LAS VEGAS – Video cameras crowded around Bill Foley after the NHL announced it had decided to expand into Las Vegas.
Foley, who will own the new team which will start play in 2017-18, understandably grabbed all the attention and crowed about his team would play a fun style that would "take no prisoners."
Across the massive conference room at the Wynn hotel, another person who had been involved in the NHL’s yearlong expansion process struck a much somber tone.
Pierre Dion, CEO of Quebecor – the prospective owner of the Quebec City expansion bid – spoke about how he hoped to keep up good relations with the NHL so his city could one day land a franchise again.
On Wednesday as the people around the Las Vegas bid rejoiced at their new team, the NHL announced a Quebec City bid had been deferred.
This was the second gut punch for the area in regards to the NHL. The Nordiques moved to Colorado and became the Avalanche after the 1994-95 season.
“Of course we have (disappointment) just like the fans in Quebec and Quebec City, but at the same time we understand the process. We’re part of that process. We want it to be a win-win as well. We’re hockey fans but we’re a business company as well and a business corporation that wants to make it a success. All the conditions have to be there if you want to make it a success,” Dion said. “That’s why we need to be patient and timing has to be right. We lost the Nordiques once, we don’t want to lose them twice.”
The NHL said there two major reasons why Quebec City didn’t work in this round of expansion.
The drop in the Canadian dollar was one of the top problems and on Wednesday it traded at 78 cents per one US dollar.
Also, the NHL said it wanted to correct the imbalance between the Eastern Conference, which has 16 teams to the Western Conference, which currently has 14 teams.
“Quebec City is a tremendous hockey town and certainly is a strong candidate for future expansion, but right now there exists an imbalance in the league,” NHL executive committee chairman Jeremy Jacobs said. “We have more teams in the East than the West. In order to grow the sport of hockey in North America we have to correct this imbalance.”
Both are situations that likely won’t change any time soon and are beyond Quebec City’s control. In many ways this makes relocation Quebec City’s only shot for an NHL team. This was brought up to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Dion.
Dion wouldn’t comment on relocation, but said he would be following the NHL’s business moving forward.
“The NHL, I think, likes the Quebecor application. I think they like the relationship with Quebecor,” Dion said. “They like the arena, that was mentioned today. A lot of things can happen in the coming months so we’ll follow that very closely and we’ll keep talking with the NHL”
Bettman vehemently shot down all possibilities of relocation as Quebec City's best option.
“There are no teams in the NHL that are planning on relocation so that’s not something anybody should be counting on or focusing on,” Bettman said. “We know there are great hockey fans in Quebec City. We weren’t responsible for the team moving 20 years ago and we hope that the great hockey fans in Quebec City stay great hockey fans.”
Later in a scrum with reporters, Bettman was asked about the Carolina Hurricanes specifically and whether the troubled franchise in Raleigh could end up in Quebec City.
“I envision the Hurricanes being in Carolina for as far out as I can see. I don’t think we should fuel that rumor,” Bettman said. “I think the fact is people should understand the Hurricanes are in Carolina and are going to stay there.”
There’s no roadmap for Quebec City and how to handle the possibility of a franchise moving forward. They did everything they could to land a team and the NHL didn’t pick them.
Dion came to Wednesday’s expansion announcement so he could keep good will with the NHL in the hopes one day the external factors that went against his group will break their direction.
He was humble, spoke eloquently and many were impressed with how he handled himself.
“The reason I’m here today is to first of all show we were part of this process and that we have a great relationship with the NHL and the governors and the executive committee and we wanted to show we want to continue working towards the goal of bringing back the Nordiques,” Dion said.
“That was the intention today.”
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