Though Not Stated, The NHL Is Bursting At The Seams For An Expansion To 40 Teams Within Two Decades

After the failure of the last NHL expansion, probably due to the refusal of the investment world to accept a $500 million expansion fee, Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly stated that the NHL is not pursuing expansion at the present time. But right now he has got potential expansion proposals crawling out of the woodwork. Seattle is almost certain to become the 32nd NHL team which finally balances the conferences and makes realignment possible, and at least 3 almost certain expansion/relocation cities, Quebec City, Houston, and Hartford have expressed active interest in getting an NHL franchise. (I’ll deal with these individually later.)

As mentioned many times in other articles, as early as 2010 when Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission (fan base, proper arena, suitable ownership), the NHL was prepared to dramatically expand the league. At the time, the NHL had 30 teams, so their offer to readmit 3 cities meant that the NHL would have 33 teams, one more than the current 32 NFL limit. This amount of expansion implied that the NHL would also realign, probably into an NFL structure, though with 5 teams in each of the new 8 divisions, to the next symmetrical number of 40.

Unfortunately, an ownership crisis developed in Atlanta and Winnipeg had to be used to resolve the problem. Actually the NHL wanted an expansion team in Winnipeg, not a relocated Atlanta Thrashers. There is a similar problem today in Phoenix and a potential expansion city will probably have to be used to relocate the Coyotes. With the admission of Seattle, the problem of balancing the conferences is at last solved. It is easy to predict future NHL expansion: There will be four new eastern and four new western teams added (though there is the possibility of Nashville being shifted east) until the 40 team mark is reached.

Commissioner Bettman could not be more delighted at the way things are turning out for him; even his new Seattle investors have upped his expansion fee to $650 million. But at least one city is going to get a bargain-basement relocated team at less price and there are still lots of issues to be resolved.

1. There are lots of rumors about an arena crisis in Calgary. Actually it is about a pouty Flames ownership that wants its cake and eat it too. They want a new arena built (at taxpayer expense, not themselves paying for it) simply because the Saddledome is over 3 decades old. But the Saddledome is actually one of the larger (over 19,000 seats) and better arenas in the NHL. Just what is wrong with it, the Flames ownership won’t say. If they laid out what is inadequate, probably a cheaper renovation could be negotiated. Meanwhile the Flames ownership makes relocation threats, knowing full well that the Saddledome could probably carry them for at least another decade without any problems. Nobody wants to tear down the 86 year old Empire State Building. By accepting Seattle with its renovated 55 year old arena, how can the NHL refuse a cheaper offer of renovating the 34 year old Saddledome instead of building a costly and maybe unnecessary new arena? The only true NHL arena problem is in Phoenix.

2. The only thing stopping Quebec from getting a team is the ownership factor. The local Quebec market is now over 800,000 and the entire market stretching west half way to Montreal and also including all eastern Quebec, plus the 4 Maritime provinces is several million. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena and gave it its blessing by awarding a World Cup exhibition game and allowing the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason games there. So the only objectionable factor is the owner. Pierre Karl Peladeau has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his public racist comments about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, his support of the Quebec separatist political party, and his general untrustworthiness. At the recent Centennial meetings in Montreal, Molson was seen publicly with Gary Bettman many times but Peladeau was as usual nowhere in sight. A suitable ownership bid from Quebec City means that the Nordiques return to the NHL tomorrow. Quebec is a prime candidate for the relocated Coyotes and it would not be surprising if the Coyotes come at the same time as two more western expansion cities (one probably Houston) get added to the league.

3. Since the NHL is ready to accept an old renovated arena in Seattle (55 years old) instead of a new arena, there should be no objections to Hartford renovating the XL Center which is 41 years old. The Seattle project at least is highly dubious because it will produce an arena that will make it the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL. For the money that they are planning to spend, it would be better if Seattle built a new, modern arena instead. The Hartford renovation must increase the seating capacity of the XL Center.

4. Bettman could not be more delighted that the Houston Rockets of the NBA were sold and now the market has a friendly arena owner in Tilman Fertitta. The NHL has long wanted Houston in the league to be a rival for Dallas and has regretted turning down the bungled attempt by the WHA Aeros in the 1970s to get in. Houston is the largest American city without NHL hockey and it is only a matter of time now, like Seattle, before it gets its franchise. Probably Bettman is only waiting for the token Seattle approval process to conclude before making a formal Houston expansion announcement. Given Bettman’s new policy of negotiating NHL expansion secretly instead of the traditional way of announcing a competition for expansion that failed so miserably last time when the NHL could only get Las Vegas, it might not be inaccurate to conclude that Houston has already been secretly accepted, a “done deal” like the ones that were being proclaimed on the Internet and in the press before the last expansion was announced.

5. The happiest development for Bettman is what the new Seattle expansion means. During the last disastrous Las Vegas expansion, the investment world told him and his $500 million expansion fee to take a hike. But the breach in the wall by Seattle gives Bettman the last laugh. He can now expand the NHL to 40 teams and who knows what the final expansion fee for the 40th team might be? Thanks to Seattle, he and the NHL are getting their cake and eating it too.

What are my predictions? The NHL is on its way to becoming a 40 team league within the next two decades in a realigned NFL structure, the only difference being that each division will have 5 teams instead of 4. There will be a few stopping points along the way. Right now I think this initial phase of expansion will temporarily halt at 34 teams before resuming once the new franchises get settled and consolidated. That means that Houston, if they find a suitable owner will be the next NHL team, and Quebec City, keeping the existing Arizona ownership which means Pierre Karl Peladeau is finally out of the picture, will get the Coyotes. Since the NHL wants to keep 2 balanced conferences, the only mystery is what other western American city will be Houston’s expansion partner. My guess is it will be one of Portland, San Diego, Oklahoma City or Kansas City. And our behind-the-scenes man, Bettman has already been negotiating with at least one of them, waiting to proclaim their chance, along with Houston to apply for an NHL franchise once the token Seattle approval process is finished.

Then after a few years the NHL will accept Hartford’s renovated arena and be forced to grit its teeth and tell the Calgary Flames to make some terms about a Saddledome renovation. By then other cities will be even more hungry for an NHL team. In Canada, once the Quebec City situation is cleared up, the next city will be second southern Ontario (probably Hamilton) or second Montreal. Whoever are the three western American city losers will be even more ripe for the taking. Milwaukee and San Francisco are building new arenas but they may be too small and too basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Saskatoon and Spokane are long term possibilities.

And NHL expansion will have repercussions outside of the league. MLB, envious and admiring at what the NHL doing, can’t wait to make Montreal and Portland its next expansion cities. And the NBA, also wanting to reach at least 32 teams and realign won’t be long following the other two leagues. For them, Seattle is the obvious western choice but they have to like what they are seeing in NHL Las Vegas. Perhaps a four team NBA expansion is on the horizon.

There may be other surprise bidders for an NHL team, right now unforseen. The only thing for certain is that a 40 team NHL within two decades is on the table. The questions to be settled are who, where, when, how much, and in what order.

 

As Predicted: The Carolina Hurricanes Aren’t Coming To Quebec City Or Hartford

The sale of the Carolina Hurricanes by Peter Karmanos to Tom Dundon means that at least for a while, the Hurricanes won’t be coming to either Quebec City or Hartford. Despite rumors that have arisen over the past few years, this writer at least has been steadfast in believing that the Hurricanes will stay in North Carolina despite the noticeable drop in attendance.

The main reason for the drop is not that hockey has become unpopular in North Carolina but because Carolina hasn’t iced a competitive team for almost a decade. During Karmanos’s last years, the Hurricanes declined from the peak of winning the Stanley Cup in 2002. The last sparkle was the Hurricanes getting to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009. Since then the Hurricanes could usually be found among the lower ranks of the Eastern Conference. No wonder attendance dropped off.

But if Dundon shows the same kind of competence that Bill Foley is showing in Las Vegas, there is no reason to believe that the fans won’t come back. Like the New York Islanders, who have struggled with attendance and arena problems since their peak years in the early 1980s, winning the Stanley Cup can go a long way to get a franchise to survive during tough times. The memory of winning seasons, can cause ex-attendee fans to remember back to the glory years and long for a champion again. Winning the Stanley Cup even once starts a championship tradition.

Certainly NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman believes in the power of a Stanley Cup victory. He was in attendance when Dundon was introduced, an open signal that he still believes in the Carolina market. Such optimism is completely missing in his two remaining trouble spots, Florida and especially Phoenix where no Stanley Cup banners hang in the local arena. A huge reason for the unpopularity of the Coyotes in Arizona is that they have only iced a competitive team once in their entire history. That’s not true in Carolina. The real danger sign that would threaten the franchise is if the Hurricanes start icing playoff teams again and the fans still don’t return.

Dundon is in a good situation to take over. The Hurricanes are starting to be competitive again. Currently, they have at least a 50% chance of making the playoffs this year and for sure baring injury, of at least being competitive for the last playoff positions. What they really need in this market are star players who are box office draws. The Hurricanes are mostly no-names. Even if they miss the playoffs again this year, a good draft in Dallas and some astute trades could capture the imagination of hockey fans in Raleigh again.

As for Quebec and Hartford, despite the rumors over the past few years, they should now consider getting the Hurricanes to relocate to be a closed book, at least for now. What Hartford should be doing is trying to find a suitable investor like Foley and Dundon to front a Hartford bid for an NHL expansion franchise and coming to a final settlement about the Hartford arena problem. Both the mayor and the governor of Connecticut want the Whalers back as a key to reviving Hartford as a vibrant city. Hartford with a proper NHL arena and a suitable owner would be a winner, a sure money maker.

For Quebec, losing the Hurricanes relocation option simply narrows down the choices to get its beloved Nordiques back. Before proceeding any further, Quebec City fans should take note of this Dundon/Hurricanes press conference as another signal of the real reason why they don’t have the Nordiques back. Note that Commissioner Bettman was there in person, in whole-hearted support of Tom Dundon. Since when has he ever been seen in the company of the openly racist Pierre Karl Peladeau? The NHL loves the Quebec market and its brand new Videotron arena but wants nothing to do with the pro-separatist, would-be Nordiques owner Peladeau, who made inappropriate racist remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson, and has built up a stack of enemies on the NHL Board of Governors.

I’ve advanced the idea in other articles on this blog that Quebec’s best chance of getting the Nordiques back quickly would be if the NHL accepts the current Seattle bid, then adds two other Western Conference expansion teams, and then shifts the Arizona Coyotes to Quebec. This kills two birds with one stone. With the horrible team, the Coyotes are currently icing, there is no way they are going to get public money for building a new downtown Phoenix arena. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns want nothing to do with the Coyotes about building a new facility. Shifting the Coyotes out of Phoenix where they have no future to Quebec gets the NHL out of a hostile market and at the same time gets the unsuitable Peladeau out of the picture.

In support of this theory, the Seattle bid could not be more welcome for Quebec. So is the news that Houston wants to actively pursue getting an NHL franchise. It only remains to find a third western city that wants an NHL team. Unless some suitable French Canadian bidder who has been hiding in the shadows appears, at least for now, that is probably the best way the Nordiques will return to Quebec. But Carolina is now a dead issue. Hartford and Quebec have to look elsewhere.

 

What’s In Store For Hockey In 2018?

In my last article, I listed 20 significant events for hockey that occurred in 2017. There could be some significant events for 2018 that will affect the NHL and international hockey long term. Here are some that will happen for sure or maybe happen.

1.    Approve New Seattle NHL Franchise As Soon As Possible

This is a no-brainer, a for-sure event. Unless something absolutely catastrophic happens, the NHL is not going to refund $650 million to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. The NHL has been actively wanting Seattle for over half a decade and now with the renovation of the Key Arena and the appearance of Bruckheimer and Bonderman, it has finally come to pass. The faster this token “approval process” is over, the better for the NHL. Nothing is completely certain but for this to happen in 2018, my Predictability Rating is 99.9%.

2.     The NHL Realigns Into An NFL Structure

This will depend on how fast the NHL approves the Seattle bid. The way the unwieldy conference structure is right now is interesting but confusing for the fans and everybody else. Realigning into the easy to understand NFL structure of 2 Conferences, each with 4 Divisions of 4 teams with a revised playoff structure makes things easier for everybody to follow. To get to 32 teams for minimum realignment was one of the main reasons the NHL accepted an almost for sure Seattle bid. It also makes it easier to keep expanding the league to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division). As I’ve said in too many articles to count, there are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada (and growing all the time) so the NHL, the NBA, MLB, and the NFL are only a fraction of the size they could be. There are only two questions concerning NHL Realignment. First, will they announce it in 2018 which depends on how fast they officially approve Seattle? Second, since the NHL seems intent on becoming a 40 team league, will any other expansion cities be on board before they officially announce it? Predictability Rating: 80%.

3.     Houston Is Granted An NHL Franchise

This too is probably a “done deal” and again it depends on how fast the NHL approves Seattle. They will probably want to officially approve Seattle first before moving on to new expansion issues. The NHL is not in any hurry to get Houston in the league though it is an almost for-sure action, but they might be a bit anxious to get their hands on more expansion money which will be at least as much as Seattle if not higher. Predictability Rating: 60%.

4.     An Active Hartford Expansion Bidder Will Appear

Hartford has approved a $250 million expansion/renovation of its XL Arena to 19,000 seats. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them three terms for readmission to the NHL (Great fan base [no problem for all three cities]; A proper NHL arena; Acceptable ownership). Winnipeg was used to solve the Atlanta crisis and Quebec has been actively knocking at the door (see its situation listed below). Most likely the NHL will accept Hartford’s arena renovation plans just like they will approve Seattle’s renovation. So that just leaves the ownership problem to be resolved. Hartford made an active attempt to woo the New York Islanders by relocation which has now officially failed because the Islanders will get a new Long Island arena built. So the problem has become finding a rich investor, anxious to get into the NHL. Hartford with a proper arena is a sure money maker like Seattle so somebody is bound to appear though not necessarily this year. Predictability Rating: 40%.

5.     Another Western City Will Be Granted An NHL Franchise

There are lots of cities out west that the NHL would like see enter the league besides Houston. Milwaukee and San Francisco are already building new arenas though they might be too NBA basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Spokane and Saskatoon are long term possibilities. Right now the best possibilities are in Portland, San Diego, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City. Why would the NHL which will accept Seattle for sure and likely approve a serious Houston bid want yet another western city which will tilt league conference imbalance even further? So that the following can happen… Predictability Rating: 30%

6.     Resolution Of The Quebec and Arizona Problems

There is very little chance of the citizens of Phoenix approving a new downtown arena for the Coyotes. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns has declined to go into partnership for a new arena and instead further insulted the Coyotes by renovating its own arena to make it more basketball friendly. At the same time the NHL wants Quebec back in the league, loves the fan base now grown to over 800,000, and the new Videotron arena which they have rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal Canadiens preseason games, but cannot accept the current bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau, an active, pro-separatist potential politician who made public, inappropriate, racist comments about the Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson and is considered too untrustworthy to ever be granted an expansion franchise. The NHL does not want to reject Quebec outright so their current status is officially listed as “deferred”. So moving the unpopular Coyotes to Quebec and adding two more western expansion cities is the obvious solution. This could happen… or it could not. There are other ways of getting more expansion money such as accepting Houston and Hartford now and postponing the Quebec/Phoenix problem still further. But adding Houston and another western city now and at the same time shifting the Coyotes to Quebec to get Peladeau out of the picture makes the most sense. It kills two birds with one stone. It adds two more western expansion fees plus any relocation fee the NHL might want to charge the Coyotes. Predictability Rating: 30%

7.     Pyeongchang Olympics NHL Player Participation Crisis

 

It is all quiet now but in recent years, several players (most notably Alexander Ovechkin) have said that they want to play for their countries in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea. The self-indulgent snobs of the United States and Canada using shallow excuses pulled the NHL out of the Olympics but said they might return in the future. This is clearly an insulting act against South Korea. One of the reasons that the NHL cites for its decision is that Pyeongchang is in a time zone that won’t attract North American television viewers. But the next Winter Olympics will be in China which is in the same time zone or worse, but the Chinese market is over 1 billion people which the NHL wants to exploit… not like “lowly” South Korea which “only” has a market of 50 million. The insulting, laughable hypocrisy of pulling out of South Korea only to go back into China shows the usual ignorance and disrespect of American businessmen and politicians. But a lot of people including many current NHL players, some of which are Americans themselves, consider the Olympics to be a “higher” event, worthy of more respect and reverence than the NHL is showing. As January moves along, the issue of NHL player participation is going to come to the fore. This has never occurred before so nobody knows what the outcome will be. There will probably be some kind of crisis, but nobody knows how big. Predictability Rating: 75%.

8.     South Korea NHL Hockey Embarrassment

The NHL has officially pulled out of the Pyeongchang Olympics but the South Koreans may yet get the last laugh. They have improved their national team hockey program from almost nothing and are now so good, they won their World Hockey Championship Division level last year and got promoted to the top level this year when they will make their debut against “big 7″ competition for the first time. What a thing to happen for poor Bettman, just when he pulled the NHL out of Pyeongchang. Probably what everybody predicts is that the South Koreans, faced with tougher competition will lose every game and then be demoted back to the lower division with a pat on the back for improving so much. But if they do anything significant (even horrors! winning a medal!) and manage to stick around at the top level from now on, what’s Bettman and the NHL going to do? Will he be forced to invite them to be participants in the next World Cup of 2020? What a great way to promote the growth of international hockey which Bettman has stated he wants to do. Pulling the NHL out of Pyeongchang snubs a potential new, major NHL market of 50 million people. Everybody cheer for the South Koreans. Predictability Rating: Impossible to predict because nobody knows how good the upstart South Korean team will play against top competition for the first time. The prediction rating should be low… but almost everybody said that Canada would sweep the unknown USSR back in 1972 and look what happened. Anybody who wants to see international hockey grow should be cheering for South Korea in May.

I’ve just made predictions about the major long term issues that could affect hockey. There are others that could be addressed. The improvement of the quality of play in international hockey is probably the most important issue to be resolved if hockey is to expand world wide, but the likelihood of seeing anything positive done by the NHL and the international powers that be is probably 0% in 2018. Getting Hamilton or another southern Ontario team into the NHL should be a priority but nothing will be done. I have also refrained from commenting on the arena issues in Calgary, San Diego, and Ottawa.

And I have not bothered to predict on short term issues like who will win the World Junior Championships, possible major NHL trades, who will make the Stanley Cup playoffs and who will win the Stanley Cup. For now I’ll leave that to others or for later. The resolution of the eight issues I have listed will make 2018 a significant year for hockey.

 

Add Two More NHL Western Expansion Teams And Quebec Gets The Nordiques Back As A Gift From Phoenix

As noted in my first article about Seattle joining the NHL, there are important consequences for several cities. In a previous article, I described what the consequences could be for Hartford. In this article I will try to project what the consequences could be for Quebec City and Phoenix.

First a brief recap for those people who have not read any of my numerous articles about Quebec, Phoenix, and NHL expansion on this blog. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman visited the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission, the first sign that the NHL wanted to expand again. At the time, the NHL consisted of 30 teams, so readmitting all three cities meant that the NHL would grow to 33 teams, one more than the symmetrical number of 32 that the NFL has.

This implied two important developments: If the NHL could reach 32 teams like the NFL, it would probably realign into the type of structure the NFL has. And by adding a 33rd team, it also meant that the NHL would not limit itself to the 32 symmetrical number like the NFL but continue on, probably to the next symmetrical number of 40, meaning 2 conferences with 4 divisions, each with 5 teams. Unfortunately an ownership crisis occurred in Atlanta and Winnipeg was used to resolve it.

When he toured the three cities, Bettman listed three factors that every new expansion/relocation city must have before the NHL would award a team (no mention of any expansion/relocation fee). These were a good fan base (which all three cities possessed), a proper NHL arena, and s suitable owner. There was no problem accepting Winnipeg which had all three factors covered. Quebec and Hartford are in various stages of satisfying the NHL’s terms.

The NHL is also committed to balanced conferences. They switched Detroit and Columbus to the east and Winnipeg to the west and have now added Las Vegas and Seattle to even things up. That still hasn’t stopped the NHL’s appetite for expansion since they probably want to grow to 40 teams and can get expansion fees of $500 million and then $650 million along the way. There are several other cities known to want a team: Quebec City, Hartford, Houston, and Hamilton/second southern Ontario. Probably there are more.

Unfortunately the NHL is currently stuck with two expansion/relocation problems; Quebec City and Phoenix. In Phoenix, the problem is the arena factor. The citizens of Glendale told the NHL that it was preferable to have an empty arena in the future than have the Arizona Coyotes continue to play there. Bettman and the Arizona ownership publicly agreed. Bettman still wanted an Arizona team located in a new downtown arena to be built in Phoenix. He stood before the Arizona Legislature to plead for public money to build a new arena, whereupon the anti-Coyote opponents, many of whom came from Glendale counter-argued that why should more good public money be spent on a franchise that has only once iced a competitive team in its history.

coyotes

Bettman tried to argue that it would all change with a new arena, but just when he needed to see a competitive team the most, the Arizona ownership and management have presented him with one of the worst teams in Phoenix history, one that was out of playoff contention after only the first ten games of the current season. Barring a miracle, there is no way the Coyotes are going to get any public money for a new arena. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns ownership publicly insulted the Coyotes by renovating their current arena to make it more basketball friendly instead of accepting a proposal to build a new arena in partnership with them.

In Quebec City, the problem is the ownership factor. The NHL loves the entire market of several million people, which stretches from half way to Montreal eastward to include all eastern Quebec province and all four Maritime provinces. The city of Quebec itself has now a metropolitan population of over 800,000. The league also loves the new Quebec Videotron arena which they rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and pre-season Montreal Canadiens games. But the NHL will never accept Pierre Karl Peladeau as owner because he supports the Quebec separatist political party and made insulting racist comments about the current Montreal Canadiens owner and who has many enemies on the NHL Board. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist as an owner.

Videotron

The NHL has never announced a rival bid from a suitable owner from the Quebec area so the obvious solution is to keep the current Arizona Coyote ownership and team, move it out of a city where there will be no arena to play in when the current lease expires, and relocate it in Quebec so that Peladeau is out of the picture. That will mean another conference imbalance, so the NHL needs to work behind the scenes to get two more western expansion cities.

Bettman could not be more overjoyed that the new owner of the NBA Houston Rockets, Tilman Fertitta supports an NHL team in Houston, probably the American city after Seattle that the NHL wants to get a franchise in the most. Even though nothing has been announced, a future Houston team is almost a certain “done deal” like Seattle.

The problem is finding a second western city. There are plenty of candidates. Portland, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, even Saskatoon and San Diego are possibilities. All except Saskatoon (and it is one of Canada’s fastest growing smaller cities so that a franchise at the end of two decades is a realistic possibility) have potential markets to support an NHL team. Milwaukee and San Francisco are building arenas but they may be too basketball friendly and result in another mess like the New York Islanders are currently experiencing with the Barclay’s Center. Kansas City has an excellent arena but nobody seems to trust the fan base which once had a team briefly in the 1970s.

Upstart Oklahoma City which snatched away the NBA Seattle Supersonics after making a failed bid to get an NHL team in the 1990s could be a good choice. Portland, already lined up for a new expansion MLB team and has deep roots in Canadian junior hockey like Seattle is probably the best choice to join Houston. And there is talk in San Diego, now without their NFL Chargers that they will consider building a new arena with the NHL in mind. If they do, they will be a serious contender.

So the admission of Seattle is good news for Quebec City if this speculated plan comes off. Bettman wants to put a team in Quebec City, probably the best current Canadian market without an NHL franchise. He openly consorted with the Quebec City mayor and provincial premier and urged them to complete the new arena even though he probably told them privately that Peladeau was an unacceptable owner. To not honor his promise is an embarrassment for him. Even Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson has hinted that he wants a Quebec City team, just not Peladeau at the Board table. At the same time, Bettman wants to get out of the mess in Phoenix as best as possible. If the NHL can find two more western expansion cities, expect them to be used to kill two birds with one stone, the problems of Phoenix and Quebec.

 

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?

 

Sad NHL Celebratory Centennial Meeting In Montreal

The climax of the NHL’s centenary celebrations this year has started to occur. This year the NHL scheduled its general managers’ meeting in historical Montreal, almost 100 years to the day when the NHL was founded in the Windsor Hotel. You could not accuse NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman of being an ignorant American on the subject of the founding of an exclusive Canadian hockey league in 1917. It was clear from every article on the NHL news section on their website that he was very articulate and knowledgeable about what happened a century ago. He would say all the important and appropriate right things about the historical event and the importance of Montreal in the founding of the league.

What made the occasion sad was that several important relevant NHL topics were brought up at various press conferences and Bettman could not or dared not tell the truth publicly. Instead he was forced to talk as honestly as he could in the usual political/bureaucratic jargon that officials and politicians use in public – vague, hopeful generalities that get politicians and officials off the hook, that paste things over and settle nothing. Let’s go over them and read between the lines.

The first topic was NHL expansion and realignment. Bettman quite rightly stressed the importance of the NHL consolidating and absorbing its newest franchise, Las Vegas. But his bureaucratic jargon statement was that NHL was not going to merely expand for the sake of achieving symmetry – ie. to reach at least 32 teams so that the league could realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences, each with 4 divisions of 4 teams, which would make things easier for the fans to understand and allow the league to expand to 40, even 48 teams.

What he didn’t dare say was that the NHL wanted to reach a symmetrical number of teams during the last expansion and failed, probably because the $500 million expansion fee scared away investors and now he’s got a major problem for future expansion. Either he finds a way to persuade rich investors to accept a $500 million expansion fee for an NHL franchise or he finds a face-saving way to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley, and then sets a new lower expansion fee that investors can accept. Of course none of that was mentioned.

The next topic was NHL expansion to Houston. Tilman Fertitta, owner of the NBA Houston Rockets has publicly stated on his Twitter account that he would like to have an NHL franchise in Houston. Bettman in response uttered the usual generalities that the NHL is delighted in knowing that some investors have an interest in the league and that they are ready to listen to anybody if they can make a new franchise feasible (especially if they have got a spare $500 million around).

What he didn’t say was that the NHL would be overjoyed if Houston joined the league as soon as possible. Houston would be a perfect city to round out the NHL to 32 teams. It is the largest American market without an NHL team. It is the perfect rival for the Dallas Stars. It is located in the right time zone/area to make realignment and balancing the conferences possible. Bettman also did not mention if Fertitta would accept a $500 million expansion fee. But Bettman and the NHL want Houston in the league as fast as possible.

Then came the subject of Quebec City returning to the NHL. Bettman simply repeated the usual previous public statements, that he told before, that he had warned Quebec City officials and politicians that they could keep building their arena but not to expect a team – and not to rule out the possibility of a team coming back to Quebec.

What he didn’t say was that the NHL would love to have Quebec City and its market, now grown to 800,000+ back in the league. That the league loves the new Videotron arena as evidenced by awarding Quebec City a World Cup exhibition game and allowing the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason games there every year. That Bettman had met with officials like the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec provincial premier and urged them to keep building the arena. And most pertinently, that the real reason that the NHL has put the Quebec City bid in “suspension” is because they cannot accept the unsuitable bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau, owner of Quebecor.

At most press conferences, Bettman was accompanied by Montreal Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson, the NHL Board member whom Peladeau publicly insulted with inappropriate racial remarks after he lost his attempt to buy the Canadiens himself. Peladeau’s name was never mentioned at any press conference. Nor was Peladeau present at any public meetings which Bettman attended, a usual occurrence. Sadly, Bettman dropped no hints about any behind the scenes attempts to find a suitable Quebec City owner instead of Peladeau, or if any progress had been made in that direction.

The final interesting topic raised by both Bettman and Molson was about the failure to host an NHL outdoor game in Montreal. And what they didn’t say was that they were waiting for Major League Baseball to announce expansion and bring back the Montreal Expos in an appropriate new baseball stadium. It is well known that Montreal is the leading city for a new MLB expansion franchise and that there is already a group of local businessmen ready to submit a bid and deal with a new stadium issue when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has publicly favored a returned Expos himself, officially announces expansion. It would seem that a returned Expos is a foregone conclusion in the near future and that the NHL is only waiting for that happy event to occur so that they can play outdoor games in Montreal.

And so concludes this article about the NHL’s latest official statements about what is going on with their league. The Commissioner said a lot of relevant, appropriate, and important things in public, but what he didn’t say was much more meaningful.

 

NHL: The Obvious Solution: Move The Coyotes To Quebec And Expand By Three Western Cities

Before going into specifics, here is a list of four of the main problems that are currently oppressing the NHL:

1.      The Arizona Coyotes are virtually dead in the area unless they get a new arena which the ownership does not want to pay for and neither the state nor the municipal authorities want to finance. To rub it in further, the NBA Phoenix Suns have said they would rather upgrade their current arena and make it more basketball friendly than share it again with the Coyotes or go halfsies with them on a new arena. The NHL’s dream of a Phoenix franchise may soon be over.

2.      The NHL wants Quebec City back in the league, loves the fan base/market and the new arena, but cannot abide the potential bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau who has made many enemies on the NHL Board, has made public, inappropriate racial remarks about a Board member, supports a separatist provincial political party and is generally untrustworthy. Except for the ownership problem, Quebec would probably have a team by now.

3.     Though it has not been stated publicly, the NHL wants to realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences of 4 Divisions, each with 4 teams. Not only does this make things easier to follow for the fans, but it allows the NHL to expand easily in the future to the next symmetrical numbers of 40 and 48 teams. There are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in North America right now so there will not be any problem finding potential new markets in the future. The last expansion was a humiliating failure when the NHL only got Las Vegas when they probably wanted Quebec (with a suitable owner) and three western cities. 31 teams is no better the previous awkward 30.

4.      The NHL has to find a way to straighten out its expansion process. For the last expansion, they set a fee of $500 million which the investment world found unacceptable. The NHL got no competition between rival cities for a franchise and had to settle for only Las Vegas, probably the worst expansion in “big 4″ North American sports leagues history. Something has to give. Either the investment world accepts a $500 million expansion fee or the NHL must set a more realistic lower fee which may mean refunding some money back to Bill Foley, the Las Vegas owner. And if neither side will budge, the NHL could be stuck at the awkward, unacceptable 31 team mark for a long time, maybe decades and more.

The obvious solution to some of these problems is to finally admit defeat in establishing an NHL franchise in Phoenix, transfer the team with the same ownership to Quebec and then announce expansion again, focusing on two western cities to balance up the conferences so that the league can realign. The NHL of course wants to have its cake and eat it too. To them, the ideal solution is to get enough Phoenix fans to finally make a Phoenix NHL franchise feasible, including a willingness to spend public finances on yet another new downtown arena; for a suitable Quebec City owner to finally appear, complete with a cheque for $500 million who will then be granted the returned Nordiques franchise; and for the investment world to graciously accept a $500 million expansion fee without any objections, prompting two western cities to join Quebec in bidding for an NHL franchise so that the league can finally realign.

Alas, such ideal dreams have yet to materialize. To break down the list of problems that are thwarting the NHL’s ideal solution:

1.      After rejecting the proposed Quebec owner, the Quebec bid has been officially “suspended” indefinitely by the NHL. For a whole year, there has not been any solution offered and since finding a suitable owner is being done behind closed doors, it is difficult to determine if any progress has been made. No new owner (preferably a French Canadian Quebecer) has appeared in 2017 any more than one appeared in 1995 when Quebec lost its team. And if Quebec does have to get its team back by franchise shift like Winnipeg, will the fans and the powers that be accept an owner who may not speak a word of French?

2.      Other eastern cities as well as western ones may want an NHL franchise. Hartford, to whom the NHL has made the same unofficial commitment as to Quebec wants to update its old arena by $250 million and openly solicited the owners of the New York Islanders to become a returned Hartford Whalers. And Hamilton is willing to spend $50 million to update Copps Coliseum if the NHL will finally tell Toronto and Buffalo to set some reasonable compensation terms. This of course will upset the balance between the two conferences even further but it is a minor problem. Expand now, realign, and then balance up the conferences later.

3.      More serious for Hartford and Seattle is whether the NHL will accept renovated old arenas instead of brand new ones. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary and urged municipal officials to build a brand new arena. The pouty Flames ownership has indulged in “or else” talk about building a new arena instead of accepting a cheaper renovation of the 34 year old Saddledome. But if the NHL cannot accept a renovated 34 year old arena, how can they accept what Seattle and Hartford propose to do on older buildings?

4.      After the humiliating last expansion, the NHL has yet to announce what its future expansion fee will be. For now, expansion is a dead issue, but unless the league expands, it cannot realign.

If the idealized NHL dream listed above cannot be realized, what should the NHL do? Bettman made an unofficial commitment to Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford back in 2010 by giving them terms for readmission (fan base, arena, owner) and openly encouraged the Quebec provincial and municipal governments to keep building their new arena despite knowing that the proposed Quebec owner was unsuitable. He can hardly urge a city and a province to spend $375 million tax dollars and not give them anything. Similarly, Hartford and Seattle propose to spend nearly $1 billion tax dollars on renovations between them. He and his Flames ownership supporters will have to climb down on their “new arena or else” stand and accept reasonable renovations to the Saddledome or else tell Hartford and Seattle that they have spent nearly $1 billion tax dollars for nothing.

Here are a few possible alternative policies besides staying stagnant at present.

1.      NHL moves Arizona to Quebec but does not realign or expand.

This is the minimum that can be done and at least solves the two worst problems. The NHL’s unofficial commitment to Quebec is resolved and the Phoenix problem is (not without some humiliation) finally settled. One half of Bettman’s Canadian critics disappear. The disadvantage is that realignment and conference balancing get postponed and that the NHL won’t get a $500 million expansion fee from Quebec. There is also the problem of whether Quebec will accept non-French speaking owners.

2.      NHL moves Arizona to another western city and does not expand.

This solves the Phoenix problem but nothing more. It keeps things as they are though the Coyotes will now be in (hopefully) a more hockey friendly city with a good arena. But it does not solve the Quebec, realignment, or conference balance problems. Nor does it get any expansion fee money.

3.      NHL moves Arizona to Quebec and expands by three western cities.

This solves all four problems. It means that the Quebec and Phoenix problems disappear and only the question of whether Quebec will accept non-French speaking owners remains. (Most likely they will. Only the racists will be discontented.) It means that the NHL can realign and that the conferences will be balanced. It means that the NHL has got some amount of expansion fee from somebody, but not from Quebec. It means that either the NHL has set an expansion fee which the investment world finds acceptable (probably meaning a refund of some expansion money back to Bill Foley, the Las Vegas owner), or that the investment world has finally accepted a $500 million NHL expansion fee. And if Hamilton and Hartford also want to get an NHL franchise too, so what. The league can still realign, collect more expansion fee money, and balance the conferences through more expansion later. That’s a minor problem that can be postponed.

The only thing that is known for sure is that the present situation is unacceptable. The awkward 31 teams are no better than the previous 30. By its failed attempt to bring back Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford via expansion, the NHL has indicated that it is not content to just expand to the current NFL structure of 32 teams, but wants to at least reach the next symmetrical number in such a structure of 40 teams, meaning 5 teams to a division.

Certainly the NHL is going to be focusing on getting western expansion cities to match a shift of the Coyotes to Quebec. Just for fun here are (in my opinion) the best western cities for the NHL to expand to. I’ve listed them in some of my previous articles. Feel free to comment or make other suggestions.

Best Choices:

Seattle

Portland

Milwaukee

Saskatoon (now or long term)

Spokane (now or long term)

 

Other Cities Worth Taking A Chance On:

Houston

Oklahoma City

San Francisco

Salt Lake City

Second Chicago

Kansas City

 

Rumored Other Cities:

San Diego

 

Quebec City Gets The Players Vote For Expansion

The heat just got turned up further on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about getting Quebec City back in the NHL. In a recent players poll for USA Today, 67% of the NHL players who were asked which city should be the next NHL expansion team said Quebec City, the failed bidder in the last expansion, whose bid has been officially put into “suspension” by the NHL.

Actually, Quebec City would have been accepted without a problem during the last expansion along with Las Vegas, if they had a suitable bidder. In 2010, Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford and offered them terms for readmission, the first sign that the NHL was considering expansion in the future. These terms included three important factors; great fan base, a proper NHL size arena, and a suitable owner. Winnipeg is back (though through a franchise shift), Quebec has been knocking at the door, and now Hartford has said that it wants to join the party.

Quebec has now 800,000 municipal residents and a market that stretches from half way to Montreal eastward to include the four Maritime provinces. There is no problem with a fan base. It just opened the Videotron arena that the NHL loves so much, that it awarded Quebec City an exhibition World Cup game and allowed the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason exhibition games there. No problem with an arena.

That leaves the third factor, ownership, and the NHL wants nothing to do with Pierre Karl Peladeau, the owner of the Quebecor bidder. He is a known supporter of the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois; he engaged in a bidding war to buy the Montreal Canadiens against current owner Geoff Molson and when he lost, he made inappropriate public racial remarks about Molson; then he tried to obstruct one of Molson’s business colleagues; and is regarded by the NHL Board as too untrustworthy to be considered a Board member. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on the Board, no matter how much money he is offering. The damage he could potentially do far outweighs the half billion dollars that Peladeau is offering. Peladeau’s bid was doomed long before the first shovel for building the Videotron plunged into the earth. Gary Bettman turned Peladeau down without a second thought.

That still leaves the NHL’s unofficial commitment to Quebec City. Probably during the construction period, Bettman, who was seen publicly many times with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial premier but never with Peladeau, told the premier and the mayor privately that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner, but to continue to build the arena while he searched for a new owner.

Because whatever Bettman is doing or has done is behind the scenes, behind closed doors, it is difficult to see what is going on. He has to find a new owner and get Peladeau out of the picture. For a while I speculated that Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux who played his junior hockey in Quebec City and was selling his shares of the Penguins might be the new owner. Then I thought that Patrick Roy who resigned his coaching post with Colorado with ex-Nordique General Manager Joe Sakic’s blessing might be involved in an ownership group. He said at the Quebec exhibition World Cup game that he would do all he could to get Quebec City the Nordiques back.

But whatever Bettman is doing or hasn’t done is all shrouded in dark mystery so nobody but insiders have any clue to any progress being made. The NHL is quite content to live without Quebec City so long as they do not have a suitable owner forever. But that will not make Bettman very happy after the public promises he made during his 2010 tour.

Can he get rid of Peladeau or come to terms with him? Can he find suitable French Canadian owners? And if he can’t find suitable French Canadian owners, will Quebec accept English Quebec owners like Molson or outsiders from “English Canada” or the United States who cannot speak a word of French?

Canadians of course like to believe the myth they themselves created; that Bettman is an anti-Canadian and leads a gang of American owners who are opposed to any expansion to Canada. That’s hardly true of a Commissioner who publicly invited Winnipeg and Quebec to come back, urges new arenas in Ottawa and Calgary, and vows to give Edmonton a future All Star game and a chance to host the NHL Draft after being impressed during a tour of Edmonton’s new arena.

With all this public mystery going on, Quebec remains in suspension. Now a poll of the NHL’s players reveal that they favor Quebec City to be the next expansion team. That also makes things awkward for Bettman who wants to realign the league into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences each with 4 divisions of 4 or more teams. Quebec City is in the east, meaning that the most western team, either Detroit or Columbus has to be shifted back to the Western Conference at least temporarily which neither city wants. What Bettman really wants is an expansion by a single western city or an expansion by Quebec and two western cities. The last expansion, which was supposed to bring in four “done deals” and only got Las Vegas was a humiliating failure.

If you go on the Internet, you’ll see websites claiming that the NHL has no interest in Quebec and expanding further in Canada or that Las Vegas got in instead of or at the expense of Quebec City. None of it is true. The NHL and Bettman want Quebec back (especially if they can get another $500 million). So now does the majority of the players. It is bigotry, racism, and lack of capital that is keeping Quebec City out of the NHL. Everybody wants Quebec back, but nobody has found the key to unlocking the door.

 

Some Cities Are Waking Up About New Arenas And Stadiums

The latest news from Calgary is that negotiations have broken off. These negotiations were about the controversial “Calgary Next” project, a combined NHL-CFL arena-stadium project or at least a single project that replaces the “old” Saddledome. It’s about time. Fans and their elected politicians should not be at the mercy of fickle and arrogant sports leagues that show no loyalty to their communities and expect new facilities every few decades.

Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It is 34 years old and with over 19,000 seats, is one of the bigger NHL arenas. It has been renovated once. Suddenly the Calgary Flames ownership and management find it abhorrent. They of course do not want to pay for a new facility themselves and have issued a vague “or else” threat to the city if they do not get their way. (Are there secret negotiations with other cities without NHL hockey underway?)

Responsible representative municipal politicians have every reason to question the Flames and the NHL before plunging money into a possible bottomless pit, especially in this day and age. All they have to do is look at the actions of the even more high and mighty, arrogant NFL to fear the consequences. That wonderful league stripped St. Louis of the Cardinals but promised the city a new team if they would build a modern stadium. St. Louis complied and the NFL was happy to shift the Los Angeles Rams there when L.A. told the league to take a hike about building a new stadium.

Two decades later after Los Angeles finally decided to build a modern stadium, the NFL treacherously allowed the Rams to depart St. Louis because of the unstated reason that Los Angeles is a much bigger market where they can make more money. So much for the new modern stadium St. Louis built that is only a mere two decades old. Now the NFL wants them to build another one. The NFL could have expanded and started the process of becoming a 40 team league which would have hurt no one, but instead decided to unnecessarily hurt loyal fans and blackmail cities into spending billions on new facilities. To make the point plainer, they stripped San Diego and Oakland too. Based on the NFL which punishes cities and their taxpayers even if they comply with their wishes, if you were a Calgary municipal official, would you trust the NHL and the Flames?

The “Calgary Next” project is highly questionable. Costs range from under one billion to nearly to nearly two billion. If the costs cannot be accurate, there is no point even considering the project. Deceitful figures could cost taxpayers millions of dollars which could be spent better elsewhere. Taxpayers and their representatives have every right to delay and question things.

If this were the New York Islanders, a franchise that played in a facility that became obsolete, especially in seating capacity, and then moved to a facility that is even smaller with obstructed seats and bad ice, I would have some sympathy. But in Calgary there has been nothing specifically stated about what is wrong with the Saddledome. If the Flames would lay out what exactly is wrong, perhaps a much cheaper renovation could be attempted. But like spoiled brats they simply complain that the Saddledome is too old at 34 years old and then threaten to blackmail the city by leaving if they don’t get their way. If hockey was not so important to Calgary and its fans, I’d say, “See ya.”

Based on this logic, the 86 year old Empire State Building should have been torn down decades ago and a new one, taller than the Freedom Tower built. If sports franchise owners are this important, what about businessmen and home owners? Over 90% of all North American cities should be torn down and rebuilt at taxpayer expense because these people are “owed” it. But set a standard age date for a facility. 25 years, a quarter of a century and then tear it down. How about building me a new home? I deserve it.

What should be questioned is the whole concept of taxpayers paying for new facilities for rich sports franchise owners. Since when is a North American sports franchise owner “owed” a facility at public expense? Compared to most people, they’ve got too much already. But supporting a team is like a drug for most fans, as bad an addiction as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Under its spell, all logic is cast aside in an effort to be the top banana.

This problem is by no means confined to Calgary or even the NHL. Besides Calgary, here are a list of other current NHL related facility problems, excluding the legitimate New York Islander mess.

Quebec City, which wants the Nordiques back and complied with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s terms and built the Videotron, which the NHL loves, only to be thwarted by the ownership factor and have a bidder whom the NHL can’t abide.

Hartford, which also wants the Whalers back and is now willing to spend $250 million to update the XL Center. But if the NHL cannot abide the 34 year old Saddledome, how can they accept a 41 year old renovated building? There has been no comment by the NHL if this renovation will be acceptable. Hartford could be spending $250 million for nothing.

Hamilton, which was a front-running city for an NHL team in the 1980s and built Copps Coliseum in the anticipation of NHL expansion only to lose its potential franchise to Ottawa in a bungled bid. The city was prepared to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena if Jim Balsille managed to pry the Coyotes from Phoenix but the NHL opposed it and Buffalo and Toronto refused to set reasonable compensation terms. Thus the two best Canadian markets, Hamilton and Quebec City, sure money makers, remain without teams.

The possible end of the Phoenix Coyotes. Here at least, common sense may be taking over. Both the NHL and the suburb of Glendale have publicly said that they want to be rid of each other. An arena, specifically built for the Coyotes that is only 13 years old is now completely unsuitable. The NHL wants a new downtown Phoenix arena built. But the Arizona legislature and local taxpayers and their representatives are not going to have much sympathy for a franchise that is abandoning a 13 year old facility that was built specifically for them at taxpayer expense and has only iced a competitive team once in its entire history. Gary Bettman’s dream of a Phoenix team may come to an end.

Ottawa, which claims that its current arena is too far away to attract sellout crowds consistently. The Senators want a new downtown arena built. This may be the only new project that gets off the ground without much controversy.

Seattle, which was the front runner, along with Las Vegas and Quebec in the last NHL expansion. But nobody can decide who will build and where a new arena can be built. And if the potential NBA owner builds the arena, will it have the same problems that the New York Islanders found in the Barclay’s Center that was built specifically for basketball?

Kansas City, which built the Sprint Center to get both an NHL and NBA franchise. But nobody trusts the Kansas City market as being suitable for big league hockey. Kansas City has hosted some NHL preseason exhibition games which were either sellouts or half full depending on who was playing. And local investors did not like the NHL’s greedy $500 million expansion fee. So the Sprint Center remains empty without a professional hockey and basketball tenant.

Milwaukee and San Francisco which are currently building new arenas for the local NBA team. But both new facilities will be far under the current NHL seating medium of over 18,000 seats and since they are being built for a basketball team, they may have the same problems as the Barclay’s Center.

It’s time for some sober second judgment. Every hockey fan wants a local NHL team with a good facility but there has to be a return to common sense first. North American professional sports have become more and more unreal, catering only for rich fans. But when every taxpayer, rich and poor is on the hook for sports facility projects, the mindless worship for professional sports has to be set aside. There is too much money being wasted right now. Some cities are waking up to it. We’ll see what plays out.

 

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.

toronto

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.

Hamilton

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.

Quebec

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.