Over the last twenty-four hours or so, there have been a couple reports that the NHL has some serious plans to expand the league quite substantially by 2017. As Steve mentioned this morning, there have been talks of up to four cities being added to the current crop, and right now the assumption is that there is no relocation involved, we’re talking brand new franchises.
Seattle, Vegas, Quebec City, and Toronto. Those are the names being tossed around, as they have been in the past whenever whispers of potential new NHL locations have made the rounds. And while the level of specificity in these reports has been debated plenty throughout the day, it’s become clear that the league is expanding one way or another.
The NHL has denied all of this, and they will continue to do so until they can formally announce it, but if these reports are true, what does it mean for Toronto and the Leafs?
Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press had some thoughts about this a few months ago. There are a number of options for another team in the centre of the hockey universe, but the potential hiccups are plenty as well.
In the Toronto area, Markham’s bid took a serious blow when city council nixed plans for an NHL-ready arena.
As of July, that potential deal had gone from nixed to dead, but perhaps it will be revisited.
Another option that’s being floated is doubling up on teams at the ACC. It isn’t impossible by any means, as we’ve seen other arenas house a couple of NBA teams on top of an NHL club and concerts as well. The hurdle here, of course, is that you’re not only infringing on Leafs’ territory, you’re straight-up moving in on them.
A place that’s always had its name thrown in the hat for this sort of thing, since the days of Balsillie, is Hamilton. As Whyno points out, they don’t currently have the infrastructure to house an NHL team long term, but they could still be a player. I think this makes the most sense.
Copps Coliseum, which opened in 1985, would only be a short-term option until a new arena is built. Find the right ownership and that could probably happen within a reasonable amount of time
These types of rumors have been swirling around Toronto a lot in recent years, and to be fair, of all the possible relocation/expansion destinations, the GTA seems like the most rock-solid in terms of fan support. It certainly can’t be worse than this:
Personally, I could get behind the idea of another team in the Toronto area, as the rivalry could be unbelievable, and more hockey at a more reasonable price is always good.
Until now, the Leafs’ biggest rivalries have been with the Senators and Habs, but there’s still plenty of hate to go around. And with the Senators’ continuing ownership woes and a new team in Quebec City, fans in Ottawa and Montreal will have their own things to get up in arms over.
The biggest Leafs-related question in all of this, of course, is how would this affect the fanbase directly? Are folks going to jump ship and latch on to a new team with a clean slate? It seems unfathomable, but this is a group that’s suffered more than any other fanbase in the NHL. Maybe some people are disgruntled enough to try something new, maybe they were fringe fans anyway and a new team could swoop them up, and maybe (perhaps most likely) there are fans who simply don’t like shelling out the barrels of money it costs to get in to the ACC for a game.
I think, for a hockey fan, it’s hard to see a negative in this situation as long as both franchises could co-exist financially. And with fans changing allegiances, the more galvanized the existing Leafs fanbase would become, likely just adding fuel to what could be an intense clash between two close-proximity teams and their supporters.