McKenzie: New Quebec arena doesn't mean NHL team is closer

Bob McKenzie

3/26/2012 8:44:42 PM

The National Hockey League's position on Phoenix - or Quebec City if you like - is pretty much the same now as it has always been.

That is, the goal is to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix. There are no immediate plans for relocation or expansion to anywhere, let alone Quebec City and, well... stop me if you've heard any of this before.

But here's what we also know to be true.

The NHL cannot possibly wait as long this year as it did last year for the Phoenix situation to resolve itself. Last year, the Coyotes were not locked in for another season in Phoenix until almost mid-May and the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg didn't take place until the end of May.

The NHL was able to wait as long last year because True North - the owner of the Jets - had an entire hockey and business and arena infrastructure ready, willing and able to accept a franchise at the last minute.

In spite of Sunday's arena news conference in Quebec City, neither Quebec nor Seattle are as well positioned as Winnipeg. So unless Phoenix is resolved in short order, the league will at the very least have to begin laying some relocation groundwork in the very near future.

Now there's nothing to stop the NHL from running parallel or simultaneous tracks - one leading to the Coyotes staying in Phoenix and the other one leading out of the desert - but it should be noted the NHL has yet to start down that second track.

So the good folks of Quebec City shouldn't get too excited just yet.

If the Coyotes are on the move, there's no guarantee it's to La Belle Province. It's certainly a viable landing spot, but so too is Seattle. And the Pacific Northwest may be a more desirable location from the NHL's perspective.

There's no NHL expansion on the immediate horizon, but if the league and Players' Association achieve labour peace and a new collective bargaining agreement next fall and if there are no further existing franchise fires to put out, growing the NHL to 32 teams would seem to make sense.

But even then, Quebec City might still be in tough - competing with a second NHL franchise in Southern Ontario, Seattle or who knows where.

So while it's all very exciting for Quebec City to get a new arena, that's not to be confused with necessarily being a tangible step closer to getting an NHL franchise.