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Rookie councillor's idea for 2nd NHL franchise gets cool reception

Toronto Councillor Josh Colle outside City Hall on March 14, 2011.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Rookie Toronto City Councillor Josh Colle's idea of inviting another NHL team to Toronto is looking about as promising as the Leaf's Stanley Cup chances, with some serious hitters lining up on the opposing bench.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is a big Leafs fan, according to a spokesman in his office. "He'd love to see more competition, another team in the region, but he wouldn't want to see anything that would hurt the Leafs," said Mark Towhey, the mayor's director of policy and strategic planning.

The mayor also would want to consult with Leafs' management before giving his backing, Mr. Towhey said.

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Mr. Colle floated the notion of a second team in the heart of the Leaf nation with his city hall colleagues on Thursday, inspired by Winnipeg's success in bringing major hockey back to town after a 15-year hiatus. It is only a matter of time, he reasoned, before a second team moves into the Toronto market, so why not make it clear to the National Hockey League and potential investors that the city is open and ready for business.

"I think it would be a real shame if the window of opportunity ever arose if we saw something locate near here, but not in the city of Toronto," he told members of the economic development committee. "We are a market that deserves a franchise. You can't turn a blind eye to new investment and jobs."

Talk of a second franchise in the Golden Horseshoe has been around for years. Research in Motion leader Jim Balsillie has tried at least three times to buy and move a franchise to Southern Ontario.

At the urging of Mr. Colle, the committee voted 3-1 to asked Mr. Ford to write to the NHL expressing the city's "great interest" in a second franchise, "should an existing or new team become available."

But not all councillors voted for the motion, a sign that it will require some deft stick-handling to get it past the mayor and city council.

"I don't see another team in the 416 that I am ever going to support no matter what the opportunity is," said Councillor Michael Thompson, an ally of the mayor who voted against the proposal. "I am not going to for one moment profess that I want to see another team in the 416 area."

Mr. Thompson said if the city invites a second team, requests for funding will soon follow. He also said the city has enough traffic congestion without adding another NHL franchise.

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Executives of the Leafs' owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, refused to wade into the debate when contacted.

"In the 12 years I've been with MLSE, there has been constant speculation about additional teams and new markets, including this market. But we're not going to comment on speculation," said MLSE president and chief executive officer Richard Peddie.

Asked if the team has a veto on any placement of a second franchise in the city, Mr. Peddie also would not comment.

"When and if the league brings us research on a proposed in team in any market, and I'm sure they'd be very thorough and well thought out, we'll look at it. But this speculation comes up every once in a while, you can punch a clock to it," he said.

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