Quebec politicians meet with leaders of the National Hockey League in January, but it’s unclear what influence the government may have on the league or if team owners have an interest in bringing the Nordiques back to the provincial capital.
Local fans, meanwhile, are not holding their breath, following a series of disappointments, and they say they’re not sure the government’s latest move is anything more than a public relations stunt.
Premier François Legault opened the door to such reflections in November, professing his interest in seeing professional hockey return to Quebec and announcing that a high-ranking minister had been appointed to support the effort.
“I tell myself that if Ottawa and Winnipeg are able to have a team, we should be able to have a team in Quebec,” Legault told reporters at the time, adding that his government was looking for partners to help fund the estimate of $ 1. billion cost of a franchise.
The Nordiques left Quebec after the 1994-95 NHL season, moving to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup in the new team’s first season.
Quebec City fans were optimistic about the return of an NHL team a decade ago, but are far less so now, says Vince Cauchon, a sports radio host from Quebec who co-founded Nordiques Nation, a recall group that numbered 100,000 members at its peak. He says the recent news has landed with a bit of noise.
“We were looking for the fire behind the smoke, and this is a rare case of smoke without fire,” Cauchon said in a recent interview on Legault’s stated ambitions. “If it was something that was politically motivated to rally people, it had the effect of a sword that pierced water. The reaction was negligible, if not bad.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed a January meeting with “someone in high place” from Quebec, but said he didn’t know anything about what was on the agenda and tempered all expectations, noting that no team was looking to relocate and that there were no plans for expansion. .
A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Eric Girard, Quebec’s emissary for the meeting, declined to comment later, but said he had been working on the case since the summer.
About a decade ago, hockey’s possible return to the NHL made locals salivate as it lured a struggling American team across the border. Fans decked out in Nordiques’ merchandise traveled by bus to various arenas across the United States and even gathered on the Plains of Abraham for a massive rally in October 2010.
But Cauchon said hopes for expansion quickly fizzled out. The league welcomed a new team to Las Vegas in 2016, but postponed the bid for Quebec City. The capital of Quebec was not considered when Seattle was given an expansion team in 2018. Discussions about moving teams out of North Carolina and Arizona never materialized. materialized.
“Heartbroken,” Cauchon said, describing the sentiment of NHL fans in Quebec. “I think people will believe it when they see it, and I understand their feelings.”
Retired Nordiques winger Alain Côté said he was happy the Legault government was pushing for a new team, but said he doubted the league would allow it.
“I find it very amusing that the Prime Minister is proposing this,” said Côté, a popular winger who now has auto parts stores in the capital.
“We have a really nice arena here in Quebec – a modern building, so it would be fun to use it for an NHL team,” he said of the Videotron Center, which opened in 2015. .
Côté says he believes a lot has changed since leaving the club that plays for the city: a salary cap in the NHL, a new arena and a loyal fan base.
But what Quebec does not have is the interest of the league. Côté says he thinks the NHL sees Quebec as part of the Montreal market, served by the Canadiens.
“There has to be a will, and I don’t see any in the league – absolutely none,” Cote said.
Cauchon said it is not clear which group would spearhead a bid for a new team and gain the support of the 32 league owners. The previous offer was led by Quebecor, the telecommunications company that won a 25-year contract to manage the Videotron Center.
Concordia University sports economist Moshe Lander said billionaires with deep pockets are rare in the province. Seattle and Las Vegas paid US $ 600 million expansion fees and built billion dollar arenas in their markets. The other issue is looking to the future for long-term sustainability, he said.
“It’s the kind of thing that will be about the NHL: if you want a toy to play with, you want to make sure that what drives a franchise up is that the next person in the line is going to pay more than the previous person.” Lander said. noted. “It is not just a current problem, it is an ongoing problem where the question is, for whom is the next one.”
François Emond, who operates a family-owned furniture business in Alma, Que., Says he wholeheartedly supports the Legault government’s efforts.
“The government is doing the right thing by getting involved in the file – not financially – but by certainly showing leadership,” Emond said.
He said he remembered getting on the Saguenay region bus to watch the Nordiques play. Buses to the old Coliseum arena in Quebec were once commonplace in many parts of eastern Quebec.
“I can understand the disappointment of people,” Emond said. “That we’re even talking about it, I think that’s a positive thing.”