The good people of Quebec City have been without their Nordiques for 20 long years now, but they may not have to wait long to find out whether the franchise will be coming back.
Now that the NHL has separated the true contenders from those whose expansion efforts were, “at best, merely dreams and aspirations,” it can get onto the business of entering Phase II of the three expansion phases. The entire process of vetting the prospective franchises is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 4, which would allow the league’s board of governors to hold a vote at its meeting later that month. No time or venue has been finalized, nor is it known whether the board will vote on expansion at that meeting.
Insiders would be surprised if it moved that quickly, but it’s possible. After all, the league gave prospective buyers less than a month to decide whether to bid from the time of its announcement and only two weeks after it made its bid package available. The league has already set a firm date for the process to be complete. It has already stated it will focus exclusively on Las Vegas and Quebec City, although there were reports that Connecticut businessman Ray Bartoszek, who was spearheading one of three potential Seattle bids, was summoned to the NHL offices to speak with commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday.
But the fact is there is no wiggle room for the NHL here now. Even if it wanted to get Seattle back in the game, its strongly worded and mean-spirited news release on Tuesday that threw potential bidders from Toronto and Seattle under the bus, made that all but an impossibility. And one thing we know is that with only two official bids from the 16 people who asked for expansion applications, the league won’t get bogged down in its due diligence by too heavy a workload.
So now we move on to Phase II for both Quebec City and Las Vegas. This phase is what’s known creepily in business circles as “opening the kimono.” In this phase, the NHL will get to know the applicants a lot, lot better. The applicants will have access to some of the NHL’s documentation that will give them a more detailed glimpse into the business side of the league. The applicant, on the other hand, must now really show its hand, revealing to the league the identity of all those in the ownership group, including limited partners, and plans for financing. The league will also want to know everything about the market and demographics, as well as full details about the facility.
In reality, the league already knows most of this information about the two bidders, so that should not take long. That process is expected to take until Aug. 17. In the meantime, the applicants will likely start putting executive front offices together. And we’re hearing that Ray Lalonde, formerly vice-president (marketing) of the Montreal Canadiens and former president of the Montreal Alouettes, is a strong candidate to be president and CEO of the Nordiques. That would make sense, since Lalonde is not only a marketing wizard, he intimately knows the inner workings of how to run a hockey franchise and has strong ties to the NHL. Lalonde, who was part of the efforts to bring an NHL arena to the Toronto suburb of Markham, is currently executive director of communications with the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Phase III will begin in mid-August and will go until Sept. 4. In that phase, the two sides get down to the nuts and bolts of the agreement, including the price for expansion. It was confirmed to thn.com that there might be different prices for different markets. The league will likely get $500 million for Las Vegas, but there is some speculation that Quebec City might be able to get into the club for less than that, somewhere in the $400 million to $450 million range.
Even if they’re accepted, neither team will begin playing for two seasons, which would give them plenty of time to put together their organizations. And even if the NHL doesn’t hold a vote in September, we won’t have to wait long to see whether the league will rise to 32 teams in time for its 100th anniversary season of 2017-18.