Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hey Quebec, build it and NHL might come

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If and when Quebec City finds itself on the outside looking in following the NHL's next inevitable spin of the relocation wheel, they will have no one but themselves to blame.

Once the clearcut favourite to land the Phoenix Coyotes when the NHL finally ends its interminable stay in Arizona, Quebec City's inability to act on a new building has let another player into the race.

Seattle is the city with buzz in NHL circles and word has now leaked out that financier Christopher Hansen has been working with city officials in the northwest metropolis to construct a new facility.

Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NBA boss David Stern have league-owned franchises they want to unload and there is talk they've been huddling and considering a common solution.

Two franchises in one building is good business and the relationship shared by Bettman and his old boss at the NBA is a factor. They have similar problems and with a little diplomacy they might be able to help ease one another's burden.

Quebec City is not a candidate for such a move and while Canadians would like to believe an eighth franchise in our country is a slam dunk, it's just not so. Certainly, Quebec City is attractive to the NHL but its not alone in this race and needs to stop acting like it.

There are other players with varying degrees of readiness for an NHL club. Quebec has one gaping hole in its package and that's the lack of a long-term venue solution. That must be solved, not appear to be solved or close to being rectified. It must be definitively reconciled and the only way to demonstrate this is by turning sod. Nothing else will do.

If anything could be learned and then imitated from True North's acquisition of the Atlanta Thrashers and subsequent relocation to Winnipeg as the Jets, it is the clean and easy option Mark Chipman provided Bettman.

There were no obstacles, no reason for Bettman to scratch his head and wonder about this or that aspect of the deal.

Building? Check.

Ownership? Check.

Market? Check.

Now, less than a year after the move, Bettman can only smile at the success of his decision. Winnipeg has been an unqualified success and the best business decision made by the NHL in some time.

Quebec City, it would seem, has some of the same pillars in place. However, from this vantage point they don't seem to have grasped the political landscape. This isn't Canadian politics, where they can stomp their feet and get their way because of their voting power.

Bettman couldn't give a hoot about which way Quebec votes in the next federal election. The sense of entitlement Quebec has developed when it comes to federal funding is damaging its ability to compete in the race for an NHL franchise.

Make no mistake, it's a competition. It's not about emotion and privilege. It's about money, business and the cleanest deal.

Maybe Quebec City is the best hockey market, and here in Canada one won't get much of an argument.

But Bettman won't be acting on a promise. If you don't think he's had enough of politicians, take a look at Glendale and the embarrassing back and forth he's recently had to endure with Mayor Elaine Scruggs. Bettman will be loathe to get tied up in any deal hinging on the unpredictability of politics of any kind, whether they be municipal, provincial or federal.

The commissioner is fond of saying no one should build anything on account of the NHL. He makes no promises.

And by the same token he won't be making any moves based on a promise. Want an NHL franchise, Quebec City? Then get in the game and start work on a building.

They did it in Winnipeg and it paid off.

Maybe it's a bit of a lottery but one thing is for sure, if you don't buy a ticket you can't win.

And you sure as hell can't complain after the fact.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2012 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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