August 10, 2012
It’s been recently reported that Toronto may soon be getting a second NHL team. Of course, the joke that’s making the rounds is they’re still waiting for their first NHL team. With the NHL possibly being locked out or going on strike this fall because the Collective Bargaining Agreement will be expiring there are some creative rumors being spread.
One of the latest is that the New York Islanders or possibly the Phoenix Coyotes could be heading to Toronto. Well, technically, they’d be moving to Markham, which is just outside of Canada’s largest city. The rumor has some legs since it looks like Markham will be building a new NHL-sized arena in the next couple of years without a major tenant for it.
The main sticking point to this situation is of course is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will fight tooth and nail to keep another NHL team from invading their territorial rights and space. As it stands now, and always has, the Maple Leafs basically have a license to print money, even with one of the NHL’s worst teams playing out of the Air Canada Centre (ACC) downtown.
Having another team based down the highway in Markham will definitely cut into the Leafs profits and will also put the pressure on the incompetent management there to produce a winner. If fans see a winning team playing in Markham, things will only get worse for Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke, who has yet to get the team in the playoffs since being hired four years ago. If the situation arose where the Leafs continued to underachieve with in-town competition, you can bet heads would roll pretty quickly.
This doesn’t mean the 20,000 fans that usually pack out the ACC for every home game would suddenly take the train up to Markham. The team will always have a solid fan base. However, the younger generation would now have two teams to choose from as their favorite. With newborns not being alive when the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup back in 1967, the history and tradition of the franchise wouldn’t mean anything to them. In fact, many of today’s youngsters weren’t even around when the Leafs last made the playoffs in the 2003/04 season.
The sky-high prices for Leafs games would surely send some fans to Markham though if the prices at the new rink were lower. There were many nights last season when the luxury boxes at the ACC sat empty and cold due to the ridiculous cost attached to them. In addition, there are also numerous obstructed-view seats at the rink that are costing fans a pretty penny. The majority of tickets for Leafs games are bought up by large corporations. If real hockey fans found out they could buy more affordable seats for NHL games, it would see the Leafs depending on these corporations more and more.
For Markham to spend $325 million on a new 20,000-seat rink, which would open in 2014, they must have something up their sleeve or it would be a complete waste of money. Without an NHL or NBA team there’s little else that would be able to attract 20,000 fans on a regular basis. The only other alternative would be to use the rink as a concert venue. However, that’s not enough to self sustain it. It’s been rumored the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships could be held in Markham if a new rink’s built, but it’s still not enough.
It’s unlikely that Markham would want to wait for an expansion team since there aren’t any plans to expand the league at the moment. If an existing team was moved to Toronto it would mean millions of dollars would need to be forked over to the Leafs for busting into their territory. With the Leafs being the only ticket in town at the moment it’s allowed ownership and management to let the team slide into the lower dregs of the NHL. The franchise makes huge amounts of money while the fans suffer. They talk a big game, but actions certainly speak louder than words. This unfortunately is where the Leafs fail miserably.
This off season has been a prime example. With just about every other team in their division improving their rosters, the Leafs have signed two free agents. These are fourth-line Jay McClement from Colorado and minor-leaguer Keith Aucoin from Washington. The team’s biggest move was to add yet another salary to the front office in the form of recently-retired defenseman Steve Staios.
A lot of things could happen in the NHL between now and 2014, especially if the league shuts down this season. True Maple Leafs fans should be hoping that Markham does indeed get an NHL team. Not only would it give them an option of teams to support, it would also force the Leafs ownership into making some positive moves for a change.