Quebec City NHL expansion bid in trouble?

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NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 10: Fans of the former NHL team Quebec Nordiques pose for a photo during pregame festivities prior to the game between the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on April 10, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin NHLI via Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 10: Fans of the former NHL team Quebec Nordiques pose for a photo during pregame festivities prior to the game between the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on April 10, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL once again held off on anything resembling a formal decision on expansion at its Board of Governors meetings in Pebble Beach this week. No vote. No timetable for a vote. No nuthin’.

But every time the BoG or the general managers meet, the picture gets a little clearer in the aftermath, and here’s what it looks like: Expansion to Las Vegas is “inching” closer, as one owner told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, while the Quebec City bid remains mired in more questions than outright support behind the scenes.

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The first question, as it should be, is an economic one. Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail explains:

Is Quebec City a viable business if the buy-in is $500-million (U.S.), which at Tuesday’s exchange rate is about $680-million (Canadian)? Consider that when the ownership in Winnipeg bought the distressed Atlanta Thrashers in 2011, it paid a quarter of the expansion amount – $170-million (U.S.). And that was at a time when the loonie was above par.

However well the Quebec City franchise does at the box office, in merchandise sales and local television revenue, the market could not spin off enough cash to make a $680-million (Canadian) buy-in work. That is the NHL’s concern, even though Quebecor, the prospective buyer, has deep pockets.

So the talk comes back to relocation rather than expansion for Quebec City. It’s always sort of been there  - the dream scenario for the League has always been to have expansion teams in Las Vegas and Seattle, and then shift a struggling franchise to Quebec City at some point. But Seattle couldn’t get its arena and ownership ducks in a row, and Quebec anted up with the entry fee and the $500 million (US) expansion fee. So here we are.

According to LeBrun, the other argument for relocation rather than expansion is, well, re: the location. From ESPN.com:

Part of the problem with Quebec City’s expansion bid is where exactly to put the team since there are 16 clubs in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference. All of which keeps bringing some governors back to relocation when it comes to Quebec City as its best option.

The easy answer would of course be “shut up and play in the Central,” but when you’re trying to get a team on solid financial footing, having the large majority of its games starting in the same time zone would help. As would having Quebec in the same conference as the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins, rather than hoping for that Nu-Nords vs. Dallas Stars rivalry to kick in.

But relocation options aren’t what they were two years ago.

The Florida Panthers are locked up for the next eight years, at least in theory. The Arizona Coyotes are looking to move within the state. (And continue to be a team Gary Bettman sacrificed blood and treasure to maintain in that market.) The Islanders are in Brooklyn. Even the team with the most ownership and attendance uncertainty – the Carolina Hurricanes – have a peach of an arena deal. Plus there’s a better chance Peter Karmanos moves the team back to Hartford than sees it sold to a Canadian ownership group.

If it’s not an expansion team for Quebec City, it might be a long wait for relocation.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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