Nick takes a little time out of the summer to go over third line signings, jersey number controversy and Ron Francis’ hiring as General Manager of the Seattle expansion franchise.
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
Nick and Connor recap and react to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship so far, review the latest suspensions and injuries, look to the future of the NHL in 2019 and beyond, discuss 2019 All-Star Game captains, Jake Guentzel’s new extension and Jim Lites’ quotes on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.
Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
It’s a great time for the National Hockey League (ignoring the ongoing concussion lawsuit, poor officiating and [insert your favorite scandal from this season here]), but for league revenues there’s never been a greater time than now.
The Vegas Golden Knights slashed all preconceptions regarding expansion teams and how they are expected to perform and have shown the strength of professional sports in North America– any city*, including Sin City, can support a professional franchise.
*except for Québec City, apparently
Though it’s not the 1990s, where expansion in the NHL saw seven teams (the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers) enter the league from 1991 to 1999– and two more teams in 2000 (Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild)– the league is prime for another era of expansion.
The Golden Knights (2017) are just the first of who knows how many more teams to join the league in the 2010s and 2020s.
Seattle is on the verge of landing a franchise ready to hit the ice in 2020 (with an expansion vote expected to take place this fall) and Houston looks viable, given Houston Rockets (NBA) owner, Tilman Fertitta’s, expressed desire to ascertain a franchise both publicly and in meeting with NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman.
Fun fact, Houston is the largest North American market without an NHL team and looked like they would be part of a looming WHA-NHL merger in the 1970s, but the merger wasn’t finalized until 1979 and– after learning they would not be included in any form of a merger in 1978– the Houston Aeros folded at the conclusion of the WHA’s 1977-78 season.
For some reason there’s a notion in North American sports that 30 is a nice, even, wholesome number for the total number of clubs in a league. Take a look at how big the big leagues were 20-30 years ago and you’ll soon realize that 30 is just a number.
Only two of the four major professional sports leagues in North America have gone beyond 30 teams. The NHL is one of them.
So you want to buy an expansion team…
Well, for starters, you better have at least $650 million (U.S.) lying around, as Oak View Group is all but assured of bringing the league’s 32nd team to Seattle for that price tag. In sports, as in real estate,
prices expansion fees only go up over time (so definitely have more than $650 million lying around after Seattle joins the league– assuming Seattle joins the league).
Want to bring back the Québec Nordiques? Good luck.
Québec City would be the league’s second smallest market and selling out 16,000 tickets doesn’t mean as much as it used to with media deals, corporate sponsorships, new markets and division balance (let alone conference balance) all at stake.
Butts in seats only matter for momentum– not ad dollars on TV.
Granted, people in seats laying eyes upon LED signage around the arena, now that’s still an investment and matters to an extent on the local level and/or organization itself for day-to-day operations.
But this league sees the big picture– national level attention, reaching a broader scope, true globalization of their league as the best league– let alone growth of the game.
Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs, is also the chairman of the league’s board of governors. He’s also head of the league’s executive committee. Old guard owner jokes aside, Jacobs has the final say on most (if not all) league management decisions, despite the existence of league commissioner, Gary Bettman.
Commissioners in all major North American professional sports work for the owners. Not the other way around.
The commissioner is the collective voice of the board of governors– the face of the league– but ultimately is not the singular directive power.
So at the Bruins season ending press conference, Jacobs was asked about the future of the league regarding the Golden Knights and potential expansion.
Québec just isn’t happening right now.
It’s been said time and time before and it’ll be said time and time again. And it was the main takeaway from Jacobs’s comments regarding further expansion on the near horizon.
Houston was name-dropped. Whether it’s relocation or expansion (and it’s likely another expansion at this point), the league will find its way to Seattle and Houston.
It’s hard to remember the journalistic duty of including the words “proposed”, “expected” or “just about soon to be announced at some point in the near or not so distant future” before mentioning Seattle, let alone Houston, given the known interest.
Maybe the Arizona Coyotes will relocate, you ask?
No. That’s not happening.
If the Coyotes were going to move, they would have moved already. Arizona is committed to Arizona. While the City of Glendale might not see the Coyotes as suitable partners, the Coyotes see Arizona as their true love.
Maybe the Florida Panthers are Québec’s last hope (or Houston’s best opportunity, if expansion fees are an issue) for relocation?
Sure, but as an “in case of an emergency” plan. Remember how the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg played out? If not, keep reading, but also, Florida has an owner that’s committed to Florida.
At least Patrick Roy will be back behind the bench for the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) next season.
Does market size matter if 16,000 season tickets are sold in a 700,000 population or 2,000,000-plus population?
No, but the media deal that accompanies the market and how many televisions it reaches, that’s where it matters.
Right about here is where things don’t stack up as well for Québec with other prospective expansion candidates, given the surrounding population outside Québec City and the conglomerate of Montreal Canadiens fans that dominate the province.
At one point in time two teams made sense for the province, let alone two teams in one city (Montreal). Nowadays, the Habs have too much of a stronghold– too big of a monopoly of fans. Yes, even among old Nordiques fans and their families who swore they’d never root for their intra-province rivals.
Bettman runs the league like the National Basketball Association, which, considering his background, sounds about right. The NHL’s profits have never been higher and Bettman deserves credit for the business side of the sport.
And the NBA is eyeing expansion of their own, following renovations to KeyArena/Seattle Center, where Oak View Group looks to land an expansion NHL team for the 2020-21 season. In addition to Seattle, the NBA’s apparently eyeing Kansas City, lending some to believe we might be in another golden era of expansion across all major North American professional sports leagues as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, has indicated a desire for MLB to expand to 32 teams (with Montreal and Mexico as possibilities).
As an aside, the author would like to let it be known of his desire for an MLB team in Charlotte, N.C.
31 is the new 30 and 32, 33 and/or 34 is perhaps the near future for at least three out of four of the Big Four leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL).
So about Seattle… (and other sports economics)
It’s totally happening, it’s just a matter of time. Get ready to cut the check for $650 million, Oak View Group.
Once Seattle goes for $650 million, there’s no reason not to expect the expansion fee to go up once again for a 33rd NHL team. Seattle’s not expected to begin play until the 2020-21 season and even without any of the major renovation work that’s going on in the Emerald City, Houston isn’t fully move-in ready for an NHL franchise.
That’s not to say Toyota Center isn’t a great fit, but rather that both Fertitta and the league aren’t presently talking and expansion to Houston would logically have to follow Seattle working with the current timeline of events (and ignoring what it would all mean for division realignment).
So four or five years from now a $650 million expansion fee could quickly become upwards of $800 million for a brand new team. Perhaps it’d be $1 billion by then.
And if Québec can afford a billion dollar (U.S.) pricetag by that point, then sure, they’ll be a shoo-in for the league’s 34th team. By then we might as well be talking 35th and/or 36th even.
Four divisions of nine teams doesn’t sound terrible if you can find suitable locations (Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Québec City and Atlanta, for example) to level off the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions.
This is the economy of sports in the 21st century and Bettman’s dream– so long as the value of the majority of NHL franchises continue to climb and start to rival those of midpack/bottom NFL teams (the New York Rangers are valued at $1.5 billion according to Forbes– barely above the Toronto Maple Leafs $1.4 billion valuation)– and that’s ignoring how weak/strong the Canadian dollar is.
Granted, the average NHL franchise is worth around $594 million.
But as the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (a mid-pack team in terms of franchise value again according to Forbes) just sold for $2.2 billion to David Tepper, one would expect NHL franchise values to climb as the future of American football as we know it remains uncertain and the success of the Golden Knights impacts NHL revenues in the coming seasons.
Again, sports franchises and real estate prices always climb. It’s only a matter of time.
Okay, so just tell me where does that leave Québec exactly?
Recall for a moment, if you will, May 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment and the downfall of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. began (or more accurately, continued).
Yes, Winnipeg got an NHL team back, but they had to essentially go through relegation to get back to the top.
The Winnipeg model of “being sent down to the minors” for almost 20 years witnessed near sellout crowds in the smallest NHL arena currently (15,321 seats) for AHL games.
That’s great, but the Jets weren’t going to be the Jets again if there was a prospective local buyer in Atlanta interested in busting up Atlanta Spirit, LLC. seven years ago.
There wasn’t, so True North Sports and Entertainment’s rainy day fund came in handy when the league needed a venue for a team immediately– regardless of the support and regardless of Québec, Hamilton or Kansas City’s moaning and groaning (from prospective owners and/or fans).
Canadian fans and some American hockey traditionalists like to bring up “the success of the Québec Remparts” in their new arena (Vidéotron Centre, opened in 2015).
Oh you mean the QMJHL team that plays in a 18,259 seat arena and has been having declining attendance since maxing out around 14,000 their first year there (2015-16) and now sits around 9,400 or less (like all other Junior teams). Please go on and tell everyone how QMJHL support alone will persuade NHL eyeballs.
It would certainly help Québec’s cause for bringing back the Nordiques by landing an AHL team on top of their QMJHL club and continuously supporting the organization(s) a la Winnipeg circa 1997-2011.
None of this rules out relocation, but it does make expansion look slightly more attractive, provided someone (Quebecor or another prospective owner) can fork up over half-a-billion U.S. dollars.
Professional sports are a business of entertainment.
Again, professional sports are a business.
Hockey traditionalism would not profit as well as the league has been profitting today.
Plain and simple as that.
This is a league that does not have to contract– thanks to the salary cap, revenue sharing and constant work stoppages to renegotiate the number of dollars the league eats before dividing up for the players.
This is a league that has shown the sport can be played in any environment.
The State of Arizona produced Auston Matthews. The Arizona Coyotes have been in Arizona for a generation AND THEY ARE NOT MOVING. They’re committed to their fans and their hockey community, but they’re up against a local government that’s unwilling to work with them on even the most basic levels– private vs. public funding for a new arena aside.
Tampa Bay, Nashville, Vegas, San Jose, Anaheim and yes, even Florida and Carolina have all been competitive and have diehard fans.
Sure the Panthers and the Hurricanes haven’t gathered casual eyes since 1996 and 2006 respectively, but you can’t blame the Panthers for being the Cleveland Browns of the NHL in a way (in addition to their poor location in Sunrise, Florida– outside of Miami) and Tom Dundon for any Hurricanes wrongdoings yet (though this summer is all about Carolina and how they just might reinvent themselves– and of course, everyone likes to jump to conclusions after a new owner’s first offseason, right?).
Plus, at least the Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006. Your move Panthers.
But this league, like any major professional sports league, sees a game, entertainment and money to be made.
Tradition is just a sweater, a pregame ritual or a superstition. It’s not a revenue stream for reinvention over time.
Take it from NASCAR, where, coupled with changes back-and-forth in the rulebook every other week on top of overprotection of its traditional image (along with dried up ratings) have removed the basement from the very foundation of the sport– and possibly the sanctioning body as the France family mulls a sale of the entity itself.
Like it or not, we are in an era of expansion– not just for the NHL, but potentially for all four major North American professional sports (and MLS, if you really want to extend the product here, as expansion is wicked hot in soccer currently).
Should I mention we’re getting four more ads on the ice next season or have I already given everyone enough heart palpitations?
Nick ventures down to Charlotte to hang out with Connor and record the first podcast in person with another member of the DTFR crew in over a year. We tried to stay on topic, but eventually delved into some Charlotte Hornets talk after discussing Willie O’Ree, Rene Rancourt, the Boston Bruins and more.
Connor and I went long about why Seattle would be an exciting venture for the NHL on the most recent Down the Frozen River Podcast. I was going to write something like this before recording, until the league went ahead and spilled the beans a little earlier than expected (keep reading, you’ll see what I mean) and well… This is DTFR Overtime– go ahead and pour yourself a fresh cup before we dig in.
Something’s brewing in Seattle and it ain’t just another cup of Starbucks.
Last Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a deal for a $600 million renovation of KeyArena that just might put Seattle on the map of NHL cities– let alone mean that there’s hope for everyone wishing the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics were a thing again.
Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) expects to complete the renovations by October 2020, which would be just in time for a possible NHL team to take the ice for the 2020-21 season.
Before anyone gets their hopes up, as per the proposal, OVG does not need a team in place to go through with KeyArena’s renovations and has pledged $40 million in a transportation fund for the city to address traffic and parking problems around the arena. An additional $20 million will go from OVG to local charities.
Here’s the kicker out of The Seattle Times report: the NHL is expected to make an announcement by July (2018, for those of you who haven’t realized next year is almost here) regarding a franchise in Seattle via expansion or relocation.
And by last Thursday, the league made an announcement. Seattle can begin the expansion process after formally receiving authorization to file for an application for an NHL expansion team.
This time around, the expansion fee would be $650 million (up $150 million from when the Vegas Golden Knights went through the expansion process two years ago).
Though every sign points to Seattle becoming part of the NHL’s brand, there’s no guarantee the league will expand to the Emerald City. Relocation could be an option (though league commissioner, Gary Bettman, denies that any current team will be moving) and the NHL still has a lot of homework left (feasibility studies and a season ticket drive– run by OVG– to gauge interest) before the final exam (expansion to Seattle).
The NHL sees green (as in the other 31 teams see about $21 million in expansion fee payouts, not just the Emerald City):
If you’re thinking, “would an NHL team in Seattle be a good idea?” the answer is yes. Don’t be stupid.
Seattle is known for their boisterous Seahawks and Sounders fans (where you at in decibels Mariners fans), as well as their SuperSonics fan base that never died– despite the NBA franchise relocating to Oklahoma City in 2008– but the city’s played a larger part in hockey history than most people might know.
The Seattle Metropolitans– not the New York Rangers– were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. The Rangers, of course, can lay claim to the fact that they were the first American NHL club to win the Cup in 1928, but the Metropolitans were technically the first American hockey team to win it back in 1917. The Metropolitans were members of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and appeared in three Stanley Cup finals (1917, 1919 and 1920).
Seattle defeated the Montreal Canadiens, then members of the National Hockey Association, three-games-to-one in 1917. The 1919 Stanley Cup Final featured a rematch of the Metropolitans and the Canadiens– now members of the National Hockey League since its inaugural season of 1917-18– was cancelled after five games due to the outbreak of the Spanish Flu with the series tied, 2-2-1. In 1920, the Metropolitans were defeated in the Final in five games by the original Ottawa Senators.
The feasibility of an NHL franchise sustaining itself in Seattle is very high, given the diehard fan base that already exists in all of the other major league sports in the city, let alone the historical significance of hockey in the region. Plus, who wouldn’t love a Pacific Northwest rivalry between neighbors, the Vancouver Canucks and whatever Seattle would be known as (it has to be the Metropolitans or else).
Instead of “can a team last?” the better question would be “can a team move in while renovations are ongoing, a la how the Rangers dealt with Madison Square Garden’s improvements a few years ago?”
The timeline (now through 2020) within the overarching timeline (2020 and beyond), if it even exists, might be crucial to navigating what the looming NHL announcement might be (relocation or expansion). Though given last Thursday’s league statement, it’s (probably) going to be expansion and the Seattle [TEAM TO BE NAMED] will begin play for the 2020-21 season.
And now for something totally inspired by the works of Dave Lozo:
How relocation would work for Seattle if a Western Conference team were on the move:
There are two primary candidates for relocation to Seattle from the NHL’s Western Conference and both of them are already in the Pacific Division, which would negate the need for yet another division realignment this decade. And the candidates are… the Arizona Coyotes and the Calgary Flames.
First up, the Coyotes.
They’re an annual source of relocation rumors, their ownership group has met with people in Seattle before and they don’t have a lease deal in place (technically speaking) with Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes aren’t wanted by the local government in Glendale and their ex (Phoenix) isn’t looking to get back together anytime soon; given the lack of a joint proposal for a new stadium downtown to be shared by the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the NHL’s Coyotes.
Would it be easiest to move Arizona to Seattle? Certainly, if you’re a hockey traditionalist who doesn’t think that the mere existence of the Coyotes in Arizona had anything to do with the fact that Auston Matthews is wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater right now (and totally beating Connor McDavid in the McDavid vs. Matthews argument).
Does it make sense to move the Coyotes? Yes. Out of Glendale at least. The league has been committed to the desert since the franchise jettisoned from Winnipeg in 1996. Even more so now with the existence of “local” rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights, also sharing that desert theme.
So if you’re thinking the Arizona Coyotes could relocate, it’s not going to be to Seattle. Can Vegas be home to two teams? Just wondering.
But what about the Calgary Flames?
The City of Calgary and Calgary Sports and Entertainment are in a standoff over the use of public funds for a new arena to replace Scotiabank Saddledome. The city has made it clear that they won’t spend one penny on even a pile of dirt for a new home for the Flames, while the Flames have threatened to leave if they don’t get what they want.
We’ve heard this before (hello, NFL’s Los Angeles Rams vs. their former home in St. Louis) and professional sports franchises have moved before because their owners don’t want to finance things privately.
So it’s more than likely that if a team is coming from the Western Conference to Seattle that it’ll be the Flames, which, come to think of it, could make for a killer flaming “S” logo. Why waste the moniker that stuck with the team from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980? Just copy the “C” and paste it upside down and there you have it. I’ve already taken the liberty of creating the logo for you, Flames fans in Seattle.
Should Calgary lose their NHL team over a temper tantrum? No, but crazier things have happened. I mean, we’re talking about the city that hosts Calgary Stampede every year.
How relocation would work for Seattle if an Eastern Conference team were on the move:
Peter Karmanos screws Hartford over one more time by giving them the finger while seated in a private jet as the Hurricanes fly over Connecticut’s capital en route to Québec’s capital city. *But we now know this part, at least, won’t be happening, since the purchase agreement calls for Dallas billionaire, Tom Dundon,– who’s buying a majority stake of the Hurricanes– to not relocate the team for seven years (conveniently the length of time remaining on Carolina’s PNC Arena lease. #Québec2024).*
Thanks to the Houston Astros for finally putting the United States’s fourth most populated metropolitan area on the map with their World Series title this year, the Florida Panthers begin to wonder if they could actually win a Cup by moving to a real sports city– that sports city being the WHA hockey hotbed of Houston, of course.
The Panthers relocate and replicate Major League Baseball’s outlook on the State of Texas, whereby Houston is part of the American League and would be part of the NHL’s Eastern Conference for no other reason than not to disturb the finally balanced conferences after Seattle joins as the 32nd team in the league (because that makes sense).
Finally, the New York Islanders abandon all hope in the Big Apple when it becomes apparent that nobody’s loved them since the 1980s and John Tavares will lea[f]e them for the 6ix in the offseason.
Because of their great relationship with Bridgeport, CT (home of the Islanders’s AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers) and now Worcester, MA (home of the Islanders’s ECHL affiliate, Worcester Railers HC), the Islanders choose to put themselves “between” their farm clubs and successfully bring back the Hartford Whalers (while also continuing to struggle for a new arena, but in Hartford now– shouts XL Center).
Or consider this curveball *which, again, cannot happen as a result of the purchase agreement, pending Board of Governors approval of the final sale of the Carolina Hurricanes*:
The Carolina Hurricanes relocate to Seattle and the NHL finally accepts the deferred expansion bid Quebecor submitted back in 2015 and welcomes Québec City as the 32nd team in the league (welcome back, Québec Nordiques). The conferences are kept in-tact this way and everybody’s happy because the Hurricanes really need to leave Raleigh for an ownership group that will actually love them (along with some fans).
As for Florida and the Islanders, well, they’re on their own in this hypothetical curve.
By: Nick Lanciani
It’s mind boggling that the NHL wouldn’t want to continue being a leader in sports and entertain the notion of having more than 30 teams in a league, for once, in North American sports. Okay, the NFL has 32 teams, I get that- but there’s this fascination for some odd reason that a successful sports league can only max out around 30 teams, given how the NHL, NBA, and MLB all have 30 teams in their leagues. Quite frankly, that’s a load of bull. The National Hockey League is old enough to still be young and reinventing itself, as was the case after the 2004-2005 lockout with the addition of new rules (the trapezoid) and the removal of old ones (two line passing).
What I mean is, the NHL is not Major League Baseball, which beats the “heritage” card to extinction year after year as to lamely explain why the MLB doesn’t change. While the MLB would never consider entertaining a franchise in Las Vegas (which would be a first in professional sports), the NHL could be a front-runner for professional sports of the future in North America. At least, given the eye of the young fan base that’s been keeping track of the league for the last few years, there’s a chance to really make a splash. Major League Soccer and the NHL’s interest in Las Vegas and other markets are good for their leagues and sports in general.
While the MLS is adding a team in Atlanta in 2017, the NHL will likely stay away from Atlanta for eternity after two failed attempts at a hockey presence in Georgia. However, given the recent rate of expansion in the MLS, there’s a good chance that they too, will end up having 30 teams at some point. Soccer’s popularity in the United States is on the rise and it’s backed by the recent viewership of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, beating some traditional hockey markets, like Philadelphia, while a 2015 Stanley Cup Final game was being shown on TV at the same time. The two leagues are innovative and should work together as both sports gain popularity. As it is, hockey is becoming more mainstream by removing some of the importance once stressed on fighting, resulting in just as entertaining games as ever before.
Soccer is a sport best played with many teams and some form of relegation, like in Europe. While that model would not translate well with hockey, at some point the MLS is going to have to absorb many of the popular teams in developmental leagues, in order to make their game more exciting. The NHL should consider something similar when it comes to the minor league markets that are untapped, or have worked in the past. Expansion and relocation fees aside, both leagues should go for breaking the 30-team barrier.
The NHL as it exists right now, would be on the verge of going for it much sooner than the MLS and could act as an example of what to do and how to go about things. I’m in favor of 34 teams in 2017, the NHL’s 100th season. But first, let’s get back to Quebec (and the basics).
If the league is intent on adding franchises, a return to Quebec City, the inevitable Las Vegas team, an expansion to Seattle, and whatever else may come their way is exactly what the NHL needs. After watching the Winnipeg Jets play in their first playoff game at home since the original Winnipeg Jets left for Arizona 19 years ago, I cannot help but think that the NHL needs to return to another small market, where hockey has already worked, and everyone loves the game. There’s a place that is more readily equipped for a National Hockey League return- Quebec City.
Whereas a former member of the NHL, Hartford, doesn’t have an adequate arena to play in and potential spotty ownership, Quebec City has the 18,482 seat Videotron Centre- set to open this September. The brand new arena will have all the top-notch amenities and will be NHL move-in ready, should the league wish to expand or a team relocate, such as the Coyotes in their dreaded current state. Fear not, Arizona and Gary Bettman nay-sayers, the league’s experiment is just starting to see results in the growth of the game in the Southwestern region of the United States.
And don’t get me wrong, Connecticut, you guys love hockey and still love the Whalers to this day. It’s not realistic in Hartford’s current state, for an NHL return anytime soon. Yet, I’ll still be one of the first to help you demand a return and shout, “Bring back the Whalers!” should there be a more immediate and reasonable plan. But there’s a place that is more readily equipped for a National Hockey League return- Quebec City.
But what’s holding everyone back? Canada is able to sustain at least eight franchises, if not more, and hockey is Canada’s game after all. The league made the best of a hurtful breakup in its return to Winnipeg back in 2011, surely NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and crew can make due on Quebec’s aching heart since 1995 when the original Quebec Nordiques fled the struggling Canadian dollar and the lack of a locally interested owner and went west to become the Colorado Avalanche. Perhaps the league will find enough heart to forgive the Nordiques from almost rebranding with awful looking 90s teal on an otherwise decent looking jersey.
I mean, if the league is serious about adding a team in Las Vegas, which might not carry longevity, then why not look for a place with more staying power than whatever Vegas would become. The original Nordiques survived in the league from 1979 to 1995. Despite some down years, Quebec was on an impressive turnaround at the end of the 1994-1995 season. The team that moved wound up winning the Stanley Cup in their first season in Colorado.
Among teams that no longer exist, Quebec Nordiques merchandise ranks second to the Hartford Whalers in sales. Still not convinced about the staying power of a new Quebec Nordiques franchise? Look at the return of the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s a small hockey market, but they sell out every seat in the 15,004 seating capacity MTS Centre for every home game, despite missing the playoffs from the 2011-2012 season to last season. In their first game back to the postseason, the MTS Centre was rocking at 124 dB from time to time as reported by Sportsnet.
Imagine how loud it would be in the Videotron Centre for the Nordiques return or their first provincial rivalry regular season meet-up with the Montreal Canadiens since 1995- in any case, it’d be awesome. As an aside, Boston Bruins fans would gladly welcome another team that despises the Habs. They’ll even forgive Ron Tugnutt for his extraordinary 70 save performance on 73 shots on goal en route to the Nordiques 3-3 tie against the Bruins on March 21, 1991, even though some of their modern day fans were not even alive then.
The NHL obviously has issues with adding another team to the Eastern Conference before adding anything to the Western Conference due to its current imbalance with 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West. The easiest way to solve the original realignment problem created when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg four years ago would have been to simply swap the Jets with the Nashville Predators in their respective divisions. Winnipeg would have gone to the Central, while Nashville would have gone to the Southeast in a geographically sensible maneuver.
However, the league decided to consolidate the divisions from six to four and swapped Winnipeg for Detroit and Columbus. In the process, each conference makes geographic sense, with a focus on cutting travel expenses and reducing a carbon footprint league-wide. Yet, while the Central and Pacific Divisions are perfect, the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions are somewhat flawed. Yes, with all of the teams from the old Northeast Division, plus Detroit, somehow the Atlantic Division also has the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Division has both the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
It’d make sense to swap both New York City teams with both Florida teams, citing the exact same reasons the NHL came up with in the first place, but for whatever reason, that is frowned upon. It’s not like it wouldn’t saturate the market or anything, because as it is, New York already has three teams (four if you count the New Jersey Devils in Newark, New Jersey). While, yes, the Buffalo Sabres and both the Rangers and Islanders have a little distance between them, it’s nothing compared to Florida and Tampa.
And speaking of the Florida Panthers, it’s only a matter of time- no matter how good the product on the ice may get- before they have to relocate. The Panthers and Sunrise, Florida may find themselves at odds much like how Glendale, Arizona is in legal upheavals with the Arizona Coyotes. A hockey team in the suburbs of a non-traditional market isn’t proven to profit. But where should the Panthers end up without causing much fuss over realignment?
You guessed it- Quebec City. They’re already in the Atlantic Division, so absolutely nothing would have to be changed except for all franchise trademarks and whatnot regarding the transition from the Panthers to the, newly returned, Nordiques. In foresight, it’s not hard to fall in love with the furthest north professional sports franchise after all of the neglect it saw in one of the most southern nontraditional hockey markets.
Oh and if New Jersey had to move for whatever reason, given their recent downturn and less than stellar attendance, then Quebec is a prime destination. Realignment would still be simple, swap Quebec with one of the Florida teams and maybe then the NHL would have to realize it should kick the other Florida team to the Metropolitan Division and insert the New York Rangers (or Islanders) into the Atlantic Division. Then again, relocation of either the Panthers or the Devils could just mean that the league would send them west to Seattle or Las Vegas and call it a day, having a balanced fifteen teams in both conferences, but that wouldn’t be any fun, wouldn’t it?
Look, I’m all for a team in Seattle, so here’s what you do. Add an expansion franchise to Seattle and force Detroit back to the Western Conference; because we all know two matchups a year between longstanding rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, really aren’t enough. Then add a team in Quebec City to make it a nice thirty-two-team league with sixteen teams in each conference. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see a reincarnation of the Nordiques after the beautifully aesthetic appeal of the current Jets installment?
That’s right, I’m saying that when the NHL goes back to Quebec City, it’s not a bad idea to modernize the franchise. The igloo with a hockey stick that somewhat formed the shape of an “n” with its tricolor scheme and fleur-de-lis all over the jerseys was great- timeless even, a classic for traditionalist vintage hockey fans- but there are some great concepts on the Internet for glorious designs in the event of a rebirth of the Nordiques.
I think a darker shade of navy blue would suffice, with maybe a snowy owl and the city skyline or something that is distinctive of Quebec City, and of course sharp looking fleur-de-lis prominently featured on the bottom half of the sweater and along the pants. If you have the time, go check out some great designs on Icethetics.co, some great concept artists have really gone all out on creating the perfect symbol for what should be a return to the true north strong and free- Quebec City.
In this day and age, with the billion dollar industry that is the sports world, it shouldn’t be hard to find an owner and work with the largely French speaking fan base. Back in the days of the original Nordiques, English speaking fans flocked to the Quebec City team over the much more hardcore French speaking franchise over in Montreal. Obviously it must have been the warm and inviting fleur-de-lis calling them to the light side of The Force in the battle of Quebec. Either that or it was because of the great players that once graced the ice at Colisée Pepsi, such as the Stastny brothers, Mats Sundin, Guy Lafleur, Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg, and my favorite- Joe Sakic.
The bottom line, folks, Quebec City has an important mark on the history of hockey. It was once home to the Quebec Bulldogs who spent one season in the NHL (1919-1920) before moving to Hamilton, Ontario to become the Hamilton Tigers and it was once home to the 1977 Avco World Trophy champions as the World Hockey Association’s top team before joining the NHL in the WHA-NHL merger in 1979- the Quebec Nordiques. Isn’t it time that someone brought the game back where it belongs for all of us to enjoy? Even in the face of the uncertainty of the salary cap situation currently and the issues that are once again surrounding the Canadian dollar, I mean, hockey is for everyone, after all.