What if NHL doesn’t expand to Quebec City, Las Vegas after all?

What if NHL doesn’t expand to Quebec City, Las Vegas after all?

It was announced recently that Quebec City and Las Vegas have entered “Phase III” of the NHL expansion process, which we assume is the talent portion. Can’t wait to see Bill Foley spinning plates while singing the national anthem …

The markets are now proving their viability to the NHL and its Board of Governors, and the League in turn is letting these potential owners know what’s expected of them. Complicated concepts like “don’t be a complete fraud” and “don’t sell season tickets until we tell you to.”

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All of this would seem to point to both cities getting NHL teams at the end of this process, even though the League has been careful to say this is far from a sure thing. John Shannon of Sportsnet is also playing the skeptic, particularly about Quebec City getting a team:

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If both Quebecor and Foley are prepared (and most believe they are) to fork over half a billion dollars each, then there is certain to be interest from the owners. However, there are a ton of questions still to be answered — probably more for Quebec than Las Vegas.

Obvious issues to add an eighth Canadian team are:

1. Market size: Some believe that with under a million citizens, Quebec City will struggle long-term to fill that great new arena.

2. The Canadian dollar: Presently at or near 75 cents compared to the U.S. dollar — and with all league business in USD — the challenge is obvious.

3. Potential corporate partnerships: Who will buy all those private boxes, and pay for those rink boards?


And, of course, the fact that unlike Vegas, the Nordiques 2.0 are going to be entering a market already filled with a team:

4. There’s also the 900-pound elephant in the room: how will Quebec compensate the Montreal Canadiens for invading their territory? How much of an indemnity will be paid to Monsieur Molson for carving out a region from the very profitable provincial market (and the expanded regional market, which includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland & Labrador)? Rumours have suggested that the Canadiens could receive upwards of a $100 million in compensation.

That’s a lot of poutine.

To that end, Shannon sees all three scenarios as possible: Two teams, one team or no teams at all added in this round of expansion:


“It would not surprise me to see just Vegas added at this point, with Quebec having to wait a little longer — perhaps even forcing Quebecor to change its focus to finding a team to relocate.”

Which brings us, uncomfortably, to the Carolina Hurricanes.

As the News & Observer notes, Peter Karmanos has yet to find a buyer for the team that will ante up millions while allowing him to continue to run it. (“Here, buy my used car; oh, yeah, one thing – I get to keep the keys.”)

From Luke DeCock:

Even though the NHL has been steadfastly against franchise relocation, and it seems short-sighted and self-defeating to allow a team to move in the middle of an expansion process that could generate $1 billion for the owners, Karmanos included, there’s a worst-case scenario for Hurricanes fans.


That would involve the league giving an expansion team only to Las Vegas, allowing Quebec to purchase and relocate an Eastern Conference team and going with 31 teams until Seattle or another western city gets its act together, thereby avoiding the conference imbalance adding an expansion team in Quebec would create, with 14 teams in the Western Conference and 16 in the East currently.

The Hurricanes aren’t the only candidate to move, but they’re the only team with a for-sale sign in the yard at the moment, and Quebec would likely pay a premium for the franchise. While it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible as long as the team remains unsold.

Look, let’s just say for the record that Raleigh works as an NHL city. The fans are there. The economics are viable. Like many other U.S. cities, the fans show up when they win and don’t when they struggle.

But the long-term viability of any franchise is determined by whether someone wants to own it. (Ask Atlanta.) You hope the Canes are safe. But if not, there are going to be cities ready to poach them.

Is Quebec one of them?