TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs are paying attention to the seemingly irrepressible talk of another NHL team on their home turf, but will treat it as “pure speculation” until the discussion reaches the league’s highest echelons.
That, apparently, has yet to take place.
The prospects of placing a second team in Canada’s largest city, either via expansion or relocation, has never been discussed at any board meeting or internally within the league, a source told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
Still, the idea of another club alongside the Maple Leafs created a massive buzz after a national Canadian newspaper reported that some NHL governors have talked informally about the issue.
The NHL declined to comment while Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, had little to say about the matter when reached at his office.
While he didn’t reject the idea out of hand, Peddie said any sort of reaction to such a proposal would only come once his club’s board was given a league recommendation on the matter.
The Maple Leafs, however, aren’t burying their heads in the sand. Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie made a well-publicized attempt to purchase and move the Nashville Predators to Hamilton in the spring of 2007 and though that deal fell through, talk of the region’s ability to support another NHL team has persisted.
“I think we’re mindful of all trends and part of our job is to plan long term and of course we try to be cognizant of all issues and opportunities and start contemplating what the necessary resolution has to be,” said Peddie.
“But that’s for everything, from CBA to new broadcast deals, just anything. We’re a large company and we always have a lot of things coming up and we’re always trying to be proactive.”
Whether things actually start gaining traction and progress from idle to chit-chat to something more concrete, or die off as another pipe dream, the bouts of speculation seem destined to continue.
There is money to be made in the Toronto area and it appears some in the league want to find more ways to exploit the market.
“It certainly seems to have some logic to it or some merit to it,” said Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, who noted that it’s an ownership issue. “I know just from reading that story, the Leafs reaction was that they didn’t slam it and say it’s a poor idea.”
The NHL Players’ Association said the NHL has not approached them to discuss possible expansion but would be willing to review any such proposal.
“The viability of a second team in Toronto or in Southern Ontario should be fully researched in the event that expansion or relocation is considered in the future,” executive director Paul Kelly said in a statement.
There are differing opinions on what type of impact that would have on the Leafs.
Some believe the club’s monopoly and die-hard fan base would not suffer one iota, while others think the team’s jaded supporters would be quick to switch allegiances.
“I’d have to wait, I don’t want to speculate,” said Peddie. “When and if the NHL brings the board a recommendation, we’ll have a point of view at that point and time.”
One point of comparison, albeit one that looks at apples to oranges, is the brief three-season existence of the Toronto Toros in the World Hockey Association during the mid 1970s.
Larry Mavety, now coach and GM of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs, played for the Toros in 1974-75 and while he enjoyed that season, it was clear to him who ruled in Toronto.
“They were good times but I think basically you were looked at as a second-class citizen, the Leafs were obviously No. 1,” said Mavety. “People didn’t really know who you were that much.
“You knew by crowds and everything else the Leafs were the team of choice, which is rightly so anyway. It’s such a storied franchise.”
Some of the current Maple Leafs believe the city can support a second NHL team, but can’t see why their employers would let it happen.
“Hockey in this town is 10 times the next best market I think, but it would never happen,” said veteran goalie Curtis Joseph. “It would never happen, they wouldn’t let it happen, the powers that be. …
“If you’re a smart business man, I think you want to keep the monopoly,” he added. “… What if that other franchise became hugely successful? If you have a say why would you (let it happen)?”
Added forward Matt Stajan: “I know it’s a Leaf town and other pro hockey teams haven’t done well. But it’s never been the NHL. You put another NHL team and the best players in the world, I think you’ll be able to have success.
“But at the same time, I don’t know if the Toronto Maple Leafs would like that too much.”
Mavety can’t imagine the Maple Leafs rolling the dice and tempting fate.
The Toros once invited famed stuntman Evel Knievil to take shots on goalie Les Binkley during an intermission to help bring people to the game. Another NHL team wouldn’t need that kind of stunt.
“Especially now, there’s only so may sports and entertainment dollars to go around,” said Mavety.
“From my standpoint I can’t see it happening. I don’t think it would be a good thing. You’ve got one team, you’ve got one loyalty and when you start splitting the fan-base and everything else, I just think somebody is going to suffer.”
– With files from Canadian Press hockey writer Chris Johnston.