“I am firmly convinced now, that once [Quebec] puts the first shovel in the ground, that team is theirs.”
One of my Bleacher Report contacts made this assertion over the course of our communications updating each other on NHL realignment over the past several years. Since Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume's announcement on October 11, 2009 that Quebec was interested in re-joining the NHL to hints that the provincial government would allocate $6.8 million in improvements to Pepsi Coliseum for an NHL team to play there until Videotron Arena was ready in 2015, the writing has been on the wall.
I wrote this article explaining the latest developments in Phoenix’s annual relocation rumor mill that now appears to be reaching its conclusion after a long and protracted three-year battle.
With Sunday’s announcement by the Mayor and Pierre Karl Pedeleau, the media mogul behind Sun Media that owns much of Canada, it seems we've reached the point of no return, and those shovels are now scheduled to break ground come September.
But it won’t take that long. If you are any of the dozen or so real Phoenix fans, Sunday’s news probably legitimized the inevitable. Sometime after the playoffs, Gary Bettman should announce that no local owner could be found in Arizona and thus, he had no choice but to open relocation to places like Seattle, Kansas City, or Quebec. Unlike Seattle, which has only plans for an arena and a potential owner, Quebec can offer both now. Kansas City has no owner nor the 19 years of NHL membership and successful junior hockey program that Quebec does.
Again, should the Coyotes end up in Quebec, fans there will make Winnipeg's celebration look like a funeral mass. Does anyone remember Le Marche Bleue on the Plains of Abraham in 2010 or the “Nordiques Nation” rallies in New York City, Nassau Coliseum, or New Jersey? I don’t recall 23 bus loads of Winnipeggers going across borders to rally their fans.
Quebec will be great for the NHL, and vice versa, and the 25 or so year lease that they’ll sign at Videotron Arena will ensure the club's long-term stability infused with new corporate dollars that pre-1995 lacked. Finally, if they are smart, they’ll do what True North Sports and Entertainment did in Winnipeg and require 3-5 year season ticket commitment from fans in the new 18,000-seat arena.
With Phoenix off the table, does the relocation-musical-chairs stop now?
Of course, this is a stretch, but one of those markets now almost certainly will get a team (Markham has the better chance) and they'll use the Winnipeg and Quebec blueprint for getting results.
Sadly, the next relocation is probably the New York Islanders from Long Island, but I remain hopeful that something will save this historic team from suffering fate similar to that of Atlanta and Phoenix. Even a move to Canada wouldn't be good for business nor would it be the right solution.
“But Joe, aren’t you ever satisfied? I’ve read your articles for years, you seem to want 10 teams in Canada.”
While that would be ideal with Saskatoon possibly joining Markham or Hamilton, it’s also not practical. Most marketing dollars for the sport lie in the US' bigger markets and there is a fear of over-saturating the markets of Canada. If Quebec is added to the 30 team league, Canada will comprise 25% of the leagues franchises, which is its highest percentage since 1995 when the Nordiques and Jets first existed in the 26 team league.
The bottom line is that Canadians and American hockey fans like me should be happy that we got two historic fan-bases back, since its almost assured that the next relocation will occur within the United States, in say Portland, Milwaukee, or any of the aforementioned Seattle, Kansas City, Hartford, or Las Vegas.
I personally won’t be satisfied until all wrongs to the NHL that I grew up with have been corrected, with the Hartford Whalers back in the NHL, preferably at the expense of another failed Southern franchise.
After Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford all get teams via relocation and not expansion, if you want to be risky and move another team out West that’s fine. Its interesting to think about what a Seattle team might mean for the NHL, but I don’t care about that nearly as much as restoring these Eastern hardcore fanbases first.
Still, two relocations in two years is sure to create a lot of buzz, even though we all know it was a solution to a problem that was a long time coming—one that began in the mid 1990’s with the Sunbelt experiment, and was destined to fail from the very beginning.
This realization appropriately reflects the Jets and the Nordiques rebirths—better late than never.
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