The NHL Has Never Reined In Its Canadian Franchise Owners

In the many articles I have written on this blog and others about why Canada has only 7 NHL franchises,  mostly focusing in on the current Quebec problem,  I have frequently mentioned the problem of elitism in Canada.  I have written that this is not just an NHL problem but taints almost all aspects of life in Canada and has been present through all its history.    New France was an elitist society and so were the early Loyalist settlements.  In 1837, two rebellions broke out in Canada against oligarchic government.

In my own personal experience, there was seldom a job situation in Canada that was not tainted by elitism where somebody was picking on somebody else and making other people’s lives miserable. The ugliest incident in my own lifetime would be the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, tormented by others who considered her “not one of them”. Elitism is deeply ingrained in Canada.

And it is probably the main reason why there are only 7 NHL franchises in Canada. The current situation with the prospective Quebec City owner is only indirectly tainted with elitism. It has more to do with Pierre Karl Peladeau making enemies on the NHL Board by his politics, his inappropriate racial remarks, and his obstructionist business actions.

However, elitism is more evident when explaining why there is no other southern Ontario team besides the Toronto Maple Leafs, located in either another part of Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, or Oshawa. Toronto (and Buffalo) refuses to share the rich southern Ontario market with anyone else. New York and Los Angeles can work out their differences, settle suitable compensation and operate more than one NHL franchise. So can similar situations in MLB, the NBA, and the NFL. But implacable Toronto refuses to share, so one of the best potential NHL franchises in Canada, Hamilton, whose city council is willing to spend $50 million to renovate its current arena to a more than acceptable 18,500 seats and more luxury boxes, never gets a team.

And this situation points to one other problem: Toronto and other Canadian franchise owners are allowed to dictate NHL policy to the detriment of Canada. It has been that way since the first expansion back in 1967. Before that year, it was announced that the NHL would double in size from 6 to 12 teams and there was lots of speculation about which cities would get a team. In Canada it was almost taken for granted that Vancouver which was the third largest city in Canada behind Montreal and Toronto would be one of the cities. But when the cities were finally revealed and Canadians found out that the expected Vancouver franchise had become St. Louis, there were howls of outrage right across the country. What got little publicity was that the franchise owners of Toronto and Montreal did not want to share Canadian television money and were decisive in preventing Vancouver from joining the league. Vancouver would get its team in the next expansion three years later but the pattern and precedent had been set. Canadian NHL franchise owners would oppose Canadian cities and prevent them from joining the NHL.

Two years later other wealthy Canadians pondering Vancouver’s fate, decided to try something different. Instead of trying to join the NHL they decided to compete with it. So they joined with American partners to start a rival league, the WHA. The future NHL franchises of Quebec, Edmonton, and Winnipeg were born. The WHA owners had to have a different attitude to Canadian teams and Canadian expansion because their most successful franchises were in Canada and the very survival of the league depended on the Canadian market. So there was no opposition to adding more Canadian teams. At various times, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa had WHA franchises. There was even a Canadian division set up.

But the competition between the WHA and the NHL caused salaries and costs to escalate and talks began to merge the leagues. There was opposition in the NHL to merging the leagues and is it significant who the opponents were. On the NHL Board, the leaders were Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Los Angeles Kings. Montreal, owned by Molson Breweries did not want to share the province of Quebec market with Quebec City. So merging the leagues kept being defeated until fans in Quebec took matters into their own hands and initiated a boycott of Molson beer. That ended the opposition of Montreal and the opponents of the merger were outvoted at last.

In later years, Calgary and then Ottawa which snatched a bungled Hamilton bid, were granted teams, the only times (with the exception of the transfer of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg) when Canadian cities got franchises smoothly and without obstruction.

And all through these years during which Canadian NHL franchise owners opposed the creation of new Canadian NHL teams behind closed doors, the Canadian hockey public took comfort and refuge behind a Canadian created myth; that the NHL was anti-Canadian. They believed that the large number of American franchise owners, led by John Ziegler and Gary Bettman were conspiring to keep Canadian franchises to a minimum. And of course the Canadian franchise owners were happy to let Canadians believe this myth which got them off the hook.

Actually it would not be surprising to discover that Gary Bettman was specifically hired to keep the existing monopoly for the Canadian franchise owners. He is merely carrying out a policy that the Canadian members of the NHL Board prescribed for him. They do not want to share Canadian television money and they do not want other Canadian franchises to move into their markets. So there is no Hamilton team and probably there will be opposition to a second Montreal and Saskatchewan team for these reasons.

Even if there really is a block of anti-Canadian American owners, their opposition has counted for nothing. All they have to do is put their feet up and let their Canadian franchise partners do the job for them. But the existence of such a group is highly unlikely. As for Bettman, he initiated the return of Winnipeg and Quebec back in 2010 by making a tour and offering them reasonable terms for a returned team (no mention of a $500 million entry fee back then). And recently after being shown the wonders of the newly built Rogers Place in Edmonton, he is already raving that Edmonton should get a future All-star game and be the chosen arena for a future NHL draft, hardly the actions of someone who is supposed to be anti-Canadian.

If the NHL can be accused of anything, it can be that it has let its Canadian franchise owners dictate league policy to the detriment of NHL growth in Canada. The American owners are not anti-Canadian, just indifferent. What Bettman should be saying, even dictating, is that Toronto and Buffalo work out a suitable compensation package like what was done in New York and Los Angeles so that Hamilton can join the league. And once it is settled, apply the same deal to Montreal and Saskatchewan and any other potential Canadian expansion site as well.

The main reason there are not more Canadian NHL teams is because the NHL will not or cannot control its Canadian franchise monopolists. As long as they are allowed to control policy, NHL Canadian franchise growth is going to be stunted. But these franchise owners are merely following the elitist policy that has been around in Canada since the beginning of its history. It is ironic that Canada, the second largest country in area on Earth has no room for so many people and enterprises whom its elitist cliques have deemed unsuitable to them.


One thought on “The NHL Has Never Reined In Its Canadian Franchise Owners

  1. I’m Canadian living in the USA. Love both countries. But have an immense love of Canadian hockey and it’s tradtitons and history. Watching Hockey Night in Canada as a young boy was so memorable for me.

    I too bought into the anti Canadian myth of Gary Bettman etc. It just made sense and the timelines were fitted perfectly to make it seem real.

    But your opinion has changed mind. It makes sense now why Canada has expanded its markets for pro hockey. The greedy elitism is strong in Canada as is the Canadians dependence on government for many things mentality.

    I hope this changes one day. And I get to cheer for a Saskatchewan team colored in green and white and gold. Because there are not enough green teams in the NHL today.

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