Hockey fans are hearing a lot about prominent American cities like Seattle and Houston as possible NHL markets with plenty of room for the league to grow. And then there’s the now-resolved situation in New York, as the Islanders won the Belmont Park bid.
But what of the markets north of the border? Two of Canada’s seven NHL cities, Calgary and Ottawa, have plenty of question marks hovering over their skylines when it comes to their respective arena situations, while Quebec City is still without a team to play at Videotron Centre.
“The Senators need a new building downtown and that’s something that’s going to have to get worked out,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during an appearance on Prime Time Sports on Thursday. “The Flames do need a new building, and that’s something that’s a concern for sure that has to get focused on; and yes, Quebec City has a building, but nobody’s moving right now, we’re not expanding East.”
“Calgary’s been very frustrating because the Flames have concluded they can’t make a building deal in Calgary so they’ll hang out and hang on as long as they can and we’ll just have to deal with those things as they come up,” Bettman said.
Unlike their Alberta rivals—Edmonton opened the new Rogers Place last year—the Flames have not been able to strike a deal with the city for funding a new rink. Bettman said Thursday that he believe there’s “no bridge to build” over the gap between team ownership and the city’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi.
“I think part of the reason that the Flames have stopped pursuing a new building in Calgary is they don’t see any prospect of making a deal for a new building on terms that make sense. And based on my experience up there, I understand why they’ve taken that position,” Bettman said, admitting the situation has “been gloomy.”
“[Calgary is] absolutely a world-class hockey city. Great fans. But no current ability to build a new arena, and you can have the world’s best fans, you can have the world’s best team, you could be in the world’s best city, but if you don’t have an adequate arena, you go through a very, very difficult time,” Bettman explained. “And by the way, you can have the world’s best owners—and I think the Flames’ owners are as good, if not better, than owners in any teams in any league, starting with Murray Edwards. But the fact of the matter is, a team, in order to be competitive for the long-term, in order to survive for the long-term, has to have the right facility to play in.
“Listen, we’ve talked for years about all the trials and tribulations of the Islanders, and this is in New York City—the largest city in North America—and it’s a very difficult, uncomfortable situation to be in,” Bettman said. “And, by the way, the Calgary Flames‘ fans, over the long term, are not going to stand for a team that isn’t competitive.”
Calgary, of course, isn’t the only Canadian team with a serious arena situation on its hands. Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who is part of ongoing efforts to secure a downtown arena in LeBreton Flats, spoke openly about his franchise’s ongoing rink issues before the team’s outdoor game on Saturday—even hinting that he would consider moving the team if necessary:
“If you’re asking me if I was happy about the swirl of attention that those comments got while we were basically closing out our Centennial Celebration, the answer is no,” Bettman said.
“We didn’t know about it in advance, [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly and I were dealing with the media on Saturday in response to it,” he continued. “I do think how what he said was blown out of proportion because he never said ‘I’m moving,’ what he said was, ‘I need a new building and for the long term if things got bad, I’ll have to deal with it.’ But that was more of a long-term forecast. I think it was blown out of proportion but I also think it would have been better had it not been said at all in the environment that we were trying to create, which was a celebration.”