A New Layer to An Old Story
For the first time, there may be more than smoke.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly today confirmed that he recently met with a group of GTA businessmen interested in putting another NHL team in the Toronto area, likely near Vaughan.
“While we did in fact meet with individuals interested in having another NHL team in the Toronto area, it is safe to say that there isn’t any consideration being given to that prospect at this point in time,” said Daly in an email. “We have no interest in expanding, and we have no desire to relocate any existing franchises.”
The Globe and Mail today published a story saying Daly met with the group of unidentified businessmen last week for 2 1/2 hours to discuss their ideas. The story also said the group has spoken with NHL Players Association chief Paul Kelly, but union sources denied that.
Richard Peddie, speaking for the Maple Leafs, said he was unaware of the meeting.
"We've had no discussions with the league on expansion or transfer of franchises into our territory," Peddie told The Star's Kevin McGran. "If or when that ever occurs, I trust the NHL to bring it to the board of governors in their normal, thorough, analytical fashion and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment will make a decision at that time, what we think about it.
"To comment on the flavour of the day and the usual suspects, that's not very fruitful to us and we choose to have no other comment,"
The story of a second NHL team in Toronto has been kicking around for years, but the road block has always been that the Leafs, and possibly the Buffalo Sabres, would have to be compensated. When Jim Basillie, a Waterloo businessman, was looking at buying either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Nashville Predators and possibly moving them to Hamilton, Ont., the compensation for the Leafs and Sabres was again an issue.
Peddie wouldn't say whether the Leafs would have a veto over another team being located in the GTA.
"We're not talking about the process at all," he said. "We'll deal with what our position is when or if we ever see something from the league."
The City of Vaughan, identified in the Globe report as the potential location for an arena and a new team, would also fall inside the Leafs’ territory.
Balsillie was apparently not personally involved in last week’s meeting, but rumours are already circulating that he may be an interested party.
The fact the NHL is at least willing to discuss the issue opens a new chapter in this story, and is likely connected to the fact that several U.S.-based franchises, notably Phoenix, are in severe financial distress. New York Islanders owner Charles Wang has said his team is losing upwards of $20 million a season and has threatened to move the team if he can’t get clearance for a new arena, while the Tampa Bay Lightning are rumoured to be in the red to the tune of $25 million per season just a year after being sold to Hollywood producer Oren Koules and former NHL player Len Barrie.
Rather than folding teams, the league would prefer to re-locate them if absolutely necessary, but in these economic times cities willing and able to accommodate new teams would be hard to find.
The league is also clearly kicking the tires on Las Vegas, having agreed to hold its awards show in that city for the next three years starting this June.
All that said, a source familiar with last week's meeting played down its important, calling the meeting "extremely insignificant."