Could Toronto really ever get a second NHL team?
Stop him if you’ve heard this one before. Last Thursday, mayor John Tory threw his support behind the prospect of a second NHL team in Toronto. “I think it would be great for the city,” he said, adding that it might “smarten the Leafs up a bit.” If the idea sounds familiar, thank BlackBerry baron Jim Balsillie, or councillor Josh Colle, or the people behind Toronto Legacy, a failed bid for a second team that never got much beyond its first ridiculous press conference.
WOULD IT WORK?
In 2011, the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation, a University of Toronto–based think thank, released a report that concluded Canada could support a total of 12 NHL teams. The Canadian city the researchers pegged as most suitable for a new team? Toronto. Hogtown even beat out Winnipeg, which has since seen the return of the Jets.
“I don’t think any of that’s changed,” says Tony Keller, the report’s co-author and now the Globe and Mail’s editorial page editor. “Given the GTA continues to grow every year, it goes from overwhelmingly strong to overwhelmingly strong plus 150,000 more people.” But, he adds, the report doesn’t take NHL politics into account. And that’s where most previous attempts have tripped up. “The NHL, like other North American professional sports leagues, is a system designed to restrict competition,” Keller says. What the league says goes, and a second Toronto team doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. “We see no signs that that has changed.”
As recently as last September, amid rumours that the NHL would add four new teams, including one in Toronto, commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated that the league has no formal expansion plans. And if it did, the thinking goes, it would likely prefer to place a team in a new market than divide an incredibly successful one.
Even if the league were on board, a new team would have to take on Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. The mammoth company has a monopoly on hockey in the GTA and hasn’t shown any sign of wanting to give it up. While Bettman has said that MLSE couldn’t veto a second Toronto team (the decision would depend on a league-wide vote), he has also acknowledged that a new franchise would likely have to pay the corporation a hefty indemnity that could soar into the hundreds of millions.
A new team would also need someplace to play. The MLSE-owned Air Canada Centre probably wouldn’t be a real option unless MLSE owned at least part of the new team (a possibility Keller doesn’t dismiss). A NHL-ready arena seemed destined for Markham two years ago, but those plans fizzled, and there aren’t currently any other serious contenders.
Keller says the fate of a second Toronto team probably depends on what happens south of the border. “What would most likely cause Toronto to get a new NHL team would be if existing teams in the United States get into financial trouble,” he explains. In other words, hockey-loving Torontonians should pray that the Columbus Blue Jackets or Nashville Predators go broke. Maybe then they’d end up in Toronto or elsewhere in the GTA.
Barring a scenario like that, the odds of a second team aren’t great, but, hey, they’re still better than the chances of the Leafs winning a Stanley Cup any time soon.