Talk of NHL expansion just won’t go away. It’s pluckier than the ice bucket challenge, despite Gary Bettman’s claims last week that expansion talk was “complete fabrication.”
Investigative reporter Rick Westhead’s story for TSN is plenty interesting. It asserts that, Bettman’s stance be damned, several senior NHL team sources suggest expansion will be a serious discussion topic at the NHL board of governors meetings Sept. 30. Sources also told TSN a team in Toronto would command a North American sports record $1.2-billion expansion fee via auction. Wow. You need Grand Canyon-like pockets to make the Toronto dream happen.
Let’s say it does, however. I’ll borrow from colleague Rory Boylen and call the team the Toronto Toros. And let’s say one of the other rumored expansion franchises comes through – Quebec City, Seattle or Las Vegas. What would a 32-team NHL look like? With a 16/14 imbalance between the East and West already, realignment would be a near certainty once a second Toronto team arrived. Eight divisions of four teams spread across two conferences makes plenty of sense. Assuming Rich Uncle Pennybags shells out $1.2 billion at an auction, I’ll draw up the NHL with Toronto 2.0 and one version with each of the other candidates. My assumed playoff format would differ from the NFL’s, in that I’d still put 16 teams through. But would it be best to have the top two from all eight divisions comprise the playoff picture, or just the division winners plus four wild cards? I’m guessing the latter.
The NHL has gone a full 14 years without adding a single expansion team, which is the longest period without growth since the league ballooned from six to 12 teams in 1967. The business of hockey is stronger than it has ever been and hockey’s global reach has ensured that the league would be less watered down by adding teams than it has in the past.
So, yes, the NHL is ripe for expansion. That’s probably why a published report that the NHL is going to add four teams by 2017 was met with such enthusiasm. To follow some accounts, expansion to Las Vegas is a “done deal” despite the fact there is no ownership group in place yet and the league will have new teams in Las Vegas, Quebec City, Toronto and Seattle by the time it blows out the 100 candles on its birthday cake. Read more
When Graeme Roustan tried, and failed, to forge a public-private partnership to build an NHL-sized arena in suburban Toronto, many of his detractors portrayed him as a snake-oil salesman who would leave taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.
Much of that sentiment was based on the fact Roustan had been found by a Texas jury in 2009 to be liable for statutory fraud in his dealings with a Fort Worth couple with respect to an indoor rink there. Well, as it turns out, Roustan appealed the ruling and the lawsuit was dropped. In his final judgment on the case, Judge J. Wade Birdwell of the District Court of Tarrant County, Texas wrote, “Plaintiffs have announced they no longer seek and agree to dismiss and withdraw their claim of statutory fraud against all the Defendants.” Read more
The people and politicians of the Toronto suburb of Markham have spoken. And their message is they don’t want to assume an ounce of risk when it comes to building an NHL-sized arena in this town. And good on them for that. This corner has said from the start that if people here thought the deal for an arena was a bad one, they should reject it.
What happens now is a lot more confusing. Some are saying the deal, and any possibility of an NHL team that would come with it, is dead. Others think this is just the kind of kick-start this project needs.
This much we know. The city council in Markham rejected a financial framework which would have seen it lend $162.5 million to venture capitalist Graeme Roustan to build a rink. We also know now that it will be up to the private sector to raise all $325 million it will cost to build the rink. Does that mean the possibility of the rink is dead? Well, it all depends on perspective.
Decision day in Markham is here.
Barring the unforeseen, the city’s council members will vote tonight on whether to accept or reject plans for a proposed NHL-sized arena. If the financial framework is passed, the conversation about a second team in the Toronto area will immediately be stoked. Because, despite the rhetoric, that’s what this gambit is all about.
And that’s when the real excitement begins.
The people most directly involved with building an NHL-caliber, 20,000-seat rink in suburban Toronto held another news conference Saturday. The mayor of the City of Markham, Frank Scarpitti, talked about the rink being the permanent home for the Clarkson Cup, an off-shore team in a Chinese professional basketball league and perhaps even an Ontario League team.
But this rink, the GTA Centre, is about the NHL. Always has, always will be. Everyone involved in this project is tiptoeing around the subject of an NHL team because they all want to play nice. But nobody is going to take on a project like this one without visions of an NHL team dancing in their heads. I’ll write this again so everyone knows it: the NHL is the end game here. And as the City of Markham closes in on a crucial vote on whether or not to accept the financial framework Tuesday night, that’s a crucial point
“What I can promise the City of Markham and the residents of Markham is that nobody will work harder than me at attracting hockey at every level possible,” said Graeme Roustan, chairman and CEO of GTA Sports and Entertainment. “I’m going after everything. And for those of you who know me…I go after everything 100 percent, seven days a week and 24 hours a day.”
Does that sound like somebody who wants to fill his building with Bruce Springsteen and Trans Siberian Orchestra concerts? And the prediction here is that if the GTA Centre gets its vote next Tuesday night and this building becomes a reality, the push for an NHL team will begin immediately. Read more
As the monumental NHL-Rogers broadcast deal rips through the landscape like a seismic shift, there are myriad scenarios to be played out and questions to be answered.
For starters, does this signal the beginning of the end for BCE as stakeholders in MLSE? You’d have to think they’d want to divest themselves of properties they share with Rogers.
The really big aftershock, however, would be if the deal applies greater pressure for the NHL to place another team in Canada.
When it comes to the prospect of building an NHL-caliber arena in the Toronto area, it has long been the opinion of this corner that if the taxpayers and elected representatives in the suburb of Markham truly believe this is a bad idea and is a boondoggle waiting to happen, they should absolutely kill the project and run those who are heading it out of town.
But they should also do so based on facts, not innuendo or suspect information. Less than three weeks before the Dec. 3 council vote on whether to accept or reject the financial framework, former Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Richard Peddie weighed in on the matter, calling into question almost every aspect of the project, saying its numbers are “bogus” and the group is going about things all wrong. Read more