Bettman after Quebec City meeting: ‘We agreed to stay in touch’

The Centre Videotron in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

MONTREAL – A meeting between Quebec government officials and the National Hockey League on Thursday produced little progress in the Legault government’s hope to see the NHL return to the provincial capital.

A virtual meeting between Finance Minister Eric Girard and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did not move the file forward.

The league said it was not in a position to respond positively to Quebec’s interest in a return, according to a series of tweets posted by Girard after the meeting.

Girard said he made clear the interest of the Legault government in seeing an NHL return and demonstrated why it would be an important asset to the league in a meeting with Bettman and Bill Daly, the assistant commissioner.

Both Girard and the league described their meeting as “cordial.”

“We explained that, while we were appreciative and flattered by the interest expressed, unfortunately, we were not aware of any opportunity that could address that interest at the current time,” Bettman said in a statement.

“We appreciate that the lines of communication between the parties have been refreshed, and we agreed to stay in touch with each other as circumstances warrant going forward.”

Premier Francois Legault had opened the door to dialogue with the NHL in November, professing an interest in seeing professional hockey return to Quebec City and announcing Girard, a senior minister in his government, had been tabbed to support the effort and working on it since the summer.

Girard had initially been slated to meet league officials in person, but the meeting was transformed into a virtual one due to the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fans of the Nordiques franchise have been hoping for a return of NHL since the team’s departure for Colorado following the 1995 season. The franchise won a Stanley Cup in its first year in Denver.

A grassroots movement hoping for a return of a franchise began in the late 2000s and a new arena, the Videotron Centre, was constructed to replace the aging Colisee.

Quebec City fans have been eagerly eyeing franchises in financial trouble in recent years, but the league has never shown interest in returning to Quebec City.

The NHL has expanded to Las Vegas in 2017 and Seattle this season, but deferred an application for Quebec City at the same time it welcomed the Golden Knights to the league.

The last franchise to relocate was the Atlanta Thrashers, who moved to Winnipeg in 2011. That led to the rebirth of Jets franchise, which had departed Manitoba for Arizona in 1996.

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