Now that the NHL has declared it's open for business when it comes to expansion, the man who tried to build an NHL-caliber arena in suburban Toronto has declared he will throw his hat in the ring to acquire a second team for Canada's largest city.
Graeme Roustan, a venture capitalist who is the largest single shareholder in the company that owns the Bauer and Easton sports equipment, says he intends on filing an application for expansion for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). And with Las Vegas a virtual shoo-in for either an expansion team or the relocated Arizona Coyotes, it looks as though Roustan will be fighting it out with representatives from Quebec City and Seattle for any possible expansion franchises.
(Full disclosure: The NHL bid for Quebec City would be made by Quebecor, which owns the subsidiary that publishes The Hockey News.)
"I will definitely be making an application on behalf of the GTA," Roustan said. "I've always believed that a second NHL team in Toronto would flourish and I've been preparing since 2010 for this possibility."
Roustan was spearheading the construction of the GTA Centre, a 20,000 seat venue, in the Toronto suburb of Markham, but the deal collapsed when the city council there quashed the deal. Roustan said he will look at all possibilities in the GTA for an arena, including revisiting the possibility of going to Markham. When asked if that would include the possibility of playing out of the Air Canada Centre, the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, perhaps as a temporary measure, Roustan said, "We're going to look at every opportunity to have a franchise in the GTA and if that means a possible temporary location, so be it."
The price for a team in Toronto would be a steep one. In addition to building the arena, there would be an expansion fee which would range anywhere from $300 million to $500 million that would go to the league. One source said out of that total would come indemnification money to the Maple Leafs, but there would be no payment to the Buffalo Sabres. And it's believed the indemnification fee would come out of the expansion fee, not be in addition to it.
The Leafs have long contended that they have a veto over any team entering its territory, but the league has said that is not the case and that any expansion franchise in Toronto would require only a three-quarters vote from the board of governors, or 24 of 30.
Back in 2013, Roustan had a plan whereby his financial backers would have paid for half of the $325 million for the arena, with local developers coming up with the other half. But the deal died in December of 2013. But Roustan said he still has the builder, construction giant PCL, and the architect in place, as well as a deal with Global Spectrum to operate the arena, wherever it might be.
"I'm leading a group that has been in place since 2010 when I began this process," Roustan said. "Wherever it is located, that is still intact."
One source indicated that the most serious expansion bids would come from Las Vegas, Quebec City, Seattle and Toronto. At a news conference Wednesday to announce the board of governors had approved a formal expansion review process, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the executive committee will begin accepting formal applications in early July.
"The fact we're going through this process doesn't mean that we are going to expand," Bettman said. "All it means is that we are going to stop just listening to expressions of interest and take a good, hard look at what they actually mean and represent."
It's impossible to fathom, though, that the league would go this far down the road and not decide to expand. One possibility has Las Vegas as a home for the Coyotes, with one or two of Seattle, Quebec City or Toronto getting a franchise to take the league to 32 teams. Seattle would appear to have an inside track since it's in the west and would help balance the league better geographically. But there would be nothing preventing the league from putting the winning expansion team in the Western Conference.
Expansion likely wouldn't occur until the 2017-18 season, which would coincide with the NHL's 100th anniversary and the fate of the Coyotes will likely be decided by then.