The Air Canada Centre is home to the Maple Leafs and the NBA's Raptors, could it hold a third tenant? (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
I’m not sure how the “news” played outside the self-ordained center of the hockey universe, but within the 416 and 905 area codes it spread like chicken pox in daycare.
I know you’re not supposed to scratch those spots, but my will power is ebbing, so here goes.
For starters, the notion the NHL could/should consider two franchises for Toronto isn’t new. Commentators and analysts have been speculating for decades about the possibility. The twist this time is the Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts got a couple of undisclosed NHL governors to muse on the subject.
The twitter was good fun, but the reality reads differently. Forget for a moment whether you believe two NHL teams could co-exist in Toronto, there are far too many obstacles in the way to believe this would happen any time soon. Such as:
• No expansion on the horizon. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly have gone on record as saying growing the number of teams in the league is not part of their short-range plan. They could change their minds, but I don’t see it; keeping 30 franchises viable and healthy in their existing markets is Job 1. So what about relocation? Read on.
• Indemnification. The NHL has a history of compensating the senior club when a newbie wants to move into their market (New York, Los Angeles). Assuming the Toronto Maple Leafs ever relented and voluntarily allowed a second franchise into their territory, they’d fight mightily for a devastatingly huge payout. A maverick billionaire could theoretically try to circumvent league bylaws, but he’d still have other hurdles to clear. Read on.
• No building. What about the Air Canada Centre? It already has two tenants, the Leafs and NBA’s Raptors, who not coincidentally, also own the facility. They’d hog all the good dates; a second Toronto franchise in the ACC would hardly get a sniff on Saturdays – hockey night in Canada. Of course, a second facility could be built, but there still remain issues. Read on.
• The economy. Like it or not, we’re in dark times, a period from which we’re not expected to emerge for many months. Banks are swooning and there’s a global credit crunch. Even billionaires have their limits. Who’s going to finance such a wildly risky venture in this unstable climate?
Finally, I don’t believe Toronto should be at the top of the pecking order for a new or relocated franchise. While I could see two teams co-existing in Canada’s biggest market and economic capital, I don’t think it would be the slam-dunk some are projecting.
The incumbent nearly always owns the city in multi-team markets. Take the Islanders and Devils in New York. Through a couple home dates, they ranked 30th (NYI) and 27th (NJ) in average attendance. Last season, they were 30th and 23rd. The Rangers are “it” in the area, ranking 13th so far this year and 11th last season.
While there may be more puck passion in Toronto than the Big Apple, it has always been about the Leafs in T.O. As lousy as the club has been, its fandom is entrenched and it’s no easy task to entice people to sway their allegiance.
Next week in this space, I’ll give my order of preference for where the NHL should next head, whether via relocation or expansion.
HABS HEROES NOTE
In a recent edition of The Hockey News (magazine version),I suggested surfing this site for more on one of our new book offerings, Habs Heroes.
Seems I was premature. We’re going to start selling the book on THN.com beginning late-November. If you want to get your hands on it immediately, try your local book store, or online via Random House or Chapters Indigo.
If you’re not familiar with the book, Habs Heroes is our ranking of the greatest 100 players in the history of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s written (masterfully in my opinion, but I’m biased) by senior writer Ken Campbell. He compiled the list in consultation with a panel of noted hockey history/Habs history experts.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.