NHL Will Not Wage Relocation Just Yet

Bleacher Report Correspondent IApril 24, 2009

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 15:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the media during game one of the 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena on April 15, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

After it was known by reporters across Toronto that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had courted GTA businessmen on Thursday, it was inevitable rumors would dash through the city without so much a word of confirmation.

While Daly did later divulge his intent to discuss the viability of relocation to Toronto, he also maintained that this particular trip was one out of many visits to a handful of other potential markets in which another team could be supported.

Of course, with the distraught state of the economy coinciding with an evident amassing of debt for some NHL franchises—Jim Balsillie, CEO of Research in Motion, is still eager to swing a deal for a team to be moved to southern Ontario—speculation will almost never cease.

Kevin Maguire, who once suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs as an enforcer in the late 1980s, was responsible for leading the group that pitched the idea of plausibly relieving a struggling U.S. market of a financially destitute sport franchise and placing it in a more fruitful environment.

"I truly believe getting an NHL team would be tremendous for the city of Vaughan, but the league has said that a second team in the Toronto area is not something that's on their radar screen right now," Maguire said in a news release.

Vaughan, which had previously sought to house Toronto FC’s soccer facilities upon the creation of the expansion franchise in MLS, is very much a grassroots hockey constituency, and thoughts of extending the subway line to the city have entered deliberation at various junctures in past years.

The obvious targets for relocation include the Phoenix Coyotes, who in December were expected to experience a loss between $25 and $30 million this season alone, the New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning, all of which have significantly regressed in finances, attendance turnout, and league repute.

Islanders owner Charles Wang has threatened to entertain possible relocation if there isn’t enough money to revamp Nassau Coliseum in a development that has been called the Lighthouse Project or an infusion of fans in the years leading to the arena’s lease expiration in 2015.

The arena is the smallest in the NHL. It contains a capacity crowd of 16,234, and the team finished last among 29 other teams.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, are seeking ownership change and barely have enough financial grounding to even keep it intact, as the city of Glendale, Ariz., has relayed finances to fund Jobing.com Arena.

In addition, the Coyotes have been sucking the NHL revenue sharing stream as if it were a drunkard at a bar tap, which is one of the reasons why the team is able to consider retaining its position in the Arizona marketplace. As long as they remain with a for sale sign hammered in front of their porch, an American owner may just come along and refinance the team to stay in Phoenix.

Commissioner Gary Bettman is adamant that relocation will not be an avenue explored any time soon, so all of these teams may not reach a stage in which they can propose or demand a move.

"If at some point we're in the business of relocating or expanding, we're going to open it up because the number of people and the number of places that want franchises is a fairly lengthy list," Bettman said on his XM radio station Thursday. "Nobody has the corner on the market."

And despite the evident merit in an unquestionable lucrative market like Vaughan, it may not be wise to consider anything rash just because of a stumbling economy.

For a league that is trying to appeal to a general audience and garner attention from the casual fan, any kind of franchise movement would be an indication of instability—not the best selling point for any sports league.

But then again, it isn’t very endearing to any hockey fan to see ticket prices gouged in order to attract a large concourse.

Unless a team has only one finger clinging to the precipice of existence, any conspiracies about relocation can be shelved for a later date.