Let’s get one thing straight, OK? This rumour that the NHL is considering giving Toronto a second NHL franchise is complete hogwash. The NHL has gone to great lengths to make sure that Jim Balsillie cannot buy an existing NHL team and move it to Hamilton and the reason they’ve given for this is that it would infringe on Toronto and Buffalo territory. This is in itself mostly hogwash, since nothing is going to take money or fans away from the Leafs, though I suppose it could pull fans away from Buffalo. It could be argued that if that’s the case, then maybe the Sabres should be moved. Anyway, after fighting Balsillie at every opportunity, they’re not about to turn around and just give Toronto a second team.
Then there are the issues of where they’d play. The ACC already has three professional teams playing there during the winter, plus lots of concerts and other events; adding another team would cause no end of scheduling headaches. From a selfish point of view, this would likely mean that the Toronto Rock (who are the lowest team on the ACC totem pole) would be “evicted” from the ACC and have to play at Ricoh Colliseum, which would suck for us Rock fans.
Would a second team succeed in Toronto? Sure it would. First off, it would likely be possible to get tickets for the Toronto Whatevers, whereas getting Leafs tickets is an exercise in frustration. Plus, Toronto has a lot of people who have moved from other parts of Canada, and have hated the Leafs all their lives. Toronto loves its Leafs, make no mistake, but they’re one of the most hated teams outside the GTA. A second team in Toronto would give them someone to root for.
If the owners of the new team are smart, they will keep ticket prices down, since MLS&E have not. Right now even if it’s possible to get Leafs tickets, the prices are insanely high. Your average guy doesn’t want to (or simply can’t) spend the many hundreds of dollars required to take his family to a Leafs game. And if you want decent seats and a couple of drinks and hot dogs and to park your car within a mile of the ACC, you’d better be prepared to shell out half a grand for an evening of entertainment. (And the way the Leafs have been playing over the past few years, the “entertainment” part is questionable.) I’ve brought Ryan to a couple of Rock games and a Raptors game, and both my kids have been to Blue Jays games, but neither has ever seen a Leaf game live, since I simply can’t justify the expense.
The whole idea seems very unlikely anyway, not only because the NHL keeps preventing Balsillie from joining the owner’s club, but because they have consistently refused to investigate the possibility of moving one of their struggling franchises to Canada, whether to Hamilton or back to Winnipeg or Quebec City. In fact, the league seems reluctant to even acknowledge that they have any struggling franchises. From interviews I’ve heard with Gary Bettman, they won’t even acknowledge that a Canadian dollar that goes from 65 cents US up to $1.05 and then back down to 79 cents has any effect on overall league revenue, despite the fact that the six Canadian teams are pulling well more than their weight. I’ve heard a number of times that the 6 Canadian franchises (20% of the teams in the league) bring in over 40% of the league’s revenue. Bettman is determined to make the league a huge success in the US, despite the fact that every attempt to do so over the past however-many years has failed. It’s big in the traditional hockey markets (Boston, Detroit, Chicago, New York), decent in some (San Jose, Minnesota, Dallas), but downright lousy in many others (Atlanta, Florida, Phoenix, Nashville). Kansas City or Oklahoma City may do OK, but they’re not going to change the hockey landscape much or turn the US into a hockey-loving nation, and I think Las Vegas is a disaster waiting to happen.
Winnipeg and Quebec City would be great NHL markets. Each of them used to have an NHL team that moved, but that had nothing to do with support from the city or fans; in both cases it had to do with rising salaries and a weak Canadian dollar. With the right ownership, I think either of these two cities could flourish in the NHL. Of course, I live less than 12 km from Copps Coliseum, so I’d be perfectly happy with a team in Hamilton, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon either. The NHL just won’t allow it.