MONTREAL – Supporters of an NHL hockey team in Quebec City are among those cheering with the people of Winnipeg—and wondering, perhaps a little enviously, whether their day will come.
Pierre Karl Peladeau, the media mogul who hopes to bring back the Quebec Nordiques, says he’s happy for Manitobans.
But the Quebecor media mogul remained tight-lipped about whether Tuesday’s announcement might help pave the way to Quebec also getting its team back.
“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to make any comments about what they’re expecting to do with the league,” Peladeau told a news conference Tuesday, where he unveiled a new French-language sports TV network.
“We’ve been saying loud and clear, publicly for the last few months, that we do not intend to comment on what’s happening there.”
Winnipeg already has a modern arena while, in Quebec City, construction has yet to begin on a building to replace the old Colisee.
Peladeau has a financial agreement with the municipality to become the manager of the eventual arena, and he is expected to be a main contender in any bid to lure a team from the U.S.
While coy about the Quebec situation, Peladeau applauded Winnipeg. He said it deserved to get its team back.
“It’s very good news for the Winnipeg population, it’s very good news for (owners) True North and it’s very good news for the City of Winnipeg,” he said.
“They’ve been working very hard for the last few years—four or five years—and they’re just arriving at the ultimate goal they were looking for (and) I congratulate them.”
Tuesday’s relocation announcement instantly raised questions of whether the Winnipeg move was a one-off, or the start of a greater trend to bring pro hockey back to its Canadian roots.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued a word of caution, when asked about Quebec City at the news conference in Winnipeg.
He has consistently sought to downplay expectations of relocation to Canada—and he did it again Tuesday.
Bettman noted that in the case of the Phoenix Coyotes, he didn’t appreciate relocation rumours swirling over the team as it was preparing for the playoffs.
“I get extremely cranky and unhappy with raising expectations that shouldn’t be raised,” Bettman said.
The mayor of Quebec City expressed hope that the return of a team to Winnipeg might augur well for his city.
But Mayor Regis Labeaume conceded that the announcement left a bittersweet taste in his mouth.
The mayor is upset at his local rivals who are challenging the legality of an arena-management deal he struck with Peladeau, which is crucial to helping fund the project.
Labeaume is upset that, instead of focusing on building that arena, he’s busy preparing to argue his case before a parliamentary committee in the provincial legislature.
He says Quebec is every bit as qualified as Winnipeg to host a team—and he’s upset that local naysayers are holding him back.
“Yes, I’m bitter,” Labeaume told reporters.
“Despite all the respect I have for Winnipeg, we have nothing to envy them. . .
“Collectively, I’m not very proud of us.”
The president of the Ottawa Senators, who was at Peladeau’s news conference, was hesitant to comment on the Quebec City situation. But he said the economics of pro hockey now favour Canada.
Cyril Leeder said things have changed since the 1990s, when the Canadian dollar was in decline and two teams bolted for the U.S.
“The timing is right now for a team in Winnipeg,” Leeder told reporters in Montreal.
“I think they can support a team—the economics have changed remarkably in the last 10-15 years in the favour of Canadian franchises.”
Leeder won’t say if he thinks Quebec City will be able to support an NHL franchise, but he points out that Ottawa is doing much better.
“I don’t know a lot about the economy of Quebec. I just know from a Canadian point of view—especially where we were, the Senators 10 years ago—it’s night and day now for us in terms of the economics of running an NHL team.”
Leeder made his comments at the news conference where it was announced that TVA Sports, which hits the airwaves this fall, will be broadcasting 25 Ottawa Senators games.
The Sens already havean agreement with RDS, the existing French-language sports network in Quebec, but it’s non-exclusive.
“You’ll see different Senators’ games on RDS and on TVA Sports,” Leeder added.
TVA Sports will also broadcast the Toronto Blue Jays, boxing, ultimate fighting, golf and women’s volleyball.