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Péladeau veers off script to reveal Quebecor wants NHL franchise

Quebecor Inc. president and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau in Montreal, Dec. 6, 2011. An early peek at results from some of the conglomerate’s key units bodes well for the full quarterly results expected on Thursday.

Graham Hughes for The Globe and Mail/graham hughes The Globe and Mail

If there is a treasure map that points the way to the promised land of NHL ownership, it was sketched by the people behind the Winnipeg Jets.

Its key directions: play nice, stay out of the papers, bide your time, and the opportunity will reveal itself.

So what to make, then, of Pierre Karl Péladeau, chief executive officer of Quebecor?

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The Montreal-based media magnate has made no secret of his desire to bring NHL hockey back to Quebec City, and while he has kept the public statements surrounding his dealings with the league to a minimum, his actions and the city's have been more flamboyant.

On Thursday, the Montreal-based company announced higher-than-expected earnings and that "Quebecor Media now has all the tools it needs" to attract a franchise.

There is a right way and a wrong way to go about obtaining an NHL team, as demonstrated by the contrasting experiences of tech billionaire Jim Balsillie and Mark Chipman, co-owner of the Jets.

Both Péladeau and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume have been circumspect in recent months about the prospect of having a team relocate in the short term, Péladeau after some not so gentle nudging from the league. But their deeds are Balsillie-esque in their volume.

Those gestures, which now include making the acquisition of a team the stated corporate priority of a publicly held company, may be calculated to gin up support among governors for relocating an NHL team in the short term or, more likely, they are signals to the league of Quebec City's ambition and readiness.

The way they are perceived at the league office in New York will doubtless go a long way to determining the final outcome, which could come sooner than many may realize. There have been reports in recent days that the NHL could be forced to make a decision on the lame-duck Phoenix Coyotes by late April.

Unlike the Jets, whose owners already had a building and an AHL franchise structure in place when the Atlanta Thrashers were sold last June, it seems clear the Coyotes' relocation suitors will have to start from scratch.

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The league denies it wants to move the Coyotes, although last year it also refuted reports a deal was in place to sell the Thrashers barely three weeks before the deal was announced.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said at this week's meeting of general managers that the league is still in discussion with potential owners in Phoenix, allowing that "at some point we may have to [turn the page] I'm hoping not to get to that point, and I'm not setting a deadline for it."

The talk in hockey circles is the NHL would prefer to move the Coyotes to Seattle or perhaps Kansas City, but neither of those cities presents the same short-term appeal as Quebec City.

Unlike other putative owners in the United States, Péladeau is a deep-pocketed owner with ready-made broadcasting and advertising infrastructures in place, he has a management deal for a new rink and a temporary home that could be suitable for an NHL team in a matter of months.

That's not to say the league is interested in moving the team in the immediate future – it insists it isn't – but Quebecor and the city are clearly making a public push to demonstrate they are ready if the situation changes.

Next week, Quebec City's municipal council will formally approve a $6.8-million expenditure to refurbish the aging Colisée, a job that could easily be completed this summer. The money comes with a caveat: It will be spent only if the NHL advises the city of its intention to move a team into the building.

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Labeaume told a news conference this week he is ready for anything.

"We're ready for whatever decision the National Hockey League makes," he said. "We have people in the midst of drawing up the modifications that need to be made to the existing Colisée. We'll be sending out tenders in April, everything is calculated to the last penny, on time, on target, and on budget, I hope."

With a report from David Shoalts

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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