On behalf of the sporting community in the Greater Toronto Area, I would like to thank the Brampton city council and mayor Susan Fennell for bringing some much-needed hilarity to the hockey scene this week. In the wake of the NHL lockout it was sorely needed.
Mayor Fennell and the council had our sides aching with their credulous and gushing response to the dubious honour of being awarded a Central Hockey League franchise. This was a dream come true, they said, now that Scott Abbott of Trivial Pursuit fame grew tired of losing money with his Ontario Hockey League team, the Brampton Battalion, and plans to decamp for North Bay next season.
Not to worry, CHL commissioner Duane Lewis and along with prospective owners Gregg Rosen, who was billed as a former owner of a Tier 2 junior team called the Kingston Voyageurs, and Cary and Amelia Kaplan, who run a sports management company, said they would be more than happy to fill the void with a CHL team. They even signed a letter of intent on a 15-year lease at the Powerade Centre.
Mayor Fennell rushed out of the meeting to say, "Having Canada's first Central Hockey League team shows Brampton is Canada's greatest hockey town. The league and owners had choices and they chose Brampton. I know fans from across Brampton, Peel Region and the Greater Toronto Area will rally around this new team with unrivalled enthusiasm."
Yes, she really said that. Somehow, those hockey fans who failed to fill the Powerade Centre's 5,000 seats to watch Battalion players like Matt Duchene over years or opposing stars like John Tavares or Steven Stamkos will no doubt embrace immortals Sebastien Thinel, A.J. Gael and Jon Booras. Who are they, you ask? Why the top three scorers in the CHL, which rests on the bottom rung of professional hockey's ladder.
Rosen went on Bob McCown's Primetime Sports radio show on The Fan 590 to proclaim there is no way a CHL team can be anything less than a roaring success. Mayor Fennell said much the same when a disbelieving McCown had her on the next night.
It would appear, then, that the mayor and the Brampton councillors failed to do anything approaching due diligence. Forget the abundant evidence hockey fans in the GTA are not interested in anything that is not the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not even the Leafs' American Hockey League farm team, the Toronto Marlies, which is a few miles above the CHL in the hockey world, can pack them in.
And does anyone remember the Marlies' predecessors as AHL tenants at the Ricoh Centre, the unlamented Toronto Roadrunners? They lasted one season, 2003-04, as the Edmonton Oilers' farm team and couldn't even draw friends and relatives.
Mayor Fennell and her colleagues would have been well-advised to Google the CHL before its bandwagon showed up in the council chambers. They might have discovered the league is no stranger to financial calamity.
We also hope, for the sake of Brampton taxpayers, the local politicians did not promise to hand over any cash to the CHL team.
As a public service, then, we offer a series of questions the mayor could have asked the CHL folks and should ask if she ever gets the chance:
1. Did six of the 10 CHL team owners tell the league hierarchy last summer they planned to find other leagues to play in by this fall? And might this be related to talk from the CHL crowd at the Brampton council meeting about expansion to Canada?
2. Is the Brampton franchise an expansion team or a team that will need to be relocated? If it's a relocated team, would it be the Quad City Mallards, which had to be bought by the CHL as this season started thanks to severe financial troubles? And just how many CHL teams have folded or fled for leagues like the ECHL in recent years?
3. Are there any unpaid medical insurance, salaries, worker's compensation remittances or other taxes by CHL teams, thereby leaving some athletes without medical coverage? Would this amount be anywhere near $140,000 (all currency U.S.)?
4. Was there a distressing incident for a CHL player recently when his wife, who had just given birth prematurely, was sent home from the hospital along with their baby because the player had no medical insurance because his team failed to pay it?
5. Just how do the prospective Brampton CHL owners expect to make a go of it when the closest teams to them are in Illinois and six teams are spread around Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arizona?
There was also this howler in the City of Brampton's press release: [The] new Brampton team will compete against teams from the United States travelling from as far away as Arizona and Texas to play in Brampton. This will generate a significant sports tourism impact for local accommodation, restaurants, retailers and transportation companies.
Gee, all those players whose salaries are capped at $11,000 per week per team, which averages out to $550 each, are going to make those companies rich, especially when you throw in their $31 per-diem. Then again, we're sure each team brings along a huge travelling party of fans.
Finally, we wonder if Mayor Fennell noticed something else about the CHL – it's head office is in Glendale, Ariz., which just happens to be home of the biggest sinkhole in hockey, the Phoenix Coyotes. Not to mention the whackiest city council this side of Brampton.