Toronto group launches NHL bid

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — The queue to add a third NHL team in Ontario got a little more crowded Friday.

A new group has come forward with a proposal to launch a second NHL franchise in Toronto. They have a name — the Toronto Legacy — and even a sweater and logo.

What they don’t have apparently is any official support from the league, which said Thursday it knew nothing about so-called Toronto Legacy Group.

There was no immediate response from the NHL following Friday’s announcement.

The NHL, which currently has its hands full with BlackBerry boss Jim Balsillie’s bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, has said it has no current plans to move a franchise or expand.

That didn’t stop Andrew Lopez, a communications specialist who has worked as a motivational speaker for Miss Universe Canada, from laying out a vision for a second Toronto team, suggesting that C$1 billion in private financing is already in place for the proposed expansion team.

The team would be known as the Toronto Legacy, and would play out of a proposed 30,000-seat arena built at Downsview Park, located in the north of the Greater Toronto Area. Lopez said the site would include a community athletic centre, 50-metre swimming pool, four outdoor rinks and public park space among other amenities.

"We’re not sure how (the NHL) or the Toronto Maple Leafs will take this," said Lopez. "So we said, ‘Let’s just share with our city, share with our country, and once they’ve had a chance to look over what we’re proposing … by all means, if they consider us worthy, we would be privileged.’

"We’re not here to force our will on anyone. A simple no from the National Hockey League would be OK. We realize it’s a very special club."

The expansion effort is the latest attempt to bring another NHL team to the southern Ontario region. Aside from Balsillie, a Vaughan, Ont.-based group — led by former Maple Leafs forward Kevin Maguire — has also expressed interest in landing an NHL franchise.

Lopez said the project will only move forward if the NHL gives him the green light.

"If the National Hockey League comes up to us and says ‘You know what, we’re going to look at this in five years, 10 years,’ … . that’s fine. There is no timeline on this.

"If the NHL says no, then this dream will stop."

It remains a pipe dream for the time being.

Lopez, who says his group could have the team up and running by the 2012-13 season, believes the proximity of the second franchise to the Toronto Maple Leafs would foster a new and exciting NHL rivalry without pulling fans away from the Air Canada Centre.

"We’re not here to compete with the Toronto Maple Leafs," Lopez said. "We’re here to be their little brother."

The announcement attracted the attention of nearly every major media outlet in Toronto. A dozen TV cameras jostled for position in the back of the room, and reporters filled every available seat.

Lopez’s group proposes that 25 per cent of its annual net profits will be divided amongst charitable foundations and non-profit organizations. The Future Aces Foundation, started by former hockey player Herb Carnegie, would be the first organization to receive funding.

Carnegie, who will turn 90 in November, attended Friday’s news conference.

If successful, the group says it will hand over every dollar of seat licence fees to foundations and charities.

Lopez added that roughly half the tickets to every game would be available for $50 in an effort to make the sport more affordable for fans — yet another reason for the incumbent Maple Leafs to object.

In an affidavit filed as part of the Coyotes’ bankruptcy case, commissioner Gary Bettman said the only way another team would end up in southern Ontario is through expansion. He has also said the league isn’t looking to add teams any time soon.

Lopez says his group is not affiliated with Balsillie or Maguire, and added that he isn’t interested in inheriting an existing team.

"This has always been about expansion, not relocation," said Lopez. "I commend anyone in the world that loves hockey and is trying to bring hockey to any city. But this is strictly about expansion … nothing to do with the former Winnipeg Jets or the Phoenix Coyotes franchise."