Throughout its long history the National Hockey League has had many colourful and confounding characters as team owners.
So where does Pierre Karl Peladeau as the potential owner of a re-born Quebec Nordiques fit into things? Or, more important, where does Pierre Karl Peladeau —star candidate for the separatist Parti Quebecois in the upcoming Quebec provincial election — find a seat at the table of a North American business that his political aspirations could financially damage?
“I’ve been asked about it,” the NHL’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday in Boca Raton Florida, where he was attending the NHL’s GM meetings. “I started getting some inquiries, I think late Sunday night.”
That is because earlier on Sunday Peladeau announced he will run for the PQ, with his chief goal being separation for Quebec from the rest of Canada. So, for the NHL, the dominoes could fall from there.
What happens when the separatist movement fires up? Well, historically, the Canadian dollar takes a dive. That hurts the NHL economy, where the Group of Seven Canadian NHL teams are the league’s economic drivers.
And what happens if the separatist movement succeeds? Well, we’re no political scientist, but one thing is obvious: The Montreal Canadiens would no longer be in Canada, itself a strange conundrum.
Even though Quebec’s PQ premier Pauline Marois said Sunday that she “convinced (Peladeau) to work with me … for the progress of the economy of Quebec,” like the separatists themselves, one might warn Marois to be careful what she wishes for. A period of economic uncertainty would follow Quebec separation as surely as day follows night.
While some Quebec-based businesses would want to stay around and become pillars of a new country, many others would flee the province. That would be bad for in-arena advertising and box sales at the new arena, paid for wholly by Quebec taxpayers, and scheduled to be operated by Peladeau’s communications giant, Quebecor.
Then there are the provincial coffers. Quebec receives more than double any other province in Canada when it comes to transfer or equalization payments from the “have” provinces, raking in $7.833 billion in the 2013-14 year. That would disappear, we would assume, at a time when a fledgling NHL team would be just starting to get its economic feet under itself.
“About Mr. Peladeau's recent announcement?” Daly asked. “We haven't given it any independent thought, but I don't think his announcement really impacts us at all in a negative or a positive way.
“I don't want to suggest we have a (formal expansion) process — in anything we're thinking. I wouldn't view (Peladeau’s positioning) as a negative or a positive.”
The arena is being built and is slated for opening in 2015. The NHL, with its imbalanced Conferences, could sorely use two new teams and the inherent expansion monies that come with them. Seattle is intriguing, but there currently is not a deal in place for a new arena in which an NHL team would be the primary tenant. Quebec City is building its new rink, but another Eastern-based team — particularly one in a city of around 500,000 people — will require a strong economy to make it over the long haul.
Now, Quebec City is like Winnipeg in that there are likely more hockey fans in the Nordiques television region than there are in the entire state of California. Speaking of television, it should also be noted that TVA – a subsidiary of Quebecor – will serve as the official French-language broadcaster of the NHL for the next 12 years after striking a deal with Rogers this past November. The Nordiques would own Quebec City and garner every available advertising dollar, the way it did in the old days when Montreal Canadiens fans drank Molson product and Quebec City fans stuck to Carling O'Keefe, which sponsored les Nordiques.
And there are politics at work here, as there always seem to be in La Belle Province. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney—a board member at Peladeau’s Quebecor—emerged Monday as another new front man to lobby for the return of the Nordiques, a nationalist face next to the separatist Peladeau — which is fair seeing as the $400 million tax dollars used to build the rink comes from the pockets of all constituents.
In the past, NHL owners have made some curious decisions when it comes to whom they award franchises to. In Peladeau’s case, his political leanings could hurt the Canadian dollar, either in the short or long term. That would cost NHL owners money, plain and simple, and could cost the owners in Montreal a boatload of money.
Will the current 30 owners want a man in their midst whose every political move could devalue their own franchise? A man whose market would slot in as one of the smaller ones in the NHL, and a decent candidate to be on the wrong side of revenue sharing within the decade?
Those are questions that won’t be answered soon, but ones that aren’t about to go away either.