Seattle's NHL expansion bid leaves Quebec City asking 'when?'

Kyle Cantlon
(REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/Files)
(REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/Files)

As merely a formality to accelerate the inevitable, the Oak View Group officially submitted its expansion application to National Hockey League offices on Tuesday.

The assemblage of prospective owners looking to bring the NHL to Seattle, with filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer and billionaire David Bonderman leading the way, took the next steps in its pursuit by officially filing for the franchise—including with its application a hefty $10 million deposit.

The next part of the process will see the NHL’s executive committee making a recommendation to the league’s Board of Governors sometime over the next few months. Oak View group is optimistic it will have renovations to KeyBank arena ready for the team to compete starting in 2020-21, but there is not yet an inaugural season confirmed because, well, the team hasn’t been granted yet. Officially, that is.

Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group. Name sound familiar, Maple LEafs fans? (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group. Name sound familiar, Maple LEafs fans? (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Though several minor hoops remain to be jumped through, essentially everyone in the know strongly feels that this is all but a done deal for Seattle. With an even 32 teams and a perfect 50/50 split between the Eastern and Western Conference clubs, the NHL will be sitting right where it wants to be geography-wise and exactly where it saw itself evolving when it realigned the divisions to start the 2013-14 season.

Unfortunately for those in Quebec City and the many outside of it hoping to a second team in La Belle Province, the positive step for the league is a backwards one for the chances of an imminent NHL return.

Quebec City has a brand new rink, La Centre Vidéotron, ready to go. The 18,000-seat venue was opened in 2015 and would rank 18th in seating capacity among all current NHL franchises. The Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL, who play out of the arena, averaged a CHL-best 13,835 per game in 2015-16. With this proof of a more-than-capable fanbase, a metropolitan population large enough to sustain a team, and a wealthy media company — Quebecor — backing the bid, the city has a lot going for it.

Quebecor already had an expansion bid rejected in favour of the Golden Knights’ just a year and a half ago, with the league citing the fluctuating Canadian dollar and geographical preferences as the reasons for choosing Sin City over QC. Without directly saying it, the league has proven it’s still, for whatever reasons, very lukewarm on the idea of planting another club in Quebec City.

So, as it has since the Nordiques left for Colorado in 1995, the city patiently waits. Houston emerged last summer as a city with the NHL on its radar (and it on the NHL’s) and, though it may not seem like it at first thought, the surfacing of another bid may actually help Quebec’s chances this time around, rather than hinder them.

Houston’s probable and eventual bid is being backed by billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who met with the commissioner last year to discuss a possible fit. Houston and Quebec appear to be the only two North American cities locked, loaded and ready to go if the NHL comes calling for expansion, and with Quebec able to slip into the Eastern Conference and Houston into the West, a 34-team NHL looks pretty good. It looks even better with a likely $700-plus-million expansion price tag attached to the bids, which would bring in $1.5-2 billion in instant revenue for the league (revenue the owners do not have to split with the players, per the CBA).

It’s probable that the Almighty Dollar will indeed prove triumphant in the end, and Quebec City should, and probably will, see the return of the NHL at some point. But the question remains: When?