An NHL Franchise In Quebec City Remains A Fantasy

An NHL Franchise In Quebec City Remains A Fantasy

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.

Don’t Expect The NHLPA To Change Under Its New Executive Director

Don’t Expect The NHLPA To Change Under Its New Executive Director

Reports last week indicated the NHL Players Association is set to hire Marty Walsh to replace Donald Fehr as their executive director. Walsh, 55, is currently the US Secretary of Labor, the former mayor of Boston and the former head of Boston’s Laborers’ Union.

Adam Proteau, my colleague at The Hockey News, is skeptical that Walsh’s impending hiring signals a tougher stance by the PA in negotiations with the NHL and its commissioner, Gary Bettman. He anticipated that the status quo will continue with the players lacking the stomach for a new labor war.

Perhaps Walsh will surprise us and mobilize the players for a more robust bout of negotiations when the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires at the end of the 2025-26 season. However, I concur with Proteau’s take that this is unlikely to happen.

There are no more radicals left in the NHLPA. Bettman crushed them all during the season-killing lockout of 2004-05. Apart from a handful of outspoken personalities such as player agent Allan Walsh, there are no firebrands among the players or their representatives demanding radical changes to the CBA.

A small handful of players (Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Minnesota’s Marc-Andre Fleury, Carolina’s Brent Burns, Florida’s Eric Staal, Buffalo’s Craig Anderson) remain in the NHL from that nuclear winter of ’04-’05. They were mere rookies back then who probably didn’t fully understand what the labor standoff was about. Given their status at that time, they would’ve had little say about the PA’s direction during that labor battle.

Many of the players at that time had been around for the seismic shift in the PA during the late-1980s and early-1990s, from the ouster of Alan Eagleson to the hiring of Bob Goodenow as executive director, through their successful strike in 1992 and the 1994-95 lockout in which the NHL owners caved despite the objections of Bettman.

The bruising smackdown Bettman and the NHL owners laid on the NHLPA was devastating. It resulted in several years of upheaval and changes in the PA leadership until the players hired Donald Fehr as executive director.

While the issues that led to the 2012-13 lockout weren’t as contentious as in ’04-’05, it was clear there wasn’t as much fight among the players going into that standoff as there was in 2004.

The ’12-’13 standoff could be considered a draw. Nevertheless, it showed that the veteran players who’d been around during the season-killing lockout of ’04-’05 didn’t want to risk losing another season. In the end, they settled.

Many of the players who were part of the last lockout are now at the tail end of their NHL careers or playing out their remaining days in Europe or retired. Those who entered the league since 2013 have displayed no indication that they’re prepared to dig in for a contentious battle with the league in the next round of collective bargaining.

Today’s NHLPA membership may have concerns over certain aspects of the salary cap. They may hate escrow with the intensity of a thousand suns. They could wish to end contract term limits. They could demand more Olympic participation.

None of it matters, however, if they aren’t willing to fight for it.

The players may grumble about escrow clawbacks but they aren’t willing to upset the applecart regarding labor relations with the league. There are no public calls for a change to the current salary-cap system and no demands to replace it with a luxury tax. They’re not threatening to decertify the union, turning all the players into unrestricted free agents able to negotiate with any team they choose.

Prior to the pandemic, the league and the PA engaged in cordial discussions about extending the CBA with some minor adjustments. The uncertainty caused by the pandemic in 2020 led to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that extended the agreement to 2026.

The league didn’t want anything endangering negotiations for lucrative new broadcasting, gambling and streaming deals. Meanwhile, the players didn’t want to jeopardize their chances for lucrative new contracts via free agency.

As for Shaw, he isn’t simply an empty suit filling the PA role. He’ll counsel the players on the issues and seek the best way of addressing their concerns. He’ll also take point in any negotiations with Bettman like Fehr before him.

But at the end of the day, as Proteau pointed out, he’s limited by the players. If they’re unwilling to fight the current system (and by the look of things, they are) he’ll simply have to work within it and accept things as they are. 

Bobby Hull 1939-2023

Bobby Hull 1939-2023

Hall of Famer Bobby Hull passed away on Jan. 30, 2023. He was 84.

Hull spent 15 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1957-58 to 1971-72, becoming one of the greatest scorers in NHL history.

Ruggedly handsome with a megawatt smile and a muscular physique from years of farm labor while growing up near Belleville, Ontario, Hull was nicknamed “The Golden Jet” for his blonde hair, blazing speed and booming shot. He was the NHL’s biggest star through most of the 1960s until Bobby Orr’s ascension to superstardom toward the end of that decade.

Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull (

His breakout season was in 1959-60 when he won his first Art Ross Trophy with 39 goals and 81 points in 70 games and was named to the First All-Star Team. The following season, he helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. He would also lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1962, 1965 and 1971.

From 1961-62 to 1971-72, Hull took home the Art Ross twice more (1961-62, 1965-66), was a two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy (1964-65, 1965-66), and was the winner of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 1964-65.

During that period, he led the league in goals six times, including four years in a row from 1965-66 to 1968-69. He was also named to the First All-Star Team nine times and the Second Team twice.

Hull had his first 50-goal season in 1961-62. He became the first player to score over 50 goals in 1965-66 with 54. He reached 52 the following season and broke his own record with 58 in 1968-69, which stood until Phil Esposito’s 76-goal performance in 1970-71.

In 1972, Hull made history by leaving the Blackhawks following a contract dispute to sign a $1 million deal with the Winnipeg Jets of the upstart World Hockey Association. A number of NHL stars quickly followed Hull to the rival league, which led to a significant, long-overdue increase in player salaries.

Hull’s presence gave the WHA respectability and helped ensure its survival until it was taken over by the NHL at the end of the 1978-79 season. He paid a price for jumping to the rival league as he was barred by the NHL from playing for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series with the Soviet Union. He would play for a team of WHA stars in an eight-game series with the Soviets in 1974 and was the only WHA player on Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup.

During his tenure with the WHA, Hull was named to the First All-Star Team three times and the Second Team twice. He was the league’s MVP in 1972-73 and 1974-75, scoring a league-leading 77 goals in ’74-’75.

After retiring in 1979, Hull returned to the NHL with the Jets in 1979-80, playing 18 games until traded to the Hartford Whalers where he skated for nine more before retiring again. He attempted a comeback with the New York Rangers in 1981 for five exhibition games before hanging up his skates for good.

Hull finished his NHL career with 604 goals and 1,153 points in 1,036 games. He also tallied 303 goals and 638 points in 411 WHA games. He and his son, Hall-of-Famer Brett Hull, are the only father and son in NHL history to each score 600 or more career NHL goals.

Hull had a reputation during his playing days for being kind and generous to his fans, often keeping the team bus waiting while he patiently signed autographs. However, there was a dark side to his private life that has cast a dark shadow over his career.

In the book “The Devil and Bobby Hull”, sportswriter Gare Joyce chronicled not only Hull’s hockey accomplishments but also his alcohol abuse and the physical and mental abuse of two of his three wives. His daughter, Michelle, works with battered women as a result of witnessing her father abusing her mother. He also made racist remarks during an interview with a Russian news outlet in 1998 that he subsequently denied.

Hull leaves behind a mixed legacy. On the ice, he was a great player who still holds the Blackhawks’ single-season goal record (58) and the all-time goals record (604). However, his behavior off the ice and unrepentant attitude over his transgressions tarnished his once golden reputation.

My condolences to his family, friends and former teammates.

A Bump In The NHL’s Road Toward Inclusivity

A Bump In The NHL’s Road Toward Inclusivity

It’s been a week since Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear a rainbow jersey in a pregame skate against the Anaheim Ducks as part of his team’s Pride Night in support of the LGBTQ+ community. The fallout continues to resonate around the NHL.

Provorov, who is Russian Orthodox, cited his religious beliefs for his decision during a post-game press scrum. “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” he said following the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Flyers coach John Tortorella supported his blueliner. “Provy did nothing wrong,” he said days later. “Just because you disagree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”

The Flyers and the NHL released statements expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community but also for their players’ right to make their own decisions. That didn’t sit well with a number of pundits and fans as they publicly condemned Provorov, Tortorella, the Flyers and the NHL.

This is what happens when human rights bump against freedom of religion and the right to one’s opinion. It is a complex issue that evokes strong words that too often are based on tribalism rather than serious discussion or debate.

It was a no-win situation for the Flyers and the NHL. Condemn and suspend Provorov, and they make him a martyr to those who oppose “cancel culture” and fear the trampling of individual rights. Support his right to his opinion and beliefs and they would be seen as shielding him while harming their relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.

For the record, I don’t support Provorov’s position. I believe in equality for LGBTQ+ people and feel they’re as worthy of the same rights and freedoms that I enjoy as a white heterosexual man. I don’t have any problem with special events or campaigns that support them. Some of you will agree with me, others won’t. So be it.

Provorov has the right to his opinion and to his religious beliefs in North American society. However, they don’t shield him from the consequences of his decision.

His critics have the right to question his opinion and religious beliefs, particularly because the latter casts LGBTQ+ issues as sinful and immoral. The same belief, by the way, still runs through most Christian denominations.

LGBTQ+ people have suffered for centuries, forced to hide their true selves or face humiliation, condemnation, beatings or death. They’re still facing those fates in many parts of the world.

It’s only been in recent years that they’ve received a growing measure of acceptance in North American society. Nevertheless, many of them are still striving for the same rights, freedoms and acceptance that others take for granted.

A number of Provorov’s critics called him a homophobe, accused him of hiding behind his religion, demanding his suspension or the termination of his contract, with some even suggesting he leave the country.

Citing religious beliefs could be construed as Provorov’s tacit support for his church’s position regarding the LGBTQ+ community. However, he didn’t excoriate LGBTQ+ people or engage in hate speech toward them. He stressed that he respects other opinions but had to be true to himself and his faith. Those remarks didn’t seem to justify the volume of criticism he received.

Provorov’s supporters, meanwhile, question the need for “Pride Nights” or any sort of support for the LGBTQ+ community. There are also hockey fans with no opinion on the subject who decry political or social issues intruding into the sports world which is their solace from the daily strife of the real world.

Keeping such issues out of sports is impossible. Athletes and fans are human beings from all walks of life. Their emotions, beliefs and causes inevitably seep into the sports world whether we want them to or not. That means we have to face them even if they make us uncomfortable or emotional.

Provorov’s critics believe he’s set back the NHL’s direction toward inclusivity. I disagree. Yes, there remains a long way to go regarding the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in hockey. But let’s not overlook how much progress has been made up to this point.

Twenty years ago, the notion of Pride Nights and “You Can Play” campaigns to support LGBTQ+ players and fans was unthinkable. Homophobia was very much a part of hockey with sexual and gender-based slurs regularly tossed around in dressing-room banter and hurled as insults at opponents on the ice.

Things have improved since then for LGBTQ+ hockey fans and players. Amid the fallout over Provorov’s decision, two of his teammates, Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk, gathered with 50 LGBTQ+ fans in a pre-arranged meeting following the game.

Both players actively support LGBTQ+ causes. Laughton believed that, overall, it was a “great, great night that brings a lot of awareness.”

Perhaps it did. Maybe Provorov’s stance ends up doing more good than harm if it generates more support for LGBTQ+ people in hockey.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he wanted fans to focus on the 700 players who support the LGBTQ+ community rather than one or two that may have issues for their own personal reasons.

Provorov’s stance can’t be ignored nor should it. However, he’s in a tiny minority if Bettman’s numbers are correct. That means the NHL’s efforts to embrace and support the LGBTQ+ community appear to be working throughout the league.

This situation could be merely a small bump on the road of progress. It shakes things up a little and creates some tension but doesn’t stop the journey.

Does Anyone Really Care About The NHL All-Star Game?

Does Anyone Really Care About The NHL All-Star Game?

Last week, the NHL announced its 32 players (one from each club) as its initial selections for the 2023 All-Star Game in Sunrise, Florida, on Feb. 4. The fans will get to vote on three other players from each division to round the All-Star rosters.

Following the announcement, Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella was asked what he thought about Flyers forward Travis Konecny not being named to the Metropolitan Division lineup.

I don’t even worry about that s**t,” replied Tortorella. “The whole team, the whole weekend, I don’t even watch it. I think it’s turned into a …well, I’ll just leave it at that. I really don’t care.”

It wouldn’t be shocking if most NHL coaches and players share Tortorella’s opinion about the All-Star Game. I can’t speak for other pundits, bloggers or hockey fans but I stopped caring about it a long time ago.

The last NHL All-Star Game that drew my interest was in 2016. That was the year when the fans, irrepressible scamps that you are, voted for long-time enforcer John Scott to be part of the Pacific Division roster.

John Scott at the 2016 NHL All-Star Game (

NHL HQ attempted to prevent Scott, then a member of the Arizona Coyotes, from participating in its All-Star Game. After declining to bow out when asked to do so by the league and the Coyotes, he was demoted to the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate and then traded to the Montreal Canadiens, who immediately sent him to their AHL club.

That prompted a considerable outcry from fans and pundits about a conspiracy to keep Scott out of the All-Star Game, garnering headlines and becoming an embarrassment for the NHL. The league eventually relented and it became one of the feel-good sports stories of the year.

Supported by his All-Star teammates and opponents, Scott stole the show. He scored two goals in the tournament and captained the Pacific Division to the All-Star championship. He was also named tournament MVP as a write-in candidate and received a standing ovation from the fans.

Since then, the league has taken steps to ensure the fans don’t stuff the ballot box with other write-in candidates it considers unworthy of participating in its All-Star showcase.

The fact that Scott’s story made the 2016 NHL All-Star Game the most memorable and entertaining in years spoke volumes about the irrelevance of this annual event.

It’s been decades since the NHL All-Star Game mattered. Players have stopped taking it seriously, preferring not to risk injury in a meaningless contest. Most of them seem to look forward to the All-Star break as a welcome midseason break in a long, grueling 82-game schedule.

Those not selected for the game take the opportunity to head to sunny climes with family and friends for a little vacation. In the not-too-distant past, some of those chosen to participate tried to back out until the league began threatening multi-game suspensions for those who failed to show up for reasons other than injury or family emergencies.

Over the past three decades, the NHL has tried different formats to make the game more entertaining while providing players more incentive to take them seriously. The amount of money awarded to the winning team was significantly increased. Skills competitions the day prior to the game have become a staple of the All-Star weekend.

While some of these changes have sparked varying degrees of curiosity from fans, it really hasn’t improved the quality of play once the puck drops on the All-Star game itself. It remains glorified pond hockey with bloated scores and little defensive effort.

When the players don’t care, why should the fans?

Whatever city hosts the NHL All-Star Game seems to get some benefit from it as local fans turn out to see all the league’s best players in one place at the same time. None of this, however, generates much of a television audience in Canada and the United States compared to the all-star contests of professional baseball or basketball.

The NHL won’t scrap this event, of course. If it’s to be taken seriously as a major North American sports league it needs an all-star game to showcase its best talent. At least, that’s the story it seems to tell itself.

Most hockey fans probably wouldn’t miss the All-Star Game if it one day disappeared forever from the NHL calendar. Few lamented its absence whenever it was canceled by lockouts, pandemics, or the Olympics. It’s unlikely there would be many tears shed if this year’s event didn’t take place except for those who paid to go see it.

When it comes to NHL All-Star competitions, hockey fans seem to prefer international tournaments such as the Winter Olympics or the World Cup of Hockey. Those games are more meaningful because there’s a lot more on the line.

Until those events come around again, we’re stuck with a meaningless spectacle played by disinterested All-Stars that only strikes a chord with fans whenever there are shenanigans with the selection process.

The 2022-23 NHL Season Could Be The Highest Scoring Since The Early ’90s

The 2022-23 NHL Season Could Be The Highest Scoring Since The Early ’90s

NHL scoring has steadily increased in recent years.

In 2015-16, the 2.71 goals average was the lowest since 2003-04 (2.57), which was the final season of the “Dead Puck Era”. It has since risen by each season, reaching 3.14 in 2021-22. The last time it was that high was 1995-96.

That season saw eight players, including Hall-of-Famers Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya, reach or exceed the 50-goal plateau. Two of them (Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr) scored over 60 goals.

Twelve players, including Lemieux, Jagr, Sakic, Kariya and Hall-of-Fame stars like Peter Forsberg, Eric Lindros, Ron Francis, Teemu Selanne, Sergei Fedorov and Wayne Gretzky, reached or exceeded 100 points.

2021-22 saw four players reach 50 goals, with Auston Matthews becoming the first player in 10 years to score 60 goals. Eight players, including Matthews, Edmonton Oilers’ superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, netted 100-plus points.

Those stats may pale somewhat to the output of the class of 1995-96. Nevertheless, they were a part of a trend that began in 2018-19 when two players reached 50 goals and six netted 100 points. That was a big jump over 2017-18 when there were no 50 goal scorers and just three players got to 100 points.

The increase in scoring is continuing this season with the goals average at 3.19, which would be the highest since 1993-94’s average of 3.24.

That season saw nine players tally 50-or-more goals, including Hall-of-Famers such as Pavel Bure (60), Brett Hull (57), Fedorov (56), Dave Andreychuk (53), Brendan Shanahan (52), Mike Modano and Cam Neely (50 each).

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (NHL Images).

Eight others exceeded 100 points, including Gretzky winning the last scoring title (130 points) in his storied career, followed by fellow Hall-of-Fame players like Fedorov (120), Adam Oates (112), Doug Gilmour (111), Bure and Mark Recchi (107 each) and Shanahan with 102.

As of Dec. 10, 2022, this season’s top-nine goal scorers include the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid with 25, the Dallas Stars’ Jason Robertson (23), Buffalo Sabres’ Tage Thompson (21), Vancouver Canucks’ Bo Horvat (20), Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak and the Oiler’s Leon Draisaitl (19 each), with the Minnesota Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov, the Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander and the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby all sitting with 17 goals.

By my rough estimate, at their current rate of production, they could all reach or exceed 50 goals by season’s end, with McDavid and Robertson potentially reaching 70 goals apiece and Thompson and Horvat netting 60 each.

Fifteen players had 35 or more points. Fourteen of them could hit 100-plus points by the end of this campaign. I’ve excluded the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, who has 34 points in 23 games but is sidelined for four weeks with an upper-body injury, which will likely keep him out of range for 100 points.

McDavid is the league leader with 54 points, putting him on pace to exceed 155 points. Draisaitl (46 points), Robertson (42 points) and Thompson (41 points) could reach 120 points.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov has 39 points, Crosby has 38, Pastrnak, the Florida Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk and the San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson each have 37.

The Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner has 35 points. Kaprizov, along with the Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, and the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin each have 34.

Again, by my rough estimates, they could reach or exceed 100 points.

Bear in mind that scoring tends to decline over the course of the season as games become more meaningful for playoff contenders and defenses tend to tighten up. Still, these numbers suggest we could see at least five players reach the 50-goal plateau and perhaps 10 topping 100 points.

What’s behind this rise in scoring? As I recently observed in my NHL Puck Drops column in The Guardian (PEI), a combination of factors appears to be at play here.

A growing number of players are faster, younger and more highly skilled. There are more puck-moving defensemen compared to recent years. Because of the growing number of younger stars, as Philadelphia Flyers coach John Tortorella recently observed, there are also more defensive mistakes being made.

Teams have improved their play with the man advantage to generate more scoring chances. Players are also driving more to the net and getting more goals with deflections and tip-ins. The quality of goaltending also seems to be on the decline as today’s scorers appear to have figured out how to beat the butterfly style favored by goalies since the early-1990s.

The growing rise in scoring could concern those fans who fear a return to the wide-open style of the 1980s when the quality of defensive play was rather poor. I don’t think that’s going to happen because there remains an emphasis on two-way skills in today’s league.

What we could be seeing is a more entertaining style of game with more offensive chances. At the same time, we should still see skillful defensive play that doesn’t rely on uncalled obstruction that dominated the Dead Puck Era of the league 1990s and early 2000s.