Behind the scenes NHL bid for Hamilton continues

There remains intense interest in a second NHL franchise in Southern Ontario, but nobody with pockets deep enough to put forward a formal application came forward. As a result only Quebec City and Las Vegas will be considered in the next round of NHL expansion discussions. As the league gains financial strength and growing stability in most of its markets, it is becoming increasingly choosy about who is admitted to the lodge. Gone are the days when an ownership group could hire a Phil Esposito as a front man, and with precious little else on the table secure a franchise as Tampa Bay did in the 1980s. In this round of NHL expansion discussion the league set some tough rules for applying aimed at weeding out the tire-kickers. To even submit a bid an applicant would have to lay down $10Million of which $2 Million would not be refunded.

The league put it bluntly in a statement announcing the Quebec and Las Vegas applications: “Our purpose, in initiating the expansion process in the manner we did, was not only to explore the possibility of admitting new members to the NHL but also, at the outset, to set realistic guideposts to distinguish between bona fide expressions of interest (i.e., those which have at least substantial ownership capabilities and an arena or the realistic possibility of an arena) from those indications of potential interest which were, at best, merely hopes or aspirations. Apparently, only Mr. Foley (Las Vegas) and Quebecor have the confidence in their ability to secure an arena and suitable ownership capability to move forward with this process.”

In the end Graeme Roustan, CEO of GTA Sports and Entertainment, who was behind a failed who plan to build a 20,000-seat arena in Markham in 2012, and who had said in June he intended to make a pitch for an NHL team in the GTA; did not file an application.

Hamilton, which today still has the only arena in the area remotely capable of hosting an NHL team, albeit an aging facility, was not mentioned, although there apparently is a continuing effort to land an NHL franchise. For some years, Hamilton city council has maintained an official policy of continuing to seek a team through the existence of an NHL subcommittee consisting of Mayor Eisenberger, and Councillors Duvall, Farr, Ferguson and Whitehead. To keep the NHL dream alive, tenants of First Ontario Place like the Hamilton Bulldogs are asked to sign leases that stipulate they can be bumped by an NHL team.

Subcommittee member Terry Whitehead confirmed to the Bay Observer that there has been a series of meetings with unnamed individuals but that the parties were not in a position to meet the NHL application deadline. “I wish we had had another six months,” he told the Bay Observer. He would not say whether any of the talks involved Mike Andlauer, who in addition to owning the Bulldogs remains an alternate NHL Governor for the Montreal Canadiens despite the move of the Habs farm team to Newfoundland. Elsewhere in this paper Bulldogs President Steve Staios talked about the high respect Andlauer enjoys in NHL circles. NHL committee member Lloyd Ferguson says the bid, whatever it may be, hasn’t involved the NHL committee which hasn’t met in months.

Gabe Macaluso who was involved in a number of NHL bids for Hamilton says for Hamilton to have a hope of a team it will need the support of people like Andlauer and Larry Tannenbaum, part owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “If you don’t have Tannenbaum onside, you’re going nowhere,” Macaluso told the Bay Observer. Whitehead believes that if Hamilton can find an owner who, under the new rules, must be capable of raising $500 Million US dollars ($650 Million Canadian) the NHL would be prepared to listen, despite Hamilton missing the latest bid deadline

John Best had enjoyed a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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