It’s no surprise prospective ownership groups from Las Vegas and Quebec City submitted applications for an NHL expansion franchise ahead of Monday’s deadline, however there was a belief there would be others.
Many felt a group from the Greater Toronto Area would file a bid, but Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek says there are a number of possibilities for why it didn’t happen.
“It might be a little cost prohibitive,” Marek told Dean Blundell & Co. Tuesday morning on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “I mean you’re looking at building a rink and getting in and it’s going to be a little north of $500 million if you want another team in Toronto you’re looking at a cool $1 billion before you even pay a single hockey player or drop the puck. And when you consider the Canadian dollar is at 77 cents maybe we can understand why [there was no bid from the GTA].”
LISTEN: Jeff Marek talks NHL expansion
GTA Sports & Entertainment is aiming to build a new 18,000-seat arena in Markham and CEO Graeme Roustan said in June that his organization was interested in bringing a second NHL team to Southern Ontario.
“While we continue to focus on developing the GTA Centre, we were not able to complete the necessary work by the application deadline,” a spokesperson for GTA Sports & Entertainment said in a statement to the Toronto Sun. “We hope that another such opportunity presents itself in the future.”
Although there won’t be a second Toronto-area NHL team in the near future, Marek believes it could still happen one day.
“The whispers are still out there that perhaps the long-term play for a second team in Toronto – and we know it as probably more of an inevitability than ever before, and obviously is not going to be in this round of expansion but perhaps the next round of expansion – is would it surprise anybody to see the unholy alliance of Rogers and Bell split and Rogers owns one team and Bell owns the other?”
Currently Rogers and Bell each have a 37.5 percent stake in MLSE, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs. From a business standpoint the Leafs are the most successful franchise in the NHL — the Leafs are the only hockey club listed on Forbes’ 2015 list of the Top 50 most valuable sports teams — and Southern Ontario is a hotbed for hockey talent and fans.
“I still think that [NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s] final little love letter to the owners before he retires is going to be that cheque from Toronto,” Marek said. “I still think that’s going to be his final legacy position finally written. He’s redone the game, cleaned it up, got the salary cap, got rid of Bob Goodenow. Boom. Here’s your billion-dollar cheque, drops the microphone. ‘I’m out of here.’ That’s kind of how I see the long-term play for Gary Bettman.”
In addition to the GTA, it was widely speculated that a group or groups from Seattle and the surrounding area would submit an expansion application but it didn’t happen despite the city being a strong candidate for a future NHL team.
“First thing they need to do is get an arena deal set. Right now the political appetite wants basketball first and hockey second,” Marek explained. “I do know [the NHL] wanted to do something with conference alignment and they wanted the same amount of teams in each conference. That was important to the NHL. That’s important to the players as well, so I think in the back of their minds they were half expecting something to come from Seattle this time around because one [team] in Quebec and one in Las Vegas you still have a misaligned NHL. And I don’t think you want to go back asking Detroit or Columbus to go back in the Western Conference at this point.”
The NHL released this statement Tuesday regarding expansion and the league has said in the past that the earliest any expansion would occur is the 2017-18 season.