When I lived in Toronto there were three stores that I (and sometimes my parents) would sometimes visit. These were Knob Hill Farms (a grocery chain), Sam The Record Man (title says it all), and Honest Ed’s (Toronto’s greatest discount store). All three are now gone and Toronto (and Canada) is the poorer for it. At all three, tremendous savings could occur. At Knob Hill Farms (owned by Steve Stavro, a future owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs), food was cheap. In its heyday, Sam The Record Man could probably boast that they sold the cheapest records and tapes in the world (that’s right the world. It’s not an exaggeration). And when my mother made her occasional expeditions to Honest Ed’s she would make my father and me who were trying to watch television stop while she pulled out all of her purchases from bags and boast how much money she had saved us.
All three stores are gone now and there are serious economic and social consequences because of it. When the stores existed, what did it mean? It meant a bigger market. Poorer people and those not so well off (though not the very poor) were able to stretch their dollars and get more. By spending less on food, records, and other commodities, it meant that these people could put more of their salaries into the bank and when they had accumulated enough they could even start to buy luxury goods that before had been beyond their grasp. It was a win-win situation. By showing some generosity, these entrepreneurs increased the size of the market and business activity. When one visited their stores, the parking lots and street parking were full and the stores were often jammed to the hilt.
When Stavro became the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his regime was the only period in the long (50 years and counting) dismal years of bad Toronto Maple Leaf ownership between the horrible Harold Ballard and the even worse Ontario Teachers Pension Fund when the Leafs iced decent teams (the Doug Gilmour-Matts Sundin era) that had a chance to win the Stanley Cup. In other words, which is the point of this article, an NHL owner has to show some generosity in order to ice a winning team. When the Teachers took over from Stavro, they regarded the Leafs as merely an economic investment in which everything had to be squeezed out and nothing put back in. And if you knew some teachers (as I did), all you had to do is listen to them talk to understand why the Leafs were as bad as they were. Somehow they exceeded even the horrible Ballard which I would never have believed possible. In the entire time of the Teachers ownership, there was not one playoff game.
Which brings this article to the issue of NHL expansion into Canada. At the highest level, you have to show some generosity and give something back. And in too many articles to count that I have written on this blog and others, I have illustrated that all through the NHL expansion years from 1967 to the present day, the Canadian franchise owners in the NHL have shown little or no generosity about putting more franchises in Canada. Only Calgary, Ottawa, and the return of the Winnipeg Jets from Atlanta have not met with any opposition.
Canadians like to believe the myth that American owners led by the Commissioner/President of the NHL are anti-Canadian. The American owners are probably indifferent at worst. If you are going to blame Clarence Campbell, John Ziegler, and Gary Bettman for anything, it is their failure to curb the opposition of Canada’s NHL franchise owners to share the northern market and Canadian television money.
The two current obvious exclusions are Quebec City and Hamilton. Both have fanatical fan bases for hockey and acceptable arenas. Hamilton’s city council was even prepared to spend $50 million to upgrade Copps Coliseum to an acceptable 18,500 seats and luxury boxes if Jim Balsille had managed to bring the Coyotes from Phoenix. Los Angeles and New York in the NHL and other cities in other professional sports leagues have been able set reasonable compensation packages for new teams moving into an existing team’s regional market, but not in ungenerous Canada. No terms for a Hamilton franchise have ever been laid out. So an almost guaranteed money-making franchise, one that has been estimated that could even become the third most valuable NHL franchise, behind only Toronto and the New York Rangers does not exist.
In Quebec City’s instance, the problem is that the NHL does not like the bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau, a supporter of the provincial separatist party, Parti Quebecois. Separatism is by nature an exclusionary action; in Quebec, based on language and racial descent. When Peladeau lost a bidding war with Geoff Molson to own the Montreal Canadiens, he made a public remark implying that it was inappropriate for Molson to own the Canadiens because he is an Anglophone Quebecer. That remark, plus an attempt to obstruct one of Molson’s business colleagues damned Peladeau in the NHL Board’s eyes and doomed any attempt by Quebecor to bring back the Quebec Nordiques long before a single shovel went into the ground to build the new Videotron arena.
Equally unfortunate is that no other acceptable Quebec investors have made any attempt to bring back the Nordiques. And the possibility of retaliation by racists acting through a Parti Quebecois provincial government has stopped any investors from “English Canada” from trying to restart the Quebec NHL franchise. Despite having an acceptable arena that the NHL loves, an increased population of over 800,000, a fanatical local fan base, and a market which stretches half way to Montreal and includes the four Maritime provinces, Quebec City still does not have the Nordiques back. Indeed it is possible to imagine that if there was no racial/political issue involved, Quebec would not have lost its team in the first place and the Videotron would have been built years ago with private funds.
As noted above, if you want your market to increase, if you want to ice a competitive team, you have to show some goodwill and generosity at the highest level. But as noted, stores that practiced that policy in Toronto have disappeared. The market shrinks, there is less money, and new investments and opportunities do not occur. In the case of NHL expansion into Canada, all that is left is for Canadians to believe the myth that the “American” NHL is anti-Canadian.
This is Canada’s 150th birthday and the Centenary of the NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman could have made it a year to really celebrate in Canada by granting new Quebec and Hamilton franchises. But in ungenerous, elitist, exclusionary Canada, it was not possible.