NHL Realignment: Quebec Weighs Options to Bring Hockey Back

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NHL Realignment: Quebec Weighs Options to Bring Hockey Back
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Two cities emerged as big winners because of the NHL's new realignment plan.

The Dallas Stars, whose fan support has dwindled in part from playing too many games in later time zones, got what they wanted when realignment placed them in a conference entirely composed of teams located in the central or eastern time zones.

The other city is would-be NHL returnee Quebec City.

Because of the new realignment, the door to returning to the NHL has been pried wide open for Quebec to have the Nordiques again with either a relocated team or an expansion team.

And it's obvious from the realignment that the NHL has the Phoenix Coyotes in mind.

Before this new agreement took place, the biggest remaining obstacle to Quebec returning to the NHL was realignment.

Under the current setup, the NHL did not want any more realignment problems, which would have ensued if a Western Conference team was shifted east.

That meant if Quebec wanted back into the NHL, it would have been with either an expansion team or with a troubled relocated Eastern Conference team like the New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils or Florida Panthers.

That meant Phoenix would be safe from Quebec's ambition.

But under the new realignment, it is now possible for Quebec to go after any team (even the Toronto Maple Leafs if they have nearly $2 billion to spend).

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The NHL made this possible by making both eastern conferences—which Quebec would be part of—only seven teams and stuffing the two western conferences with eight teams.

That makes it possible for Quebec to get every kind of team—relocated Eastern Conference, relocated Western Conference, an expansion team—without causing any realignment problems.

The NHL could have made the eastern conferences with eight teams by moving Columbus and Detroit there, thus completely solving its realignment problems.

But they chose to leave them in the west—clearly expecting that Quebec, Hartford, Hamilton or some other eastern city to make a move.

Columbus and Detroit have been somewhat mollified by reducing the number of pacific and mountain time zone games they have to play, though they would have preferred to be in a conference that has all eastern time zone teams.

By realigning the NHL in way that would allow the hungriest non-NHL city back into the league as soon as possible, it's obvious the NHL is tiring of owning the Phoenix Coyotes and it's that team they have in mind for Quebec.

It's obvious the NHL is taking Quebec's word seriously when they say they will build a new 18,000+-seat arena and have multimedia giant Quebecor as its owner.

In 2010, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a grand tour of all the cities whose teams he took away in the 1990s and told them that the price of readmission was an NHL-size arena with credible ownership.

If the NHL can accept Winnipeg with its small 15,000-seat arena, they will certainly accept Quebec with an arena of NHL median size and a much bigger surrounding market that stretches halfway to Montreal and includes all of eastern Quebec and the Maritimes.

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Quebec has been clamouring for reinstatement to the NHL for several years.  80,000 fans signed a petition for a returned Nordiques, and the mayor and premier of Quebec made the arena a municipal and provincial political issue.

It is mostly taxpayer money that will build the new arena.

By realigning the NHL so Quebec can now go after the Coyotes, the NHL has shot the puck into Quebec's side of the arena.  It is now Quebec's move.

All the NHL is waiting for is to see arena construction begin and for Quebecor to step forward with the purchase money.

But while the jaws of victory are wide open, it is still possible to snatch defeat away.

The longer Quebec dawdles, the more chance it gives for others to step in.  The NHL has made it clear that it doesn't want to keep the money-losing Coyotes around its neck like an albatross forever.

In the unlikely event Hartford finally gets its head clear over the ownership and arena issues, it would be an interesting competition for both ex-NHL cities to go after a team at the same time.

Hamilton is still licking its wounds after its failed attempt to get the Coyotes.  Despite Jim Balsillie's reconciliation with the NHL, the league would prefer to sell the Coyotes to someone else than have the humiliation of Balsillie getting the Coyotes, even if it is legal this time.

The NHL is now willing to swallow Balsillie but preferably with the Blue Jackets, Islanders, Devils, Panthers or an expansion team.

Toronto is now in the mix for another team.

Then there are western cities like Kansas City and Seattle, or any unnamed owners from other cities who have been waiting for the NHL to finally give up on the Coyotes and accept bids from elsewhere.

But Quebec is clearly the favourite.  Even if they don't get the Coyotes, the door is still wide open to get another troubled franchise or expansion team.

If Quebec somehow fails to get back into the NHL soon, the main enemy will have been themselves.

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