To be perfectly honest, I'm really torn on this issue.
It would be great to have another NHL franchise in Southern Ontario, but there are many alarm bells going off in my head.
The only way to come to a decision is to break down all the facts, opinions and points:
PRO: A second NHL team in Southern Ontario will provide fans with a new way to see hockey played at the highest level. Maple Leaf tickets are extremely hard to get a hold of—not to mention the fact that they are also incredibly expensive. A new team equals a new opportunity for fans to see the NHL's best.
PRO: A new team will create new jobs for Ontarians. There will be jobs in the club's front office. There will be a need for ushers and vendors. There will also be construction jobs created for the building of a new arena and/or renovating Copps Coliseum. We're in the midst of a recession. A new team will create opportunities for people looking for work.
PRO: A new team is good for the economy. Money will be made though admission and merchandise sales. There will also be plenty of advertising deals. Portions of the profits will be pumped back into the economy. Of course, this won't clear up all economic troubles, but it's certainly helpful.
PRO: The new team would not be an expansion team. Therefore, regular season and playoff success is likely to occur sooner. From all accounts, the Phoenix Coyotes appear to be an up-and-coming team.
CON: As pointed out by The Fan 590's Jack Armstrong, a second NHL team in Southern Ontario will negatively affect all other area-based teams; not just the Maple Leafs and the Sabres, but also the Raptors, the Blue Jays, TFC, the Argos, Ti-cats and Bills, the Marlies and Bulldogs, the Rock, Bandits and Nationals, and all nearby OHL and OHA clubs.
As shown by the sports media, hockey comes first in Southern Ontario. A new NHL club will take away attention from all these teams. A new club could also take away fans and their money. For example, your average sports fan may decide to spend his/her hard earned money on "Coyotes" tickets, instead of Raptor tickets.
CON: Yes, there's a market for a second NHL team, but will there be enough support? I'm not an expert, but if Southern Ontario is a great hockey market, wouldn't every single professional team in the area do well in terms of attendance and support.
As I've written before, the Hamilton Bulldogs averaged 4900 fans at their homes games (played at Copps Coliseum) during their 2006-07 AHL season; the same season when the Bulldogs won the Calder Cup. In fact, the game where they actually won the AHL championship had a paid attendance of 14,205—about 5,000 seats short of a sellout.
The Marlies have also had a poor attendance record, even though the team has performed better than their parent club the past two seasons. Let's not forget about the disastrous 2007 AHL All-star game held at Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum.
Based on these results, I have to question anyone who says Southern Ontario would be a great hockey market.
CON: The Coyotes are a Western Conference team. Hamilton, which is where the team will likely end up, is more suited to be in the Eastern Conference. If the Coyotes are reassigned to the East, it will create uneven conferences.
It seems minor, but it will affect how the games are scheduled. If they stay in the West, then the team will likely have to adjust to time-zone differences more often, which leads to a greater chance of fatigue. Remember, all Eastern Conference team are part of the same time-zone. The Western Conference teams do not have that luxury. Either way, it's a lose-lose situation.
CON: The Maple Leafs have deep roots in Southern Ontario. I simply cannot imagine a world where Leaf fans would be willing to buy season tickets for a different NHL team.
In addition, I would be very surprised if MLSE allowed another team to relocate to Southern Ontario. Jim Balsillie would have to compensate MLSE for any loss of revenue caused by his team.
VERDICT: Based on the breakdown, I feel a second NHL club in Southern Ontario would be a bad idea. As I said, there is a market, but I wonder if there will be sufficient support. Based on the signatures Balsille has collected on his website, there appears to be some form of support.
But I feel that's because the media has made this out to be an "American Commissioner vs. Canada" storyline. Gary Bettman is not anti-Canadian. He made sure the Oilers and Flames stay in their respective cities because he understands the importance of hockey to Canadians.
The issue here is Balsillie trying to bring an NHL team to Southern Ontario by using an approach that's not approved by the NHL owners. The NHL would have no problem having a team in Southern Ontario, as long as the relocation follows their procedures.
What makes the situation such a mess is the various reports which claim that Balsille's actions have hurt his reputation with the other NHL owners. If his attempt to move the Coyotes fails, it's because of the owners and not Gary Bettman.
Regardless, it's likely that there will be a second NHL team in Southern Ontario in the future. However, if it turns into a financial disaster and fails to draw support, I will not be surprised.