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NHL franchises in Quebec and the maritimes are a viable option

Of the four major professional leagues in North America, three have franchises in Canada: seven NHL teams, one NBA team, and one MLB franchise. Although the NFL doesn’t have a team north of the border, the Buffalo Bills do have an agreement to play a game once a year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, in attempt to show there is a market in Canada for NFL. Canadian attendance of Buffalo Bills home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium have increased fto 20 percent in 2012 from 11 pecent in 2011.

There used to be two NBA and MLB franchises in Canada, but the Vancouver Grizzlies did not gather a large enough fan base and relocated to Memphis. After their popularity and level of play peaked in the mid ‘90s, the Montreal Expos began a slow decline, and the team was eventually moved to Washington after the 2004 season. The Winnipeg Jets were relocated to Phoenix, only to have the Atlanta Thrashers come into the same financial difficulties and move back to Winnipeg. The Quebec Nordiques also moved and became the Colorado Avalanche, and ever since then, there has been a movement to bring the NHL back to Quebec City. But is Quebec the only Canadian market worthy of an NHL team? And is Toronto the only suitable market for the NBA, MLB and NHL?

Answering these questions is like putting together a puzzle, and these professional sports teams are the different pieces of it. The NHL might be the easiest section to piece back together; it is showcased by Canada’s three major media markets in every region but the Maritimes. But there are other potential cities that could accommodate an NHL franchise.

Quebec is an obvious choice. The fans and the city have long desired to bring back a team, and local politicians and investors have continually developed new business plans to bring the NHL back. A new NHL-sized arena was also built with hopes of showing the league the city’s commitment for a future NHL franchise. The NHL often used the Quebec City threat in the Phoenix Coyotes saga, so why not capitalize on the threat next time when such an issue appears?

One of the biggest fears of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is bringing the NHL to a “small market” like Quebec because of its interest, attendance, and team security. But he could do very well, like when he brought the Jets back to Winnipeg.

This past year, there was talk about bringing a second team to the greater Toronto area in Markham. But could a team compete with the Leafs in their own backyard? Many cities have two teams playing the same sport, so it is feasible.

The last untapped Canadian market that the NHL has yet to consider is Atlantic Canada. There aren’t many urban centres that would be considered attractive by the league, but under the right management, Halifax could definitely have its own NHL team. It’s in the heart of the province and people from Prince Edward Island and Moncton, New Brunswick  could easily drive down the Trans-Canada highway to attend a game. There are a few areas in Halifax that could host an NHL-sized rink and it is known that Maritimers cheer fervently for their Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team. Imagine what they would do if they had an NHL team to call their own.

Having a team in Halifax could be very profitable, but only under the right ownership. If Columbus, Raleigh, Nashville, Edmonton, and Winnipeg can support an NHL team, there is no reason why Halifax can’t.

As for the MLB, NBA and NFL, we will put the pieces of that puzzle together shortly, but for now here’s to hoping that one day we’ll see another NHL franchise join a worthy