When Rogers and Bell purchased Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment for roughly the gross national product of Liberia, the thought was that the informal stranglehold the Toronto Maple Leafs had on the territory would ease and that a second Toronto NHL team could become a reality. Factor in the Markham arena talks, and the wheels appeared to inch forward.
MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke says, ‘slow your roll.’
Speaking The Empire Club of Canada on Tuesday, Leiweke said that Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Quebec City are at the forefront of NHL expansion, which seems inevitable given the imbalance between the two conferences (16 teams in the East, 14 in the West).
He put Seattle and Quebec City at the top of that list. “I think we owe Quebec another shot,” he said, via the National Post.
But a second team in Toronto? Leiweke said it’s not going to happen “any time soon.”
Dave Shoalts of the Globe & Mail got some additional information from Leiweke about his comments:
“Tim Leiweke stressed the stuff he said in his speech about NHL expansion to Seattle, Quebec, etc., were his opinions not NHL's. When I said to Leiweke some NHL governors think a 2nd team in Toronto is a good idea he said none of them has ever said so to him.”
That may be the case, but they’ve talked up Toronto – anonymously – for years through the media.
So why are Leiweke’s comments here important regarding expansion?
First, even if they’re his own, he’s a long-time member of the Board of Governors and an inside man if there ever was one. There’s no doubt Leiweke has a sense of where the wind is blowing on expansion, and we’ve already heard that the NHL is cooling to the idea of a second team in the market.
So congrats to Seattle and Quebec City. Or something.
The second thing is that Leiweke seems genuinely concerned about the impact a second team would have on his fan base, in a roundabout way.
Granted, Toronto could probably support three NHL teams. But he mentioned to Shoalts that he wanted to open up Maple Leafs tickets at discounted rates so fans beyond the suits can attend games. Which, reading between the lines, would seem to mean that he’d like the fan base to get younger and more diverse in the building.
That shows at least some concern about expanding the fan base, which he knows a second team could captivate just by being the “new hotness” to his “old and busted,” to put it in Will Smith terms.
While the sale of the Leafs seemed to portend the potential for a second team in the market – the media rights fees alone should be enough to soothe Rogers and Bell – it appears the franchise is going to run the same type of interference that the former owners ran when Hamilton was angling for a team. Which is a shame, because a second team in Toronto has made too much sense for years.