The National Hockey League has put its expansion chips in Las Vegas, while Quebec City and its thirsty fan base will have to wait to be served.
After months of speculation and negotiation, Commissioner Gary Bettman took to the podium from a hotel casino on Wednesday to announce that the league and its owners have unanimously accepted Las Vegas’ bid to become the league’s 31st franchise.
The yet-to-be-named Vegas hockey, not night, club will begin play in the 2017-2018 season in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference, with the expansion draft to be held at the conclusion of the 16/17 season.
“We think this is a tremendously exciting opportunity, not just for Las Vegas, but for the league,” Bettman told a massive crowd of reporters on Wednesday.
“This expansion comes at a time when our game is more competitive than ever, ownership is stronger than ever, the player base is more talented than ever and the business, and the future opportunities for the business, are greater than ever.”
The ‘strong ownership’ Bettman is indirectly referring to is prospective owner Bill Foley, who must yield the $500 million expansion fee for the right to bring NHL hockey to the Desert. The half-billion in revenue generated from the bid will be split evenly amongst the 30 current clubs.
The money is changing hands and it seems like a big win for everyone involved. However, for the time being, this leaves a Canadian market with a brand new arena on the outside of the strip, begging for food under the lights.
The same day Las Vegas was awarded its coveted franchise, the league also announced that it has passed on Quebec City and is deferring its application for an expansion team – citing economic and geographical factors.
“There is no doubt as to the suitability of the Videotron Centre as a home arena for a team, and there is no doubt to the ownership credentials of Quebecor, which has been an outstanding partner
“the decision to defer however, was based on elements over which the Quebec City group had no control whatsoever.” said Bettman.
Despite having a huge fan base, a dedicated prospective ownership group, and a brand new 19,000 seat arena in the heart of downtown, the city’s application was deferred for a myriad of reasons beyond its control.
“Unfortunately the state and volatility of the Canadian dollar undermined the achievement of that objective relative to the Quebec City bid.” The Commissioner said.
The fluctuation and inconsistency of the Canadian dollar was stated as a main, but not only, reason for leaving QC in the expansion dust.
The geographic ‘divisional imbalance’ was also listed by Bettman as a major factor. There are currently 14 teams in the Western Conference and 16 teams in the East, and adding another team from the eastern time zone would only deepen that conundrum.
Polarizing compliments and political jargon from the Commissioner won’t do much to feed the ever-starving hockey fans of Quebec who have not had an NHL squad to call their own since the beloved Nordiques left for Colorado in 1995.
“The expansion process conducted over the last year gave us an excellent opportunity to present our business plan and promote Quebec City as a city that can support an NHL franchise,” said Dion.
“Bringing the Nordiques back to Quebec City remains a priority for Quebecor.”
With the league sitting at 31 teams, common sense (and numerous reports) would suggest that the table is now set for another team to be added in order to bring the divisions to 16 teams a piece. Good news Quebec fans? Not so much.
Currently victim to an imbalance in division numbers, the Western Conference still holds one less team than the East. With schedule efficiency and geographical balance clearly a self-stated priority for the NHL, odds are that if and when expansion happens next, they will be looking to add yet another team from the left side of the map.
Seattle, Kansas City, and Houston have all been rumoured as potential destinations for the next NHL franchise. Each with a building ready to go and with big money prospective owners behind them, It’s hard to be convinced that the next round of expansion will bring Quebec City any closer to getting its team.
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