The notion of a second NHL franchise in the Greater Toronto Area got another push yesterday, when deputy commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged it is a possibility.
And if the Toronto Maple Leafs don't like it, Daly said in so many words, they can lump it. But, he said, it's possible the Leafs could approve a competing franchise.
"I don't think it's a point of contention even with the Leafs," Daly said. "I can see a situation where by adding a franchise to a market, you can raise the tide for all boats. I don't think that because you put a franchise here, it necessarily makes the Leafs any less successful. And, in fact, it could create new revenue opportunities."
Brian Burke, the Maple Leafs president and general manager, said the club has never officially opposed the idea of another franchise in its territory. Burke said if a study proved a second team would be beneficial to the Leafs and the NHL, the Leafs would not be opposed. Richard Peddie, president of the Leafs' parent company, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, has also said this.
If the Leafs were opposed, Daly said, the NHL could put a team in Southern Ontario anyway.
"They don't have to agree," Daly said of the Leafs. "They can be dead set against it, but that doesn't mean they can stop the league from putting a franchise here if the league thinks a franchise here makes sense."
Daly would not speculate on when it might happen.
"I suppose, without talking about time frame, there may be," he said of the possibility.
Daly's answer came in response to a question about the inevitability of a second team in the GTA simply for economic reasons. Most sports economics experts agree such a team would likely earn enough revenue to be a major contributor to the NHL's revenue-sharing program as opposed to a continual drain like the Phoenix Coyotes.
Daly was speaking after he appeared at an annual sports management conference. Daly and Burke took part in a panel discussion yesterday on the relocation of franchises.
Daly said no new franchise is possible without a new arena and he made it clear Hamilton's Copps Coliseum is not the answer.
"The demographics are friendly for the NHL and NHL teams and that makes [Southern Ontario]a good candidate for a franchise," Daly said. "Having said that, what I will say is that even the proposal to move the team to Hamilton. … Copps Coliseum doesn't provide modern-day NHL economics."
There were extensive renovations planned for Copps in conjunction with BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie's failed plan to buy the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton. But, Daly said, the plans were not clear.
"As far as I know, the money that would take was not coming from any particular source," Daly said. "It was kind of a pie-in-the-sky kind of deal. I think for any franchise in any market, you basically have to have a modern-style building for it to make any economic sense."
A second franchise would most likely be located in Toronto or close to it, since many NHL governors believe putting a team in Hamilton would divert ticket sales away from the Buffalo Sabres. Burke said yesterday the Leafs are worried about the harm to the Sabres if there is a second franchise even in Toronto.
However, among the court documents filed in the Coyotes' bankruptcy court case was a letter from the Leafs to the NHL that said the Leafs believed they had a veto over allowing any team to enter their territory and they were prepared to take all possible steps to protect the right to have sole control over their market.
Balsillie's lawyers made much of the letter, saying it bolstered their interpretation of the NHL's constitution. The lawyers argued that franchise relocation required a unanimous vote of the governors, which effectively gives each team a veto. The league says only a majority vote is required.
Daly said the Leafs' letter "says they have a different interpretation of the constitution than we have. So?" He repeated the NHL's contention, which was argued in the Coyotes' case, that "the whole concept that someone has a veto is just plain wrong. It's made up. There's a falsification of the facts."
In other news, Donald Fehr, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, has agreed to advise the National Hockey League Players' Association on its search for a new boss to replace Paul Kelly and on its plans to rewrite its constitution.