Expansion or relocation to Toronto needed to happen, like, yesterday for the NHL.
The fans are there. The money is there. The instant, combustible rivalry with the incumbent team is there. (Although with the recent lovefest for the Toronto Maple Leafs, perhaps the newbie team is destined to be the Clippers to their Lakers.)
For a while, a second Toronto team seemed on track. The likely scenario: The Phoenix Coyotes relocate to Seattle; the NHL expands to Quebec City (Eastern Conference) and Toronto (Western Conference) to balance out the League.
Yeah, so, Phoenix isn’t moving. And now it looks like an arena project in suburban Toronto might be in trouble.
Part of the reason? The NHL doesn’t consider expansion to Toronto to be “a priority,” according to a former arena advocate.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, who has been all over the Markham arena project, quotes deputy mayor Jack Heath, who wants to kill the framework for an arena deal:
Heath said what he sees as dwindling chances to get an NHL franchise in the world's most underserviced hockey market is the driving force behind his decision. He pointed to new ownership and stability for the Phoenix Coyotes and sentiment that the league will expand to Seattle and Quebec City - despite the fact the NHL has not said anything on the matter - as evidence that the Toronto area is far back of the queue in the NHL's eyes.
“When you add it all up, a second franchise for the GTA is not a priority," Heath said. "I have no interest in duplicating Copps Coliseum."
No need to drop trou and unload on the good people of Hamilton, sir …
Now, does this mean that it’s not a priority or that it’s not a priority according to the Markham backers’ timeline?
My theory: The NHL doesn’t have an interest in a Toronto team … in Markham. A second team at Air Canada Centre is the best play, like the situation at Staples Center in LA, is the best play. Especially if the Toronto [Insert Name Here … we still want “Rakes” or “Blowers”] are a Western Conference franchise to bring in a bunch of teams the Leafs rarely see.
If we're going to see expansion, I'm starting to think it's Seattle and Toronto in the West.