The Montreal Canadiens “hosted” the Pittsburgh Penguins in an exhibition game on Monday night at the spectacular new Videotron Centre in Quebec City. As far as christenings go, the event was a smashing success. The house was packed and generally supportive of the Canadiens, who beat a collection of Pittsburgh minor leaguers 4–1.
But there was also a sense of excitement in the air that went beyond the game on the ice. With blue Nordiques sweaters dotted throughout the stands, it was clearly understood that the next time these fans cheer on an NHL team in that building it could be their own.
Quebec City and Las Vegas faced the third phase in the lengthy NHL expansion process on Tuesday as they made detailed presentations to the league’s executive committee. It’s a step that’s being characterized as the most critical yet in the expansion process.
The pitches will boil down the specifics of each group’s business plans, from how they will pay the expected $500 million expansion fee to the ways they’ll manage and exploit possible revenue streams.
Both groups will face hard questions. Las Vegas has been shunned by major league sports in the past because of the pervasive presence of gambling in the city and concerns about the local economy, a transient population and an extremely competitive market for the entertainment dollar. The lack of an established hockey culture in the area also has to be addressed.
Quebec City faces entirely different issues. Filling seats won’t be a problem. The Canadian dollar is the big obstacle. The loonie is on a downward trajectory against the American dollar of late and the financial impact both long term and short could be staggering. For starters, that $500 million (U.S.) expansion fee balloons to more than $671 million Canadian at today’s exchange rate. And if a team eventually is placed in the city, there’s a chance that the exchange rate could have a crippling effect on its ability to pay salaries, which are due to players in American funds.
Once those questions are answered to the committee’s satisfaction (or not), it will report to the full Board of Governors later in the day. No vote by the board on the matter is expected, though. That's likely to be put off until December at the earliest. Commissioner Gary Bettman has spoken repeatedly of his desire to move slowly with the process and there’s no reason to think his position has changed.
But we could find out today if either side failed to address the league’s concerns, or if they’ve paved their way to eventual acceptance.
“Today, we made a formal presentation to the NHL Executive Committee in New York City as part of our effort to secure an NHL team in Las Vegas,” lead investor Bill Foley said in a statement. “This meeting was the result of successfully completing three previous phases of the expansion application process. We made it to this point because of the passionate fans that helped us secure more than 13,500 season ticket deposits and commitments. As we wait for a final decision, I want to thank the NHL for this opportunity and the season ticket holders who have clearly demonstrated that Vegas Wants Hockey!"
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