ontario franchise on the east side of Toronto is a feasible option. Oshawa is one of the fastest growing smaller cities in Canada. Actually the idea has been raised before, decades ago when the small town of Port Hope was considered. It may seem laughable but building a new arena in that town as an Oshawa franchise means that no financial compensation has to be given to Toronto and Buffalo. And an Oshawa team can get fans and ticket holders from eastern Scarborough, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Peterborough, Belleville, and Kingston.
It grew by more than 33,000 residents which is more than what Oshawa and Kitchener gained but it would have been better if Saskatoon had passed the 300,000 barrier which is what Statistics Canada had predicted. Nevertheless it is still one of the highest growth rates among smaller cities in Canada. Saskatchewan as a whole remains a mostly rural province. There are 9 more NHL franchises to be had for the NHL to reach the symmetrical number of 40, probably within the next 20 years. Maybe by the end of the second decade, Saskatoon will be big enough to grab the last franchise.
Recently at one time London had a population larger than Kitchener’s and they were neck and neck together in 2011. But London experienced dismal growth during the last half decade, failed to even crack the 500,000 mark and now sits nearly 30,000 behind Kitchener. London, which is farther away from Hamilton, and Toronto would make even more sense as an NHL franchise than Kitchener but it will not be close to getting one if its population growth remains in the doldrums.
3. The Maritimes
The good news is that Halifax finally passed 400,000. The bad news is that New Brunswick actually declined in population. So much for a CFL franchise based in Moncton. The Maritimes still remain the poorest region in Canada with small population growth. Putting an NHL franchise in a Maritime city remains a sentimental, romantic dream. For now, the best the Maritimes can hope for is that the NHL restores the Quebec Nordiques and that they market and pose as the Maritimes team as well. Hockey wise, the Maritimes are already bound to Quebec through its junior league and adding the four Maritime provinces to its overall market is good business sense for the owner and management of a returned NHL Quebec team.