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.
While the league distances itself from public expansion conversations, many observers believe the NHL will announces plans to grow by two teams in the not-too-distant future. It’s also posited that those teams will play in the West, to create symmetry in a 32-club loop.
If the league indeed expands, Seattle is a favorite to get one franchise. It fits the footprint and has a reported billionaire in Chris Hansen, and possibly a front man in Jeremy Roenick, in the mix to do a deal.
Quebec City is also a popular choice. The local market has grown since the Nordiques migrated to Denver, the Canadian dollar is significantly stronger and they’ve already begun construction of a rink, expected to be completed in 2015. To boot, Pierre Karl-Peladeau, the face of the Quebec project, is also chairman of TVA, which partnered with Rogers on its recently consummated mega national broadcast deal.
So where would this leave Markham? What advantages would it hold?
Well, as the world learned during Toronto’s recent mayoralty follies, the city is the fourth-largest in North America. Two of the three ahead of it – New York and Los Angeles – already have multiple NHL franchises. (The third, Mexico City, is still waiting for its team). And the city that Toronto just surpassed, Chicago, easily supports two MLB clubs. Logic suggests that in the self-proclaimed center of the hockey universe, there is plenty of flesh still on the bone.
A second team in Toronto would also supply Rogers with additional big-market Canadian inventory, a factor that shouldn’t go ignored.
Of course, it’s still to be proven that Toronto is indeed a great hockey market, not just a Maple Leafs town. Major junior and minor pro teams in the region have traditionally fared poorly. How many die-hard blue-and-white supporters would defect to a suburban newcomer, even if it is major league?
And what of those Leafs? The league and the team have offered differing legal opinions in the past on whether the club possesses the power to veto the granting of another team within its region. It’s a conversation that could grow thorny and complex.
This all becomes moot if Markham rejects the financial framework this evening. If the legislation passes, hold on. The fun will just be starting.