Quebec City’s NHL bid no slam dunk just yet

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, speaks at a news conference before the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. At left is Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. (John Locher/AP)

So Phase Three of the NHL’s expansion process has now begun for Las Vegas and Quebec City.

What does that really mean? Quite frankly, not as much as the title would indicate. As Bill Daly told The Associated Press last week, “It does not necessarily constitute the end of the process.”

Maybe, just maybe, we are not really close to a decision.

Some are saying that we probably shouldn’t get our hopes up for a while, which means there won’t be an announcement in the next three weeks that both cities — or either city, or neither city — will join the exclusive NHL club.

Phase Three means the two cities now have to file their last formal submissions by early September, after which the process becomes more interactive between the bidders and the League.

As we’ve mentioned before, that interactivity will force Bill Foley and Co. and Quebecor to give statistical proof and data that proves both markets are capable of being profitable NHL franchises. That will be followed by a continuing dialogue internally at the NHL with commissioner Gary Bettman and his executive committee.

Then — and only then — will League officials and key owners begin to make decisions on how best to proceed after this phase. I’ve been told nobody should expect any decisions by the end of September.

The executive committee consists of 10 of the most powerful owners in the League. Jeremy Jacobs (Boston), Murray Edwards (Calgary) and Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto) are included in that group that will help decide the next steps and whether of not the full Board of Governors will potentially hear about expansion in December.

As Bettman said when this process began, “The Board ultimately will determine whether or not there is any interest in expanding. If the conclusion is there is interest from the League’s perspective, then they will focus on what the terms will be and who the successful or likely successful candidates might be.”

If both Quebecor and Foley are prepared (and most believe they are) to fork over half a billion dollars each, then there is certain to be interest from the owners. However, there are a ton of questions still to be answered — probably more for Quebec than Las Vegas.

Obvious issues to add an eighth Canadian team are:

1. Market size: Some believe that with under a million citizens, Quebec City will struggle long-term to fill that great new arena.
2. The Canadian dollar: Presently at or near 75 cents compared to the U.S. dollar — and with all league business in USD — the challenge is obvious.
3. Potential corporate partnerships: Who will buy all those private boxes, and pay for those rink boards?
4. There’s also the 900-pound elephant in the room: how will Quebec compensate the Montreal Canadiens for invading their territory? How much of an indemnity will be paid to Monsieur Molson for carving out a region from the very profitable provincial market (and the expanded regional market, which includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland & Labrador)? Rumours have suggested that the Canadiens could receive upwards of a $100 million in compensation.

Confused? You should be. Because I am, too.

In the last three months, my opinions on expansion have run the gamut. It would not surprise me if the owners take the money and run and add both cities for the 2017-18 season. It would not surprise me to see just Vegas added at this point, with Quebec having to wait a little longer — perhaps even forcing Quebecor to change its focus to finding a team to relocate.

And then there’s the thought that just keeps creeping in…

Maybe — just maybe — there will be NO expansion right now. Maybe Phase Three’s due diligence reveals too much questionable data, and aggressive presumptions.

That would mean the waiting game continues, allowing other markets to jump back into the process.

And how much of a bad thing would that really be right now?