LAS VEGAS — Quebecor plans to apply for an NHL expansion franchise with the intent of bringing back the Nordiques to Quebec City.
The company confirmed its interest in a news release sent out 90 minutes after commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league will begin a formal expansion process next month.
“Quebecor has consistently stated that its objective is to establish an NHL franchise in Quebec City and it intends to make every effort to achieve that goal,” the statement said. “Out of respect for NHL authorities and the process that has been established, Quebecor will maintain its policy of discretion as it proceeds.”
Any parties interested in an expansion team must apply between July 6 and August 10. Bettman said the expansion fee will be at least US$500 million.
Quebecor is among the several groups that have expressed interest in an expansion franchise, along with Las Vegas, Seattle, Toronto and others. Bettman said he didn’t know if there was another group interested in bringing a team to Quebec.
President and CEO Pierre Dion said Quebecor has “all the ingredients” for expansion.
“We know in the province of Quebec, hockey is a religion. We are all, as individuals, hockey maniacs,” Dion said in French at the MGM Grand after Bettman’s announcement. “Quebec is an extraordinary market and we have a corporation, Quebecor, who has shown for three or four years its willingness to be a major player in sports, with TVA Sports, the (QMJHL’s) Armada, the Remparts, the manager of the arena for the next 25 years.”
Videotron Arena, which will have a capacity of 18,259 is almost ready. But deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the earliest expansion would happen, if it does, is the 2017-18 season.
Currently there are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West, which would seem to make Las Vegas and potentially Seattle or Portland, Ore., favourites for expansion. Bettman said that’s an issue, but the determining factor.
“One of the factors that you would obviously consider in any expansion process is what your footprint looks like and what the alignment would be,” Bettman said. “I don’t think you expand just for notions of symmetry.
“It’s too important, the business decision. But obviously as we go through the process, if there’s an interest in moving forward, that’s an issue you have to deal with.”
The NHL has a relationship with Quebecor through its French-language television-rights deal with TVA.
On the issue of Pierre-Karl Peladeau, Quebecor’s former president and CEO and leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois, Daly said the political affiliation of a potential owner would not dissuade the league for exploring an expansion agreement.
Quebec City has not had an NHL team since the Nordiques left for Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. The NHL has not expanded since adding its 29th and 30th teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, in 2000.
The return of the Nordiques would give the Montreal Canadiens a provincial rival. Owner Geoff Molson said the announcement of a formal expansion process is “great for the league.”
“The fact that the NHL is willing to open the door is good news for markets like Vegas, Seattle and Quebec,” Molson said.
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press