An NHL Franchise In Quebec City Remains A Fantasy

by | Mar 15, 2023 | Soapbox | 9 comments

Shortly after the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, ESPN’s Jon Buccigross and Kevin Weekes made cryptic tweets raising speculation the 32-team league could expand into Houston and return to Atlanta.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly subsequently denied that the league had plans afoot for further expansion. He claimed it wasn’t a priority but didn’t rule out entertaining offers from groups that had interest, including those in Houston and Atlanta.

That prompted The Hockey News’ Adam Proteau to wonder if Quebec City would ever get an NHL franchise before Houston or Atlanta. While acknowledging Houston and Atlanta have the advantage in terms of market size, Proteau made the case for Quebec City to have a second chance at getting a team, citing its modern, publicly funded, 18,000-seat arena and deeply ingrained hockey culture.

Proteau acknowledged Quebec City’s market would be the league’s smallest with its population of 550,000 while the metro population of 800,000 would be the second-smallest. However, he also pointed out the Arizona Coyotes’ ongoing arena woes that have them skating in a 4,600-seat college arena while awaiting approval to construct a new venue in Tempe.

Centre Videotron in Quebec City (

He also pointed out that Quebec City, like the Winnipeg Jets, already has a built-in, ready-to-go fan base that would have little difficulty filling their building. He dismissed concerns over the language issue by pointing out that Quebec City worked fine before as an NHL city while Montreal has no issues as a bilingual hockey city.

Those are worthwhile arguments in Quebec City’s favor. It would certainly be more deserving than Atlanta, which has already failed twice as an NHL city thanks to the mismanagement of those previous franchises.

Sadly, however, those arguments will likely continue to fall on deaf ears at NHL headquarters. The league wants to continue expanding in the larger, lucrative US markets at the expense of smaller, hockey-mad Canadian cities.

It’s why Quebec City was passed over in favor of Las Vegas and Seattle. It’s why it will be passed over if a group in Houston is willing to pony up what’s likely to be a $1 billion expansion fee. It’s why there’s actually talk of a third attempt to establish an NHL presence in Atlanta. It’s why Kansas City and Portland stand a better chance at landing a franchise if someone with deep pockets wants to put an NHL club in either city.

It’s all about which markets can generate the most revenue, and Quebec City comes up short against Houston, Atlanta, Kansas City and Portland.

Getting an expansion team is a pipe dream for Quebec City. Their best hope for landing an NHL franchise is if an existing one is forced to relocate to a new city.

The Winnipeg Jets were resurrected in 2011 because the NHL needed a new location quickly when no one could be found to purchase the struggling Thrashers and keep them in Atlanta. Winnipeg’s True North Sports and Entertainment were the only viable alternative at the time.

The Arizona Coyotes could become a relocation candidate if their current owner fails to get approval for their Tempe arena project. With no other viable arena options, the franchise would have to be moved despite the NHL’s best efforts to keep it in Arizona.

Houston would be the most likely destination if the NHL finally waives the white flag on Arizona. Failing that, it would be Atlanta, Kansas City or Portland. Only if no suitable potential ownership group can be found in those cities would Quebec City get its chance.

The odds of that happening, however, seem quite long. As long as the NHL remains enamored of expanding into non-traditional hockey markets in its ongoing quest to “grow the game,” a natural hockey market like Quebec City will remain on the outside looking in.


  1. I understand the argument for larger markets over Quebec, but that’s whats wrong with the league: money over spirit. That’s why so many fans dislike Bettman. It gets harder every day to cheer for a bunch of millionaire working for a bunch of billionaires.

    • Rock, with one country having a population of 332 million and the other 38.25 million, that’s simply the reality when it comes to marketing a professional sport (California alone has a larger population than Canada).

      The NHL is closer, now, to being on a par with MLB, the NFL and NBA because of the expansion to the U.S., and when it comes to Canadian markets, I seriously doubt we’ll see – in our lifetimes at least – more than one Canadian city in MLB and the NBA and probably never in the NFL (for a variety of reasons there).

      We did have two MLB and NBA franchises, but Montreal lost their baseball team and the NBA experiment in Vancouver was a disaster.

  2. sure follow the money Bettman, and watch 5 years later when the fan base disappears in Atlanta, Portland or Kansas City.

    if Bettman really wanted sustainability he would have QC at the top of the list of cities, either for expansion or for relocation (Quebec City Coyotes anyone?)

  3. I would point out that the San Francisco Bay Area (where I was raised and became a hockey fan, thanks to the Seals) can easily support a team. Or, if the league thinks that’s too close to San Jose, Sacramento is a large market. Plus there are cities in Florida with a large population. There’s even the possibility of a team in Cleveland, some day.
    And were I commissioner, I’d be looking at all of these possibilities (plus Houston, KC, Portland and even San Diego) before I would consider Atlanta and Quebec City.

  4. As the following graphics show, over 16 seasons the Nordiques averaged 14,283 per season in attendance.

    Over 8 seasons the Atlanta Flames averaged 12,039 while, over 11 seasons, the Thrashers averaged 14,964 – combined, the average attendance was 13,704 – a difference of 579 less per season than in Quebec City.

    Yes, I know Quebec City now has an 18,000+ new(ish) facility – but a properly-run franchise in Atlanta’s Philips arena, which seats 17,624, could still be more enticing than one where, like it or not, most Anglophone players – especially those with young families – whose language is pretty much officially persona non grata – would probably want to avoid. In effect, Quebec City would be more frequently listed as a “no trade” location than most others, and would be less appealing to high-end UFAs.

    Atlanta Thrashers

    Atlanta Flames

    Quebec Nordiques

    • George, I am not sure that language would be a show stopper for players in Quebec City. NHL players would be treated like royalty by Quebec City representatives, grateful to have a franchise back.

      What would be are those issues that are general to Canadian teams:

      Covid policy (now ended but likely not forgotten).


      Endorsement opportunities.

      Weather (except Vancouver).

      Fan scrutiny and media criticism – far more prevalent in Canada.

      porkramen’s comments about Peladeau are interesting, perhaps also an issue.

      But it is a shame. Pull Canadian franchises out of the NHL and see revenue crater.

      • LJ, the team would certainly welcome any and all players with open arms, but how do you sell that to those with unilingual (read English) families when they try to navigate the official language restrictions around the area?

        I’m not saying all would take that approach – but you have to think that, if a high-end Anglophone UFA is examining all offers, it would certainly enter the equation. And even some Francophone UFAs might have second-thoughts if they’re the type who are uncomfortable with the fish-bowl existence that would ensue (see Drouin who has visibly wilted from the effort to meet high expectations from an equally-rabid fan base).

      • Right. I had forgotten how the language issue has raised its ugly head to the degree it has in Quebec again. I certainly get the importance of language and its relationship to culture and family, but the zealotry of the current politics is indeed an serious impediment; and not just to hockey.

        It’s a shame.

  5. You are missing the point entirely. The NHL board of directors would never allow Pierre Karl Peladeau, an extreme separatist and ex-leader of the PQ, to own a franchise. Bell and Rogers would never, EVER let that happen.