TORONTO – If the NHL ever chooses to add a second team in Toronto, that expansion franchise has to hope the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup drought continues.
Speaking in a hypothetical sense on the topic of a second team in the hockey-mad market, commissioner Gary Bettman said it’s one thing to consider.
“If we decided that we were putting a second team in Ontario, and the year the team was supposed to start, the Leafs won the Cup, that second team wouldn’t exist,” Bettman said in a conversation with George Stroumboulopoulos at a Canadian Club luncheon.
Stroumboulopoulos, the new host of “Hockey Night In Canada” and a self-professed Montreal Canadiens fan, interrupted Bettman to say, “That’s a big hypothetical.”
Bettman continued: “That’s part of the dynamic because the attention gets diluted, either two ways or three ways, and when you have historically established teams with great histories and traditions, the second team – even if the first team isn’t having tremendous success at the time – the second team will never quite get the premier coverage.”
A recent Twitter report by Howard Bloom of Sports Business News said the NHL would expand by four teams, one each in Quebec City, Seattle, Las Vegas and Toronto, by 2017. Bettman took issue with that report, which noted the expansion fees would add up to $1.4 billion, because it “under-priced” what that would be worth.
Bettman on Monday reiterated that the NHL has no current plans to undergo a formal expansion process. But expansion was still a hot topic, given the league’s financial success and unbalanced alignment.
“What most people say to me is well, there’s 16 teams in the East, 14 in the West. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you count?” Bettman said. “And I say yes I can count but I also can tell time and we finally have all 16 teams in the Eastern Time Zone in the right place. But you don’t expand just to fulfil somebody’s notion of symmetry. It’s a very important business decision to make, and you do it for the right reasons at the right time.”
A second team in Toronto, even in the Eastern Time Zone, could theoretically play in the Western Conference for the sake of balance. The Leafs played in the West until the 1998-99 season.
But that wouldn’t solve every problem.
“When you see markets with two teams or three teams, the first team can do pretty well and the second team not as much, even if it has on-ice success, and the third team about the same,” Bettman said.
One team is always going to be more popular, like the New York Rangers despite trailing the Islanders and New Jersey Devils in Stanley Cups over the past 30-plus years.
Asked about territorial exclusivity on the part of the Leafs, Bettman said all it would take to approve any expansion franchise is a three-quarters vote, or 23 of the 30 teams.
“Nobody has a veto,” Bettman said.
Of course the NHL is several steps away from even getting to that point. The league continues to listen to expressions of interest from several markets, but Bettman reiterated there are no current plans to expand.
“I know people think I have this list tucked away in a vault with cities lined up,” Bettman said. “We don’t.”
“This is an important business decision if you’re going to expand. In addition to being one involving a lot of money, it’s a fundamentally important decision if you’re going to do that.”