Canada Is Falling Behind In NHL Expansion Once More, Thanks To Canadians Again

With the virtual admission of Seattle to the NHL, the usual stories about Quebec and other Canadian cities being ignored again are of course being trotted out by the press and the Internet. There is nothing new about this. It is the usual story of Canadian NHL expansion.

Before going forward, here’s the usual dreary recap: In 1967, the two Canadian franchises did not want to share Canadian television money and the Canadian market with another Canadian franchise so Vancouver had to wait until 1970 to get its franchise. In the late 1970s, Canadian owner Harold Ballard of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens owner Molson Breweries, and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Kings opposed merging with the WHA, thus keeping Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Quebec out of the NHL. A boycott of Molson beer in the province of Quebec was finally instituted to overcome the Canadiens’ opposition and the three cities finally got admitted to the NHL in 1980. In the early 1990s a draw: Hamilton, which had built a suitable NHL arena and had hosted the Canada Cup, which was the front-runner for a new NHL franchise, lost when its bidder questioned the NHL’s expansion terms; but the NHL gave the Hamilton franchise to Ottawa instead. In the later 1990s disaster: No Canadian businessman would either build new arenas in Winnipeg and Quebec or purchase the financially desperate teams so that both cities lost their NHL franchises. Only the above-mentioned Ottawa, Calgary, and a returned Winnipeg got into the NHL without any problems.

In today’s NHL, with the admission of Las Vegas and Seattle, and the possible entry of Houston, the Canadian villains are now named Peladeau and the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs plus the Buffalo Sabres. It is still the same old thing. Peladeau made inappropriate, public, racist remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, remarks that were probably offensive to not only Molson, but to many other NHL Board members and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who had no problem turning down a Peladeau bid, probably long before a single shovel began to build the new Quebec Videotron arena. In southern Ontario, the owners of Toronto and Buffalo still have refused to set a reasonable compensation fee so there is no Hamilton or any other new southern Ontario NHL franchise. Behind the two Canadian front runners are second Montreal and in the long term, Saskatoon.

In the face of this continued Canadian self destructiveness, Bettman has no choice but to continue to award new NHL expansion franchises to deserving American cities and live with the Canadian myth that the NHL is anti-Canadian. At the recent NHL Centennial meetings in Montreal, Molson was often seen in the company of Commissioner Bettman. Peladeau (Unlike Winnipeg owners Dave Thomson and Mark Chipman, who while trying to get the Jets back to Winnipeg, were often seen in the Commissioner’s company) was as usual, nowhere in sight. Right now he is the single deterrent to returning the Nordiques to Quebec City. Even Molson hinted he would have not have any objections to Quebec getting its team again. What he won’t tolerate is Peladeau at the Board table. He has to be completely out of the picture before Quebec will claim its Nordiques again.

As stated in another article on this blog, Canada falls behind in NHL expansion because of spiritual reasons. The markets are there and the arenas are there (except for second Montreal). So the next three logical Canadian NHL franchises which could be started as early as tomorrow, sure undoubted money-makers, continue to languish indefinitely while the American franchises grow. The score is now United States 25, Canada 7. The NHL is moving towards becoming a 40 team league. Because of Canada’s greediness, its elitism and racism, no new Canadian franchises are possible. When this final spurt of expansion is finished, will the score be United States 33, Canada 7?


Calgary, Hartford, Hamilton And Seattle All Now Lumped Together Under One Big Arena Mess

Ho Ho Ho! NHL (and other North American sport leagues) hypocrisy rides again. It centers about the issue of building sports arenas and stadiums and who should pay for them. In this year where the jolly old arrogant NFL stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their franchises just to please Los Angeles, a city that snubbed them for two decades, and plans to do the same to Oakland in the near future, we find four cites who either have or want an NHL franchise suddenly bound together on the issue of a new arena. It seems strange that we can lump all these diverse cities together but the issue is the same. And there is the same blackmail, lies, taxpayer burden, and hypocrisy tainting all four locations.


It all starts in Calgary where the Flames ownership have engaged in “or else talk” to get a new arena built to replace the 34 year old Saddledome. On the table is a proposed combined NHL-CFL project (arena-stadium) called “Calgary Next” that will cost either $890 million (the proposers) or nearly $2 billion (the realists). Just to let everyone know where the NHL stands on this issue, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary earlier this year and urged the municipal powers that be to accept it. He loves new arenas like the ones in Las Vegas, Edmonton, and Detroit. He wants new ones built in Phoenix and Ottawa too.

But when you can’t agree on the real cost of a major project, it is not wise to start building until you get all the answers. Remember Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Toronto’s Skydome? They soared to $1 billion and $500 million before they were finished. Calgary officials and taxpayers have every reason to ask questions and proceed cautiously.

More importantly for this article, just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It has been renovated once and with over 19,000 seats, it is one of the bigger and better arenas in the NHL. Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL have specified what they are dissatisfied with and what has to be changed. All that’s been stated is that the building is too old at 34 years (How come the Empire State Building, etc. is still standing?) and if they don’t get their way, the Flames will consider moving. Perhaps if they would state what is wrong with the Saddledome, a much cheaper renovation could be made. But taking their cue from the arrogant NFL, the Flames ownership have issued a veiled “or else” ultimatum to try to blackmail the city and its taxpayers. They of course want nothing to do with building a new arena by themselves.

The Flames want to move because of the mere age of the building. But right now in Hartford and Seattle, officials plan to spend $250 million and $564 million to renovate a 41 year old building and a 55 year old building so that they can get an NHL franchise. And a few years ago, when Jim Balsille was vainly trying to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, its officials voted to spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to the current NHL median seating of 18,500. The Coyotes of course never came so the renovations were never made.

But if the NHL and the Flames can’t accept a 34 year old renovated Saddledome, how can the NHL accept the renovations of the XL Center and the Key Arena? If I’m a municipal official in Hartford and Seattle, acting responsibly on behalf of my taxpayer voters, I want to get something tangible for my money and that means a certain NHL franchise and nothing less. I don’t want to spend $250 million and $564 million and be told by the NHL that the changes made are unacceptable. I want answers right NOW before I spend a single penny. I’m not going to spend that amount of cash and get nothing to show for it. I want a straight and honest answer from the NHL. Are you going to accept a renovated “old” building or not? And if the answer is no, I’m not spending anything.


There are other questions that should be answered right now, starting with seating capacity. That’s not an issue in Calgary and won’t be one in Hamilton or Hartford where the seating will be raised to 18,500 and 19,000. But it sure is one in Seattle. The proposed $564 million renovation will mean a seating capacity of only 17,100, making it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders who have just stated that if they get a favorable ruling, they intend to build a brand new arena at Belmont Park. Seattle’s “improved” renovated arena will be over a thousand seats less than the NHL median. And back to Hamilton, that’s less than the current seating capacity of Copps Coliseum which the NHL claims is unacceptable. The best this renovation can do is build a stopgap arena. Is this renovation really worth doing at that cost?

And most importantly, there’s the cost issue. As noted above, the weaselly Flames ownership doesn’t want to spend a single cent on a new arena but engages in veiled blackmail instead. If NHL hockey was not so important to Calgary, I’d show the door to the Flames ownership right now. I’m not going spend a single penny on either “Calgary Next” or just a new NHL arena until I know the true cost of building one. And if a much cheaper renovation of the Saddledome is more appropriate, that’s what I’ll do.


And for Hamilton, Hartford, and Seattle I’ve got some other questions. How come it only costs Hamilton $50 million to make Copps Coliseum an acceptable arena while it costs Hartford $250 million and Seattle $564 million for the same thing? How come it cost Las Vegas and Quebec City only $375 million to build a new arena while it has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million and the $564 million for just renovations in Seattle? I want answers NHL, and I want them NOW.


So where do I stand on these issues?


I want to know just what the Flames ownership says is wrong with the Saddledome and if it is feasible, renovate the building again. I’ll only consider “Calgary Next” or other schemes if renovating the Saddledome is not feasible. And before I spend any money, I want to know the true cost of any new arena/stadium. If the Flames ownership is still not satisfied, I’d reluctantly show them the door. It would be just as damaging for them and the NHL to leave Calgary as it will be for the city.


Stop kicking this city around NHL. Tell them that you will award them an expansion franchise based on the $50 million renovation. And tell Toronto and Buffalo to spell out reasonable compensation terms like what happened in New York and Los Angeles. This city should have been given a team long ago.


First I want to know if the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center or not. If they do, I will proceed with the $250 million renovation though I do want to know why Hamilton can renovate its arena so much more cheaply. If the NHL will not accept the renovation, I want to know why Quebec and Las Vegas can build acceptable arenas that are over $100 million less than the estimated cost of a proposed new Hartford arena. And when I get satisfactory answers for both the costs of renovation and building a new arena, I’ll proceed on that basis.


Scrap the renovation project. For the money they are willing to spend, tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new modern one on the site that has proper seating. And because the NBA will always have more seats in an arena than the NHL, build a new arena to get an NHL team first. The NBA will automatically be satisfied.

I want Calgary to keep its team and I want the other three cities plus Quebec into the NHL as soon as possible. But not at the cost of giving into blackmail and spending public tax dollars wastefully. To repeat, these cities want truthful answers NOW, NHL and they expect you to honor your word. They don’t want to be lied to in this day and age, when it is too late to turn back and leagues like the NFL are making suckers out of loyal fans and their public officials. They want something to show for their money, an NHL team playing in an acceptable arena. I don’t think that is too much to expect.


Disappearance Of Three Stores Is An Apt Symbol Of Why There Are Only 7 Canadian Franchises In The NHL

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.


NHL Expansion Into Canada: In The End It’s A Spiritual Problem

What is the difference between Las Vegas and Quebec as far as NHL expansion goes? In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s and listed three terms for readmission; a great fan base, a suitable owner, and a proper NHL arena (No mention of a $500 million expansion fee). Today Las Vegas has a team and Quebec does not. How do they compare?

Quebec has a better fan base and a bigger and better arena than Las Vegas. But with the ownership factor, prospective owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau made many enemies on the NHL Board by his separatist politics, his obstructionist business actions, his inappropriate racial remarks, and overall unpredictability. Las Vegas owner Bill Foley merely pays some money and signs some papers. Why can’t Quebec do the same?

Obviously other factors are at work here, preventing Quebec from returning to the NHL. And since this article is about NHL expansion into Canada as a whole, I’ll throw in the Hamilton problem and other possible Canadian NHL franchises as well. Let’s start by examining the various factors more closely.


Population/Fan Base

It couldn’t be better for Quebec and Hamilton. According to the recent Canadian census, Quebec is now the 7th largest city in Canada with over 800,000 residents and its overall market stretches from half way to Montreal, all the way east including the rest of the province of Quebec and the four Maritime provinces. Hamilton is 9th with 750,000 residents but it has the best regional market in Canada whose boundaries are Mississauga in the east, London in the west, Niagara Falls in the south, and Owen Sound in the north. Besides the four cities named, within this boundary lie the cities and towns of Brantford, St. Catharines, Kitchener, Burlington, Oakville, and many other significant urban centers, a total market of several million. When Edmonton, Ottawa, and Calgary got their teams, their populations were between 500,000 and 700,000 so there is no problem with a fan base in either city.



Quebec has the new Videotron which is so good, the NHL awarded Quebec a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal has already announced it will play two preseason games in Quebec next year. Hamilton’s city council announced during the Balsille/Phoenix Coyote episode that they would spend $50 million to upgrade Copps Coliseum to a more than adequate 18,500 seats should they get an NHL team. There is no problem with either facility.


It has been estimated that a new Hamilton franchise could rank as high in value as third in the NHL, behind only Toronto and the New York Rangers. Quebec with a proper arena and a suitable owner would be a certain money-maker, like Hamilton, a can’t miss NHL team, one of the better NHL franchises. There are investors/money available – but NOT in the province of Quebec.

So how come the two best prospective NHL franchises in North America – never mind just Canada – do not have teams? The fans are there, the arenas are built, and there are investors who would like to own these money-making franchises. They meet all of Bettman and the NHL’s conditions. Because the two factors that are blocking the creation of more NHL franchises in Canada, which I have written about in many articles on this blog are spiritual; Canadian elitism and French Canadian racism.

Spiritual factors seldom get mentioned when problems are analyzed. They are hard to define, irrational, often unmeasurable. But they exist and in this case especially, often play a key role in the final decisions that are made. Perhaps the most famous person who appreciated the seriousness of spiritual factors was the German chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck who seldom made a political move before taking all possible factors, even the most stupid, spiritual ones into consideration. He realized that even what seemed the most irrational, unimportant factor, if not considered, could ruin the most clever of calculations. Before doing any political, or military move, he always tried to make sure he had public opinion, and the majority of international, diplomatic opinion on his side.

Let’s start with Quebec and French Canadian racism. To the NHL it is personified by Peladeau, who backs a political party that has restricted minority rights in Quebec and has made inappropriate racial remarks about a member of the NHL Board. The NHL cannot afford or tolerate a public racist on its Board. The damage that could be done (also in the NBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, etc.) would be enormous. Gary Bettman realized that at once and turned down Peladeau’s bid without a second thought, no matter how much money he was offering. He now has to work behind the scenes to find a suitable Quebec City owner.

The problem is that there might not be any suitable French Canadian owners in the province of Quebec who want to own the Nordiques, just as there weren’t back in 1995 when Quebec lost its team. No one stepped forward back then to solve the arena and ownership problems just like in 2016, when no bidder other than Peladeau appeared. Still if there was no French Canadian racism factor, there would be no problem. Bettman would simply recruit an investor from outside the province of Quebec to own the team. As told above, Quebec is a sure money-maker. There would not be any problem finding investors. Winnipeg and Ottawa for example, are owned by non-residents. In fact, it is quite conceivable that without the racism factor, Quebec would not have lost its team back in 1995 and a new arena could have been built without a single taxpayer dollar being spent.

But outside investors fear the vengeance of racists electing a Parti Quebecois provincial government who would then pass legislation making it impossible for an “outsider” to own and operate an NHL franchise in Quebec. The discriminatory legislation that has been passed since 1970 shows that their fears are genuine and not someone’s irrational imagination. This is a classic case of a goal not being realized because of the sins of the past. And if there are no suitable French Canadian owners, other racial problems have to be answered. Would Quebecers accept an owner from outside the province who cannot speak a word of French? Are they prepared to accept multi-lingual/religious/racial outsiders, even the possibility of whole ethnic communities living within the city boundaries? Bringing back the Nordiques is a direct challenge to French Canadian racism.

The other irrational, spiritual factor that is preventing the creation of more Canadian teams is Canadian elitism. It has been around since the beginning of Canadian history: In New France; the Loyalist settlements; in 1837 two rebellions were attempted against elitist government. Since then, it has not disappeared. In almost every job I would ever have in Canada, I would see somebody picking on somebody else, looking down on them, preventing them from getting promotions, and generally making other people’s lives miserable. The ugliest incident that the public probably saw was the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons who was tormented by fellow students who regarded her as “not one of them”. Last year six girls committed suicide in Saskatchewan.

For NHL expansion into Canada, this factor centers on its existing Canadian franchise owners, who since the first expansion of 1967, do not want to share Canadian television money or Canadian markets with other Canadians. Vancouver was blocked in 1967. The NHL-WHA merger bringing Edmonton, Quebec, and Winnipeg into the league was fought against by Canadian owners until 1980. Only the admission of  Calgary, Ottawa, and the transfer of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg have met with no obstruction.

Hamilton could have a team but Toronto and Buffalo see this as a threat to their market. New York and Los Angeles worked out suitable compensation (as have similar situations in the NBA, MLB, and the NFL) but no formula has ever been worked out in Canada. This not only prevents Hamilton from joining the NHL but is a threat to the creation of a future third southern Ontario team and a second one in Montreal.

Equally vexing is that Canadian owners do not want to share Canadian television money. This affects not only the three potential franchises I just listed, but Quebec City and a future regional Saskatchewan team, probably located in Saskatoon. Right now (and I mean today or tomorrow) Canada could have three more NHL franchises (Quebec, Hamilton, the return of the Montreal Maroons), and two more within the next two decades if it were not for the two irrational spiritual problems of elitism and racism. The next five potential Canadian NHL franchises could be delayed indefinitely.

As mentioned above, spiritual problems are seldom identified or discussed. Canadians take comfort in a myth that Canadians have created themselves; that the NHL is anti-Canadian. Of course the Canadian franchise owners are glad to have this myth; that John Ziegler and Gary Bettman have led a gang of Canadian hating American owners who want to prevent more Canadian teams at all cost. That gets them and their opposition behind closed doors off the hook. Actually the American owners are probably indifferent, not hostile. And Bettman himself opened the door for Quebec and Winnipeg to return in 2010. During his first trip to Edmonton since the new arena was built, he was so impressed he came away vowing to give the city both an All Star game and an NHL draft. He has also visited Ottawa and Calgary and encouraged them to build new arenas. These are hardly the actions of a commissioner and a league that Canadians pretend are anti-Canadian.

No the main reason Canada does not have more teams are Canadian spiritual traits, elitism and racism. Quebec, Hamilton, and second Montreal should have teams right now. It should be like Las Vegas; pay some money and sign some papers. But in Canada, certain people want their rumps kissed and homage paid, so elitism and racism reign. In the second largest country on Earth, any more NHL franchises are too many more franchises.


Hamilton’s Bungled NHL Bid

In light about my recent article about elitism in Canada,  particularly explaining why Hamilton  does not have an NHL team,  it is appropriate to remember how Hamilton lost its best chance to get into the NHL in 1990.  Hamilton had been hungry to get into the NHL since the start of the 1980s, the heyday of NHL expansion into Canada.  The NHL and WHA had merged in 1980, bringing Quebec, Edmonton, and Winnipeg into the league.  The next year, the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary.  Of the nine major Canadian cities, only Hamilton and Ottawa did not have an NHL team.

Hamilton, located midway between the NHL franchises of Toronto and Buffalo had no problem with a fan base. In 1980, Hamilton, like Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Quebec City and Winnipeg had a population between 500,000 and 700,000. Hamilton may have had the smallest municipal population but it had the best regional market of all six cities. A Hamilton NHL franchise could draw fans from as far east as Mississauga, as far south as Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, as far north as Owen Sound, and as far west as London. Besides the towns just named, the region included Guelph, Kitchener, Oakville, Burlington, Brantford and many other mid-size towns and cities as well.

The only stumbling blocks were an arena and ownership. In 1985, the arena problem was solved when Hamilton built the 17,000 seat Copps Coliseum. Its intention was obvious. Though it would be a money-maker hosting other events, the prime gain was to be an NHL team. Hamilton put its feet up and waited for the next NHL expansion and a suitable owner to appear.

In 1987, Hamilton got its first hockey reward. Most of the 1987 Canada Cup, including the final game would be played in Hamilton. It proved to an overwhelming success, with enthusiastic sellout crowds. Many times, the cameras would spot placards in the crowds, addressed to the NHL and President John Ziegler, to award Hamilton an NHL franchise. For that tournament, Hamilton was the center of hockey in Canada. It seemed the logical place to put a new NHL team.

In 1989, the waiting seemed to be coming to an end. The NHL planned to expand by seven teams before the year 2000. The first expansion would be in 1992 and Ziegler and the NHL Board were not adverse to putting more teams in Canada. Hamilton recruited a suitable potential owner, Tim Donut, headed by Ron Joyce. The NHL announced its terms, the most important being a $50 million expansion fee. In light of the recent $500 million expansion fee, the $50 million one in 1990 would have the same effect. In 2016, the $500 million fee would come across as an unrealistic price for an NHL team. Of the 16 potential applicants, only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec would see it through to the end. In 1990, with the recent sale of the Minnesota North Stars for only $31.5 million, the $50 million fee gave off the same impression. The final payment would be due by the end of 1991 with the team to start playing in 1992.

The NHL received 11 bids from 10 cities, including both Hamilton and Ottawa. Other candidates were from Tampa Bay, Seattle, San Diego, Milwaukee, St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Miami, and Houston. Many cities dropped out without even making a presentation to the NHL. Hamilton, along with St. Petersburg were supposedly the front-running cities. But the NHL rejected them along with Miami because the bidders wanted to alter the payment schedule. The NHL was adamant. Pay the way we want you to pay or you don’t get a team. They refused to consider any negotiations. Ron Joyce and the others considered this to be poor business sense and reluctantly dropped out. Thus disappeared Hamilton’s best chance to get an NHL team. Like Quebec and Las Vegas, a quarter of a century later, only fanatical Ottawa and Tampa Bay agreed to all of the NHL terms, particularly the payment schedule. And neither of them had a suitable arena built at the time.

Looking back, there were several other good reasons to put a team into Ottawa instead of Hamilton. Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary would dramatically grow in population to over 1 million residents while Hamilton, Quebec City, and Winnipeg stagnated. And like with the NHL franchise in Washington which bought some political goodwill from the American government, putting a team in Ottawa bought the NHL goodwill from the Canadian government.

In recent years, the wall of opposition to a Hamilton team has grown. Buffalo and Toronto want extensive compensation if a Hamilton or other southern Ontario team is created. There has never been a suitable formula worked out like there has been in New York and Los Angeles. Thus one of the best markets in Canada and one of the best arenas (Which the city of Hamilton is willing to renovate with ironically $50 million to a more than adequate 18,500 seats), along with Quebec City has no NHL team. Attempts to move the questionable Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton by Jim Balsille were doomed to failure.

But if Hamilton had been given a team in 1990, would Ottawa have a team now too? My guess is yes. Ottawa was one of the fastest growing cities in Canada and then there is the advantage of buying political goodwill. As would be proved, Ottawa with a proper arena and suitable owner would be a matter of time. But there should be eight Canadian franchises in the NHL right now, not seven. Hamilton was and is a perfect choice. But it lost its best chance to join the NHL again in 1990, and given the fact that the NHL caters extensively to its monopolistic Canadian franchise owners, a new Hamilton team is not even on the horizon.