It’s Time for Canada To Say Goodbye to the NHL

January 30th, 2011 by Steve Thompson Leave a reply »

If Quebec City, Winnipeg or any other Canadian city had hopes for government money, particularly from the Canadian Federal Government to build arenas or other facilities to get an NHL franchise, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has effectively killed the idea stone dead during this year’s NHL All-Star festivities.

On the two key issues for NHL expansion/relocation back to Canada, Winnipeg and Quebec City, Bettman merely confirmed what an increasing number of Canadians think:  The NHL is anti-Canadian, cannot be trusted and NO Canadian tax dollars from whatever source should EVER be allotted to projects to get an NHL team.

Winnipeg’s main hope was to get its former team back, now known as the Phoenix Coyotes, and turn them back into the Winnipeg Jets.

For more than two years, the Coyotes have teetered on the edge of going out of existence, and a deadline of December 31, 2010 had been set to allow a local deal to be consummated to allow the team to remain in Phoenix.  After that date, anyone could bid for the team and move them to wherever they chose.

But even though Chicago billionaire Matthew Hulsizer failed to meet the December deadline, Bettman continues to refuse anyone else to make a bid.

At the All-Star festivities, he flatly stated he would never set a “drop dead” date for the sale. He’s prepared to let things drag on for as long as necessary.  Quite a contrast to the NBA, which is prepared to let troubled franchise, New Orleans move without raising a finger of opposition.

Bettman was of course glad to have potential Winnipeg saviors (suckers?), David Thomson and Mark Chipman sit in the background in case the worst occurred.

He even went as far as saying that Winnipeg’s too-small, 15,000-seat arena was NHL caliber.

Well, if Thomson, Canada’s richest man and the 10th richest man in the world, and his partner are acceptable investors, and Winnipeg’s arena is “NHL caliber,” why doesn’t Winnipeg have a team already?

Winnipeg doesn’t need the Coyotes to return to get an NHL franchise.

Paired with another American western city, the NHL could expand to Winnipeg now.  That would allow the Detroit Red Wings to move east, which they long to do, and also give the NHL a symmetrical 32 teams like the NFL, and allow for realignment.

Bettman also opened the eyes of Canadian taxpayers who don’t want their money spent on a Quebec City arena.

Quebec quite rightly believes that a modern arena is essential for an NHL team to survive and is trying to raise $400 million for such a project.

They hope that most of the financing will come from government sources and the city and province are already on board.

But to get federal funding, the project must be pictured as a “national” one, and Quebec is trying to disguise its real plans by saying that the arena is needed for a Winter Olympic bid.

In truth, the arena would be built to bring back the Quebec Nordiques.

Bettman has spoken to Quebec officials but has undermined their hopes during the All-Star festivities by saying, “The fact of the matter is there have been a lot of stories over the last couple of years suggesting a new building Quebec City is a done deal…We’re not planning on expanding, we’re not planning on relocation, so we cannot promise you a franchise.”

So if Quebec went ahead and built its $400 million arena, there is a good chance they would end up like another Canadian city that went ahead and built an arena with NHL dreams in its head…Hamilton.

Would federal, provincial and municipal taxpayers like to see their dollars spent that way and end up with a fate like that?  I don’t need to supply the answer.

As if to confirm everything, Carolina Hurricane owner Peter Karmanos, (the owner, who along with Bettman is responsible for that American version of Quebec and Winnipeg, Hartford not having an NHL franchise now) stated that plenty of NHL American franchises were thriving.

He also laid a stigma on Quebec and Winnipeg, claiming that they were moved because they were going broke and that Ottawa too, had filed for bankruptcy.

To his credit, he also said that he would like a Quebec and Winnipeg return now that the Canadian dollar has hit parity.

But the NHL remains an American-oriented league, and it is wise to remember that Bettman was hired to be the face of such a league.

He was hired by American owners who want a rich American television contract and to make hockey more American.

He was hired by Canadian owners who want American money and television glory, and not share Canadian television money with new Canadian franchise owners.

So what is Canada to do if it wants more professional hockey teams?  History supplies the answer.

The only way Canada will get more professional hockey teams is to start a new league.  That Canada now has six teams instead of three is mainly due to the defunct WHA.

That league was started in 1972 in reaction to the NHL’s grudging willingness to start new Canadian franchises.  Bobby Hull was signed by Winnipeg to give the league credibility.

Vancouver was snubbed in the first expansion of 1967 and was only admitted three years later.

The WHA was a thorn in the NHL’s side but never reached the NHL’s prestige and status, despite having lots of credible, NHL-caliber stars.

The teams played in second rate arenas or managed to come to a lease agreement with an NHL team.  Only Edmonton took things seriously by building the arena that they still use today.

But unlike the NHL, the WHA realized that their survival was based on Canada and its one good American franchise, New England (Hartford).

Canadian franchises were valued and increased.  At one time there was a Canadian division to increase interest in Canada.

Edmonton, Quebec, Winnipeg, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa all had WHA franchises, at one time or another.  And when the league folded and merged with the NHL, it was Edmonton, Quebec, Winnipeg and Hartford that made the jump.

So in the face of the NHL’s intransigence, the only thing to do is to repeat history and start a new league.

There are several advantages that a new league would have in this day and age.

First, they could learn from the WHA’s mistakes, and place franchises in markets where they were likely to achieve long-term success.

Second, they would be Canada oriented and cater to the Canadian market.  That’s their best chance of survival.

Third, at least three of the potential Canadian franchises Quebec, Hamilton and Winnipeg would be playing in modern, first class arenas that if filled, would make the league financially viable.

So who could be members of this league?

In Canada, besides three cities named above, franchises could be started in Montreal, Toronto and possibly Vancouver to compete with existing NHL teams.

Southern Ontario could also supply teams in smaller cities like London, Kitchener and Oshawa.

A provincial Saskatchewan franchise, based in Saskatoon, might be viable.

On the horizon would be Halifax, and possibly Moncton, eager to prove it is THE Maritime city.

South of the border, Hartford in a new arena is a logical choice.

The northern United States (another hockey area snubbed by the NHL) could offer Seattle, Milwaukee and Portland.

A new league is the only hope Canada has to get more major professional hockey.

The NHL: Forget it.

Read more NHL news on


Comments are closed.