June 08, 2012
The person who would think twice about the prospect of spending 10 nights in Quebec City in springtime is probably incapable of being happy, but that's neither here nor there.
This is a fairly flush moment for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The league has its first successive MasterCard Memorial Cup championships of this century with the Shawinigan Cataractes' win last month coupled with Saint John's last spring and the tournament itself was a success. The part of Patrick Roy will still be played by Patrick Roy. The league is also back to capacity with the Sherbrooke Phoenix becoming the 18th team and unlike last season, when Nathan MacKinnon skated with a USHL team in Omaha, Neb., on the same day the Quebec League held its entry draft, there seems to be no uncertainty that consensus top choice Daniel Audette will force a trade.
In the midst of all that, on Friday QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau told TVA Sports' Mikaël Lalancette he is "pleased" the Quebec Remparts are considering bidding to host the 2015 Memorial Cup. This probably won't furrow a lot of brows. Quebec City is a tourist destination and holding the tournament at a spruced-up Colisée Pepsi, where the Remparts regularly draw 11,000-plus fans in the regular season, could be a financial windfall for the QMJHL. The Remparts throwing their hat into the ring might also excuse the QMJHL from a dilemma. Since the Saint John Sea Dogs seemed unlikely to bid after controversially losing the 2012 host berth to Shawinigan, there wasn't an obvious possibility.
At the same time, though, there should be some raised eyebrows about the Remparts hosting — and possibly entering the tournament through a side door for the third time in 13 seasons should they not win the President's Cup. Quebec hosted the tournament fairly recently already in 2003. Under Roy, The Remparts sort of earned their way into the 2006 tourney in Moncton, going as the league representative after losing a seven-game championship series to the Wildcats, whom they then defeated for the Memorial Cup.
That either borders on one team having an unfair advantage if it ends up hosting twice in a short span. That goes double when said team probably has the highest revenue in the QMJHL and the Memorial Cup is a cash cow which can keep the host team on good fiduciary footing for several years.
In fairness, the Memorial Cup is big business and requires a suitably large enough value. On average, the arenas in the QMJHL, particularly within La Belle Province itself, tend to have less seating capacity than the typical barn in the Ontario and Western leagues. Putting the tournament in Shawinigan this season, where about 5,000 people could jockey for a good sightline at Centre Bionest, pushed the limit in terms of how small the building can be.
No host team?
Still, that might make franchises such as the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Chicoutimi Saguenéens and Victoriaville Tigres two-way losers in this scenario. Those teams, for all the passion among their hometown followings, can never match Quebec, Halifax or Saint John at the box office. Nor can they hold out any hope of hosting the Memorial Cup in their current buildings.
That can create issues with competitive balance. Perhaps this is a rabbit-hole that should be avoided ... but it's awful interesting the QMJHL is welcoming the Remparts' bid one year after Shawinigan GM Martin Mondou got fined for saying Saint John didn't get the 2012 Cup as punishment for draft manipulation — an accusation that's been lobbed at Quebec, too.
So what's a solution? It's a little radical, but the QMJHL might want to borrow a page from Canadian Interuniversity Sport, where occasionally a conference rather than a school hosts a national tournament. Removing the security blanket that is the guarantee of a local team in the field might seem weird and scary. But the league could generate season-long interest if it decided to stage the Cup in Quebec City and found a way to have two teams qualify. It might be the only way some of those aforementioned small-market teams which are the league's lifeblood could ever wet their beak in the Memorial Cup revenue stream like the Cataractes just did. It wouldn't even necessarily have to involve taking the two league finalists. The OHL held special playoffs in 1987 and '93 between the top two regular-season finishers to decide a host team.
Would the QMJHL be able to sell seats in that scenario? If you can't lure people to Quebec City when the weather is warm, you can't sell a glass of water to a man who's on fire.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.