Once an outspoken opponent of shifting franchises north of the border, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is warming to the idea of franchises returning to Winnipeg and Quebec City.
There are others in the NHL much more enthusiastic about the NHL returning to hockey hotbeds in Canada, and apparently their thinking is rubbing off on the man who masterminded the league’s move to the United States’ sun belt. That strategy has been mixed, to say the least; the Phoenix Coyotes have consistently lost money, the Florida Panthers are seeking breaks on their arena lease, the Nashville Predators are still on iffy financial ground and the Atlanta Thrashers will soon be on the market.
It’s been a slow move toward acceptance of Canadian markets for Bettman; as we noted last October (Is Canada back in vogue in NHL offices?), Bettman wasn’t totally sold on the idea of shifting teams to Hamilton, Winnipeg and Quebec City. (Neither were we; our thinking has changed, particularly since it appear like the new economic structure of the league can work in smaller markets where hockey is a passion and not a sideline.)
He’s still not, but a new arena in Winnipeg and a potential new one in Quebec City is having an impact.
“I think people tend to rewrite history,” Bettman said Sunday night to the Bettman said in an interview with the Canadian Press. “When the Nordiques and the Jets left, there was no building and no possibility of a building. And there was no one who wanted to own a team there any more. You can’t maintain a team in those circumstances.
“Those two factors have apparently (changed). In one case it’s been reversed and in another case they’re trying to reverse it.”
We’re not entirely sure MTS Centre is totally capable of hosting NHL hockey as it stands now (the 15,000+ seats will need to be augmented with some premium spaces in order to justify the big-buck prices needed for the NHL as opposed to the AHL), but the issues are addressable. And we’re guessing there will be lots of public support for a new NHL arena in Quebec City.
“We’re respectful of the fact that these are two markets that we’ve been in,” said Bettman. “If under the right circumstances we could go back, that would be a good thing to do.”