Off the Record: Bring hockey home to Canada

You won’t meet many Canucks who don’t support the idea of the NHL expanding into a Canadian market.

You won’t meet many Canucks who don’t support the idea of the NHL expanding into a Canadian market. We love our hockey. But it seems that red tape and financial challenges add more resistance toward hockey projects that American owners don’t want. It was almost surreal to hear the news of Atlanta relocating its team to Winnipeg after all the hurdles they had to overcome. But it’s no surprise that the Jets are selling tickets. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of other northern cities — in other words, almost every capital and otherwise major city in Canada — could punch above their weight in population and provide lucrative support for their own NHL team. While Atlanta moved the entire franchise to Winnipeg, which was very successful, it would be nice to see struggling teams play a few of their home games each season in a hockey-deprived community. Among the handful of Canadian cities that could possibly support a national hockey team of their own, Saskatoon would serve as an ideal location. Similarly, the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills (from Buffalo, N.Y., a short drive south of the border) have taken a few of their home games to Toronto. A team like the Phoenix Coyotes (which, ironically, fled from Winnipeg in the mid-1990s) — that has been operating many seasons at a loss — could see big benefits if they were to bring some opponents to Saskatchewan. Other teams have been greeted to sellout crowds during the pre-season in Saskatoon. If the Coyotes were selling out stadiums in the prairies for a few games during the regular season rather than playing for a half-empty building in Phoenix, there would be a greater demand for the fewer desert games they struggle to sell tickets to. Phoenix would also benefit from satellite home games through the increased fan base, especially considering the number of Canadian snowbirds who frequent Arizona. They could expect larger television audiences and increased merchandise sale. Taking a few home games north of the border would probably benefit a team as broke as Phoenix. But the Coyotes are a lost cause; more than 15 years have passed since the first game in Arizona and fans continually offer weak support. It must be harder to appreciate hockey if you live in a desert. It’s charitable of the NHL to cover Phoenix’s lost revenue, but businesses should operate to increase their wealth. While many hockey fans are confident that a team would succeed in Quebec City, Hamilton, Markham, or Saskatoon to name a few, the NHL appears reluctant to make such long term changes. Even though the league is losing money by hanging on to the burdened Coyotes, the board of directors seem naively worried about losing more money. Experimenting with satellite home games would be an effective indicator of the potential within various Canadian market. Communities that are hungry for an NHL team would be given an opportunity to demonstrate their support, while owners could earn money from a team operating at a loss and build support for an unpopular team. It might not work for Invermere or the Columbia Valley, but there are many regions of the country that could satisfy the local cravings for NHL hockey by tapping into this idea.

Dan Walton is a reporter for The Valley Echo and The Pioneer. He can be reached at