A shift of the troubled franchise from the Valley of the Sun to the suburbs of Toronto is gaining currency in NHL circles, as the league realizes not all is sunny where hockey in warm climates is concerned.
Could the Phoenix Coyotes be sold and moved to the greater Toronto area? That’s one scenario making the rounds of NHL inner circles.
Last week NHL officials met with a group seeking to bring an NHL team to Vaughan in suburban Toronto, at the intersection of Highways 427 and 7. That’s out past Pearson International Airport, more than 20 kilometers from Air Canada Centre in the northern part of the greater Toronto area.
Talk of a second team in Toronto is nothing new; other proposals have been floated in the past, but none have come to fruition. This one, however, is apparently being taken seriously by the NHL, as it addresses many of the core issues raised by the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres.
The biggest issue for placing a second team in Toronto is ensuring the Maple Leafs and Sabres don’t take a hit in the pocketbooks. Given that the Maple Leafs draw 19,312 fans per game to Air Canada Center — at a healthy 102.7 percent of capacity — we’re guessing the Leafs can be persuaded by a study showing that the Toronto market is more than large enough for two teams and that the second team would take little away from the Leafs. We’ve heard the harder sell may be the Buffalo Sabres, a smaller-market team that’s steadfastly opposed a Hamilton NHL franchise because of financial concerns. Putting a team in the northern burbs may alleviate the Sabres’ concerns, along with a nice little territorial fee.
So let’s say the Toronto group does persuade the NHL, the Sabres and the Maple Leafs that a northern suburban arena could sustain an NHL franchise. Exactly how do they get one?
Here’s where the Phoenix Coyotes come into play. That the team is in bad, bad financial shape is a given; what’s not been discussed is exactly how bad the team’s books really are. The NHL had to pump $35 million into the franchise this season and may be looking at taking back the Coyotes. If that happens, the NHL may be looking at coming to an agreement short of bankruptcy that would allow it to break the Jobing.com Arena lease.
Which would clear a move to suburban Toronto.
All of this speculative and connects the dots in a way that’s totally different from the final outcome. And coming up with the $800 million or so it would take to build an arena and buy a franchise would be difficult, given the state of the economy. Still, the addition of a second Toronto team and the subsequent move of the Coyotes would be a win-win for the NHL: it would address the weakest franchise in the circuit while giving the circuit a lot more credibility in Canada.
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