Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quebec City: Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, then you know that the Atlanta Thrashers long anticipated move the Winnipeg has finally happened. The Winnipeg Jets/Falcons/Moose have made it seven NHL franchises in Canada and one of the sunbelt franchises that has been hemorrhaging money has finally moved North of the 49th parallel. As soon as that happened, the topic of Quebec City immediately was brought up during the Winnipeg press conference and gave Gary Bettman another reason to not want to be in that room.

A lot of people are assuming that if the Phoenix issue continues to disintegrate that they will instantly move to Quebec City. Unfortunately of the people in the provincial capital of Quebec, it's really not going to be that easy. The NHL will be loathe to move yet another franchise from the deep south up north, especially one that they've fought so hard to keep where it is and a team that is one of a very few in a major Western market. They already have Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, and Columbus in the Western Conference even though they're all on the eastern side of the continent. Also Phoenix is one of the largest markets in the league and NBC (who basically treats the NHL like it's toy because they're willing to fork over some dollars) will not be pleased with losing such a large audience.

A difference between Quebec City and Winnipeg is that Winnipeg has an arena while Quebec City does not. Le Colisee is an absolute dump and was a big reason why the Nordiques skipped town back in 1996 so there's no way an NHL will play in there. There is a plan to build a 400 million dollar arena in the city with Quebec City covering 200 million of the costs and the rest split between the provincial government and probable team owner Pierre-Karl Peladeau. These groups are so bound and determined to get this done that they're trying to pass a bill through the Quebec legislature (or National Assembly as it's called there) ensuring that there can be no challenge to Quebecor's deal to manage this proposed arena. Quebec City mayor Regis Lebeaume was re-elected on a platform based on bringing the NHL back to Quebec City and has chosen to work with Peladeau to get that done. However even with all of this, the arena is supposedly on schedule to open it's doors in 2015 and one has to wonder if that will be too late. Right now the iron is red hot in terms of the possibility to move NHL franchises up North but with the lack of an arena until 2015 this gives Bettman another 4-5 years to fix up Phoenix and Florida. One thing that isn't smart is underestimating the resourcefulness and determination of Gary Bettman so I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see these franchises somehow skating by to the point where they can keep them in their current markets.

Another potential option for the NHL that has had rumblings recently is the possibility of Seattle as an NHL market. They to do not have an NHL quality arena and lost the NBA's SuperSonics to Oklahoma for this reason but they are a large American market. So if Seattle decides to build a new arena around the same time as Quebec City and a rich man like Paul Allen (owner of the Seahawks, Mariners, and Portland Trailblazers) get's convinced by the league that it's a good investment, where do you think they'd rather have a team? An American market that has a metro area population of 3.4 million on the Westcoast where they're desperate to have teams (especially if it's Phoenix that's moving) or a small Canadian market with a metro area population of 716,000? Doesn't take a lot to see which way the numbers swing and in who's favour.

Now, one could also argue that 4 years from now the NHL would be more willing to move Phoenix or Florida because the blow would be softer then if they moved two franchises to Canada in rapid succession. However, I believe that the reasons above outway this and that I will be very surprised if there are 8 Canadian NHL franchises in the near future.

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