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Is There Hope for an NHL Return to Quebec?

NHL expansion, if ever again, isn't expected for a few years. But Quebec politicians will meet with NHL officials this month, but if the NHL was to grow to 34 teams, Quebec City should be at the top of the list.
Quebec Nordiques

Another year, another time of hope for people in Quebec City that they’ll get an NHL team again. Will this year be any different? Will NHL commissioner Gary Bettman fight as doggedly to bring back a team to replace the long-departed Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise as he’s fought to keep the Arizona Coyotes from being relocated?

The answer to those two questions may very well be “no”, but Quebec fans got a small inkling of potentially encouraging news when it was revealed Quebec politicians would be meeting with NHL officials this month. Bettman was quick to put a damper on the expectations of the meeting, trotting out his usual line about no interest in expanding or relocating at this time. And there’s no reason to disbelieve him on this topic.

But if the NHL was to grow to 34 teams, Quebec City should be at the top of the list. By putting a Q.C. team in the Eastern Conference, and, for argument’s sake, say, another team in the West – Houston, anyone? – the league’s owners would likely have almost two billion dollars in expansion fees, and they don’t have to share it with their “50/50 partners” (try and stifle your laughter there), the NHL Players’ Association. That’s an awful lot of money to turn down. You’d think the people who are now debasing NHL jerseys with advertisement patches would be hungrier for a much bigger payday.

Granted, the league probably has some concerns over the quality of corporate support a Quebec City expansion team would get. That’s a fair point. And sure, Quebec City fans might also be Montreal Canadiens fans, partitioning off their fandom into two arch-rivals in the same province. However, with a partnership with the community – the type of relationship a franchise like Winnipeg has with its fans and ticketholders, for instance – the Q.C. Nordiques 2.0 (and it really has to be the Nords name when they come back, doesn’t it?) could be a sustainable entertainment entity.

This is about cosmic payback. It won’t feel right until there’s another team in Quebec City. Besides, their rivalry with the Habs will boost their franchise value right off the hop. Their fan support would instantly be better than a number of current NHL teams (ahem, Arizona), and their TV rights, in English and French, would go for a hefty price. In the Videotron Centre, they already have an NHL-caliber rink. They check off many boxes for an NHL-worthy city.

The bad news is Quebec City has been actively trying to land an NHL franchise for more than six years now, and the league has shown absolutely no interest in accepting them back into the fold. But things can change, and change quickly. Before the Atlanta Thrashers suddenly wobbled their way out of Georgia, nobody was projecting they would be relocated to Manitoba. And Bettman did not express any real joy in the relocation. He fought to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. A couple weeks prior to the announcement of the Thrashers-becoming-the-Jets transaction, Bettman told ESPN.com this about a potential move of the Thrashers to Winnipeg:

“So people just make this stuff up, right?” Bettman said on May 12, 2011. “Where's the accountability from all the people who a month ago were saying that Phoenix was definitely going? Whatever is being written [about Atlanta] is being made up."

Here’s the “accountability”: Nineteen days after Bettman’s incredulous reaction, the Thrashers were officially sold to Mark Chipman, and were soon on their way to Winnipeg. That’s the way the NHL works. League brass strive to be as secretive as possible, keeping fans and media in the dark until their plans come to pass. That’s likely to be the way it goes, one way or another, for Quebec City’s bid to acquire an NHL team. Quebec Premier Francois Legault may be only in this for the positive publicity that comes with attempting to land a big-league franchise. Perhaps he already knows the league isn’t about to rush out and bear-hug him as they welcome him to the gang.

Just about all the real talk about Quebec City’s viability as an NHL city will happen behind the scenes. But their actions will speak louder than their words. If Bettman rejects a new Nordiques team, it will only underscore this part of his employment history with the league. Continuing to turn down Q.C. proves Bettman doesn’t believe in that market.

But that can change. Some things are out of Bettman’s hands, as Atlanta/Winnipeg was. If you think Bettman prefers a team in Winnipeg over one in Georgia, you’re wrong. And there may be a similar crumbling in another American NHL city, with no heroes riding in to keep a team in their current home; that may present the circumstance in which Quebec City steps up and presents itself as a better option than the other ones Bettman has.

If it’s expansion? Well, that’s fine, too. It’ll dilute the overall product, sure, but not to a degree the game stops being entertaining. And giving Houston a team to make it an even-numbered, 34-team league would get the NHL into America’s fourth most populous market. Putting Quebec City and Houston into the mix makes sense geographically and monetarily. There are counterarguments to be made against expansion, but as we’ve seen with the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken, the league hasn’t hesitated to expand.

Come on, Mr. Bettman. Take the plans Quebec City politicians give you this month, and bring them back to the NHL team owners with a positive appreciation for what is possible for a second market in Quebec. Just as we saw with Winnipeg, there can be a viable smaller-market Canadian team in the big-money NHL. It just takes belief and support.

A new Nordiques team would not hurt the financial bottom line in Montreal; in fact, it may only improve the bottom line, as the rivalry between the Habs and Nords would flourish. Fans would rush to their arenas and TVs to watch a new generation of top talent. And another French-language team would add more worldliness to the overall NHL product.

It just makes so much sense, on so many fronts, to have the NHL return to Quebec City. Sooner or later, the league has to address the future hockey has there. And if they’re wise, they’ll embrace a new Nordiques team as the money-maker it has the potential to be.

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