Another year, another period of hope for the people of Quebec to find an NHL team. Will this year be different? Will NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman fight so hard to bring back a team to replace the Nordiques / Colorado Avalanche franchise as he fought to keep the Arizona Coyotes from be moved?
The answer to both of those questions could very well be “no,” but Quebec fans had a hint of potentially encouraging news when it was revealed that Quebec politicians would meet with NHL officials this month. Bettman was quick to curb expectations for the reunion, trotting his usual line that he had no interest in expanding or relocating just yet. And there is no reason not to believe him on this subject.
But if the NHL were to grow to 34 teams, Quebec would have to be at the top of the list. By putting a QC team in the Eastern Conference, and, for the sake of arguing, say, another team in the West – Houston, anyone? – the league owners would probably have close to $ 2 billion in expansion costs, and they don’t have to share it with their “50/50 partners” (try to stifle your laughs there), the NHL Players’ Association. It is a lot of money to refuse. You would think that the people who now degrade NHL jerseys with badges would be hungry for a much bigger paycheck.
Admittedly, the league probably has concerns about the quality of the corporate support that an expansion team in Quebec would benefit from. That’s a good point. And of course, Quebec fans could also be fans of the Montreal Canadiens, dividing their fandom into two rivals in the same province. However, with a partnership with the community – the kind of relationship a franchise like Winnipeg has with its fans and ticket holders, for example – the QC Nordiques 2.0 (and that must really be the name of the Nords when they come back, right??) could be a lasting entertainment entity.
It is about cosmic recovery. It won’t feel good until there is another team in Quebec. In addition, their rivalry with the Habs will immediately increase the value of their franchise. Their fan support would instantly be better than that of a number of current NHL teams (ahem, Arizona), and their TV rights, in both English and French, would be expensive. At the Videotron Center, they already have an NHL-caliber ice rink. They tick many boxes for a city worthy of the NHL.
The bad news is that Quebec City has been actively trying to land an NHL franchise for over six years now, and the league has shown absolutely no interest in accepting them back into the fold. But things can and do change quickly. Before the Atlanta Thrashers suddenly left Georgia, no one expected they would be transferred to Manitoba. And Bettman hasn’t expressed any real joy in the move. He fought to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. Weeks before the announcement of the Thrashers-to-become-the-Jets deal, Bettman told ESPN.com this about a possible Thrashers move to Winnipeg:
“So people are making it up, aren’t they?” Bettman said on May 12, 2011. “Where is the responsibility of all the people who a month ago said Phoenix was definitely going?” Whatever we write [about Atlanta] is being invented. “
Here’s the “blame”: Nineteen days after Bettman’s incredulous reaction, the Thrashers were officially sold to Mark Chipman and were soon on their way to Winnipeg. This is how the NHL works. League leaders strive to be as secret as possible, keeping fans and media in the dark until their plans come true. This is probably how things are, one way or another, with Quebec’s attempt to acquire an NHL team. Quebec Premier François Legault may only be there for the positive publicity that accompanies the attempt to land a big league franchise. Maybe he already knows that the league isn’t about to rush in and give him a hug as they welcome him to the gang.
Pretty much all of the real talk about Quebec’s viability as an NHL city will take place behind the scenes. But their actions will speak louder than their words. If Bettman dismisses a new Nordiques team, it will only highlight this part of his employment history with the league. Continuing to refuse QC proves that Bettman does not believe in this market.
But that can change. Some things are not in Bettman’s hands, like Atlanta / Winnipeg was. If you think Bettman prefers a team in Winnipeg over one in Georgia, you’d be wrong. And there may be a similar meltdown in another US NHL city, with no heroes to keep a team in their current home; this may present the situation that Quebec City is entering into and presents itself as a better option than the others that Bettman has.
If it’s an extension? Well, that’s good too. This will dilute the overall product, of course, but not to the point where the game ceases to be fun. And giving Houston a team to make it an even league with 34 teams would put the NHL in the fourth most populous market in the United States. Putting Quebec and Houston in the mix makes geographically and financially logical. There are counter-arguments against expanding, but as we’ve seen with the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken, the league hasn’t shied away from expanding.
Come on, Mr. Bettman. Take the blueprints that the politicians in Quebec City give you this month and bring them back to the owners of the NHL team with a positive appreciation of what is possible for a second market in Quebec. Much like we’ve seen with Winnipeg, there can be a viable Canadian team in a small market in the big budget NHL. Just believe and support.
A new Nordiques team would not hurt the financial results in Montreal; in fact, it can only improve the bottom line, as the rivalry between the Canadiens and the Nordics would flourish. Fans would rush to their arenas and TVs to watch a new generation of top talent. And another French-speaking team would add more worldliness to the overall NHL product.
It makes so much sense, in many ways, that the NHL is coming back to Quebec. Sooner or later the league will have to look at the future of hockey there. And if they’re wise, they’ll embrace a new Nordics squad as the source of money they have the potential to be.