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For most people, when they think of Canada, one of the first things that come to mind is hockey. The sport played on ice is synonymous with Canadian culture, and there is no question that, at this time of year, the nation is ravenous about the NHL playoffs. Now, of course, there would be even greater interest in hockey’s post-season if more Canadian teams were playing.
At this point, only the Vancouver Canucks are left representing Canada’s six NHL teams in the playoffs. Some teams – including our Toronto Maple Leafs yet again! – did not even make the playoffs. It would appear, however, that the possibility of more Canadian teams joining the NHL is becoming a stronger one with each passing day.
There has been great speculation that the Phoenix Coyotes are set to return to Winnipeg and resume their “Jets” moniker as they did up until 1996. As The Toronto Star’s Josh Rubin reports today, the strong dollar is giving the nation an even greater opportunity to add more NHL teams to its current and considerably measly six.
He writes that the rise of the loonie has helped to level the playing field for any NHL franchise located north of the border. With former NHL cities like Winnipeg and Quebec City vying to have teams return, they can have their players paid in Canadian currency, which is now stronger than the American dollar.
During the 1990s when these cities had teams, the currency situation placed them at a competitive disadvantage. The Canadian dollar was worth about 70 cents U.S. back then, so players paid in U.S. dollars who received Canadian currency felt shorted. Rubin notes, however, that present day currency exchange is a positive thing in Canada, but it is not a guarantee that Winnipeg and Quebec City can be home to NHL teams.
He reveals that a report by the Conference Board of Canada finds that both cities are facing the problem of having small arenas. While Quebec still needs to build one, Winnipeg is home to one that only seats 15,000 fans. Winnipeg, it notes, may also have its team hurt by the presence of the Canadian Football League’s Blue Bombers.
The report lists four “pillars” that are necessary for a city to be successful in the NHL market. They are “population size, income levels, corporate support, and a level playing field with American teams.” It should be noted that there have been improvements in both Winnipeg and Quebec City in all four areas since they each lost their teams in the mid-90s.
Mario Lefebvre is director of the Centre for Municipal Studies at the Conference Board. He was one of the authors of the latest report. He believes that Canada getting more NHL teams is a possibility, but not a guarantee. Said Lefebvre: “We think it can work, but there are still some obstacles. Both Quebec and Winnipeg are borderline cases.”