Build it, and they will ... oh, never mind. They'll probably just go to the desert.
Cameras in Quebec City's new taxpayer-funded arena show construction advancing rapidly; only an almighty calamity will prevent the scheduled opening this fall.
To celebrate, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman flew to Las Vegas last week.
The putative owners of a team in Sin City – they should, by law, have to be called the Jokers – are in the midst of an advance season-ticket drive where the league helpfully set the commitment bar low (half the 10,000-seat target was reached within 48 hours).
At the launch, Mr. Bettman made the customary noises about no guarantees. Fair enough. But the odds that the NHL wants a team in Vegas would appear to be roughly 1:0 in favour.
Gambling and pro leagues aren't generally considered compatible – a view Mr. Bettman has publicly adhered to in the past – but with a push on for legalized sports betting across the U.S., perhaps the NHL wants to be the first wagon to reach a brave new revenue-generating frontier.
If it seems nuts to prioritize a desert mirage over Canada, where fans are already addicted to hockey, well, it is. The calculus is about expansion lucre, east-west balance and the knowledge that Quebec City and Southern Ontario can always be held in reserve as soft-landing destinations for basket-case Sun Belt teams. That's how Winnipeg got the Jets.
But the Las Vegas adventure is merely one plot twist in the continuing NHL saga. The league also recently convinced itself that its new World Cup of Hockey format is a good idea. What will effectively be the sport's world championships will includes eight teams: Canada, U.S.A., Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland – plus "Rest-of-the-World" and the "Young Guns" under age 23. That last team will likely be made up largely of Canadians.
Yes, that's the dream of kids from coast to coast to coast: Practice hard and one day you'll get to play against your country.
Meanwhile, Quebec politicians who put up $400-million for an NHL-ready building are left to fret over when Les Nordiques will return. Or if. There's a lesson there. And it's not that they should have built a casino.