Why NHL Will Not Re-Locate to Toronto

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Oct. 26) – Do not expect the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, or any club bleeding red ink in the National Hockey League to re-locate here in the Greater Toronto Area. It has nothing to do with the NHL preserving the Maple Leafs’ territorial charter, which the league constitution defines as such: Each member club shall have exclusive territorial rights in the city in which it is located and within 50 miles of that city’s corporate limits. This exemption would technically preclude the NHL from establishing a team in  the city of Markham, which is proposing to build a $325-million sports and entertainment complex that includes a 20,000-seat arena. Markham is located 18.7 miles northeast of the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto. The desire to prevent an existing club from moving to the GTA is rooted in economics. “There will be a second team in the Toronto area – it’s just a matter of time,” a veteran league source told me. “The money and hockey interest in that region cannot be ignored. But, the NHL will preserve the market for expansion. It could charge $300 million for a new team, which is light-years ahead of a transfer fee (True North Sports and Entertainment paid the NHL $60 million last year for re-location of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg). Expansion to the Toronto area would provide each of the existing clubs $10 million. That’s why the NHL will not re-locate to Markham.” A $300 million expansion fee would dwarf the $80 million paid by Columbus and Minnesota in the most-recent expansion – for the 2000-01 season. Why, you may ask, would the Leafs not move heaven and earth to prevent another club from breaching their territory? Two-fold and simple: a) an expansion team would have to indemnify Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The last NHL indemnification was in 1993, when the Anaheim Ducks forked over $25 million to the Los Angeles Kings. And, b) the Leafs new ownership conglomerate – a 50/50 venture between rivals Bell Media and Rogers Communications – would presumably welcome the added “content” from another Toronto team. It would profoundly enhance television, radio and digital platforms for each company, off-setting market saturation. As my source pointed out, it’s a matter of “when” not “if”…

PROPOSED NEW ARENA IN MARKHAM, ONTARIO – 18.7 MILES NORTHEAST OF DOWNTOWN TORONTO – AND PASSED BY AN 11-2 VOTE OF CITY COUNCIL BACK IN APRIL. MAP OF THE G.T.A. (BELOW) THAT SHOWS PROXIMITY OF MARKHAM TO THE CITY OF TORONTO.

The NHL canceling games through the end of November – and its repercussion – is no real surprise to this corner. Honestly, once the players were locked out on Sep. 15, did anyone truly think it would result in a full season? History blatantly suggested otherwise, as nothing close to an intact schedule has emerged from labor discord in the NHL; a 48-game dollop in 1994-95 being the high-water mark. Sadly, next up will be cancellation of the Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 1. The NHL could technically play the game at Michigan Stadium even with an early-December resolution to the labor impasse. Financially, the league must commit to the event much earlier than that. As such, it is expected the Toronto-Detroit match – and its peripheral activity (alumni and Junior A games at Comerica Park) – will be annulled by the end of next week. There is, however, still time and opportunity for a lengthy season. If the owners and players can somehow reach an accord by Nov. 20, a schedule of 66-70 games starting on Dec. 1 isn’t out of the question. Only for a brief time – after commissioner Gary Bettman revealed, on Oct. 16, the league’s 50/50 revenue proposal based on a full 82-games – was I bamboozled into thinking outside the realm of an abbreviated schedule. Now, it appears there is no other recourse… Still not sure why players, fans and media spend so much energy pummeling Bettman on Twitter. It must provide some form of emotional release. Otherwise, it is pointless. I’m not aware of how Bettman handles criticism behind closed doors but I can assure you that no one has ever out-scored him in a public debate. He is coated in Teflon… Some in the media continue to insist that any move by the NHL in the current labor mess is strictly a negotiating ploy. Clearly, they were not paying attention eight years ago… Among the vintage uniforms in professional sport, none are quite as splendid as the New England Patriots’ red jersey and Minutemen helmet that dates to the old American Football League. Patriots wore the throw-back design last Sunday in a victory over the New York Jets…

FROM CBS LAST SUNDAY: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS IN THEIR VINTAGE UNIFORMS.

The most surprising element, for me, of the John Farrell saga is that Blue Jays’ president Paul Beeston didn’t show him the door last winter, when Farrell initially asked out of his contract to re-join the Boston Red Sox. I have long considered Beeston among the most principled executives in all of sport. I’m sure he felt like kicking Farrell’s ass all the way to Faneuil Hall. Why he chose not to is a mystery… You may not concur, but the top five NHL players I’ve seen in my life are: 1. Bobby Orr, 2. Wayne Gretzky, 3. Mario Lemieux, 4. Denis Potvin, 5. Paul Coffey. The Orr-Gretzky debate will continue for ages. Here’s how I see it: Gretzky is the most innately gifted athlete in the history of professional sport. No hockey player has ever seen the ice in such a 360-degree range. He was unquestionably the most domineering figure in the sport between 1979 and 1991. During his time, however, there were some reasonable facsimiles: Lemieux, Peter Stastny, Marcel Dionne, Bryan Trottier, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman and Denis Savard coming to mind. None were as spectacular as  Gretzky, but they existed in the same genre. Orr, by comparison, was a freak of nature. In his limited prime – curtailed by multiple knee surgeries – the next-best player in the NHL was 10 rungs beneath him. He’s the most powerful skater in the game’s history – a forte that enabled him to breeze past opponents as if they were standing still. Nothing, to this day, was more ridiculous than watching Orr control the game while killing a penalty. Try to find a video of it on You Tube. He would take the puck behind his own net; stick-handle untouched to center, then turn around and go back to where he started. Often, he would repeat the move before shooting the puck down the ice to catch a breather. Opponents were afraid to go near him for fear of being embarrassed. Gretzky could also make a rival player look like a clown but Orr controlled the tempo of a game better than anyone before, or since… You may have laughed when CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer called the most despised human being since Hitler “Obama bin Laden” during last week’s presidential debate. I cringed. The careers of Schieffer and Jim Lehrer are unassailable but where is it written that debate moderators have to be 75 or older? By comparison, Candy Crowley of CNN looked like a grade-schooler… In my early years covering the Maple Leafs, the team used to rush like hell after road games in order to get home before the landing-curfew at Pearson International Airport. If it was too late, the plane was diverted to Hamilton and the team bused into the city. I’m therefore puzzled as to why I keep getting awakened between 2 and 3:30 a.m. by the sound of jets climbing out over my neighborhood. I live in Thornhill, roughly 15 miles due-east of Pearson. When a plane takes off eastward from Runway-05 in the north perimeter of the air-field – and unless it quickly turns north or south – it climbs directly over my house. The drone of the approaching jet engines is followed by the whooshing Doppler-effect as the aircraft moves beyond the neighborhood. That I can accept. Otherwise, can someone please explain to me where large jetliners are going in the middle of the night? Not one. Not two. Sometimes six or seven. Are they all Cargo planes? Don’t we have noise-restrictions anymore? Just asking…

THIS MIGHT BE THE MOST INCREDIBLE PHOTO I’VE EVER TAKEN: A JAPAN AIRLINES BOEING-777 DEPARTING LOS ANGELES IN MAY. I WAS JUST ARRIVING FROM PHOENIX DURING THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS. WHY DO THESE MONSTERS KEEP WAKING ME UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? I’M GETTING OLDER. I NEED MY REST. PLEASE EXPLAIN.

Is it my imagination or is this the fattest post-season in baseball history? None of C.C. Sabathia, Prince Fielder or Pablo Sandoval look remotely like an athlete. When Fielder tried to score from second base in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday, I feared for another earthquake in San Francisco… I completely understand why Leafs TV is showing Toronto Marlies games in lieu of the NHL. I quite enjoy watching Leaf prospects and listening to Joe Bowen and Greg Millen call the play. But, a Countdown to Face-off clock? Isn’t that a wee-bit over the top?… The final football game in the long, storied history of Ivor Wynne Stadium will be played on Saturday afternoon when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. I’ve been to several-dozen games at Ivor Wynne since my first visit in 1971. Best memory: The 1996 Grey Cup between Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos in a driving snow-storm. Somehow, the teams combined to put 80 points on the board – Toronto prevailing 43-37. Worst memory: As a tortured Argo fan, the final regular-season game of 1975. Argos went to Hamilton knowing they could make the playoffs by winning, tying, or losing by fewer than 16 points. Hamilton beat them 26-10… Speaking of snow, it was quite the scene at McMahon Stadium in Calgary last Saturday when the Stampeders hosted Hamilton. That’s the thing about southern Alberta: you can have a blizzard on Oct. 20 or Apr. 20. And, any day in-between… In Week 8 of the NFL season, is there truly a best team? Atlanta is 6-0. Houston 6-1. Chicago 5-1. But, I’m not sure I’d bet a plug-nickel on any of them making it to the Super Bowl. Though New England and Green Bay are a pedestrian 4-3, I’m sticking with my call of the Patriots and Packers… If, by some miracle, the NHL begins play on Dec. 1, the schedule will almost certainly have to be modified. As it stands, the Leafs would open the season in Montreal. Los Angeles Kings would raise their Stanley Cup banner at Staples Center on Dec. 4, prior to a game against Columbus… The Hockey Hall of Fame induction festivities will now take place without the NHL backdrop. Locally, that’s a bit of a bummer as Mats Sundin would have prompted a rousing ovation prior to the New Jersey at Toronto game, Nov. 9. The Hall of Fame inductees – Sundin, Joe Sakic, Adam Oates and Pavel Bure – will, however, take part in a legends game at Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11. Tickets for Team (Doug) Gilmour vs. Team (Bryan) Trottier are available at the following website:

http://www.ticketmaster.ca/event/100048DA9FE97557     

FROM TSN LAST SATURDAY: HAMILTON AT CALGARY IN THE SNOW.

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