PA boss likes two for T.O.

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

All the half-empty buildings across the NHL aren't hard to miss.

That problem, combined with the sagging U.S. economy, means the call for one or more teams to relocate may start growing louder and louder.

Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, believes the answer -- should that time come -- is to put another team north of the border, specifically in the Toronto area.

"There isn't any question that Toronto could support a second team," said Kelly, who was in Calgary yesterday. "They could support two more teams. That said, I think it's a no-brainer for us to put another team in Southern Ontario. Whether we put it in Kitchener, Waterloo, Hamilton ... there isn't any doubt it would succeed. It would do famously well, and I don't think it would impact the Leafs or the Buffalo Sabres.

"We have a building in Kansas City that's ... NHL ready. My view is the NHL would probably lean towards Kansas City first if it has to relocate a team, but I'm not a big fan of that idea. Kansas City has had a NHL team in the past -- it didn't work out real well. I would be much more in favour of a Canadian franchise if you were gonna move one.

"That said, we'd like to see all the franchises succeed. We are a bit concerned when we see drop-off in places like Atlanta, in places like Florida, Phoenix ... I've been to those buildings -- the people who follow the sport are passionate about it. We just need more of them."

Until then, the NHL will need to weather an economic crisis that's impacted the U.S. and affecting Canada. It's worrisome given the league's lack of TV revenue compared to the other big four pro sports.

"I tell (the players), 'Keep playing an exciting brand of hockey. Give people a reason to spend that discretionary income to come to the games,'" Kelly said. "That said, based upon the numbers I've seen, I think we're going to be OK."

More immediate for the players is the pressing issue of safety, especially with the number of concussion suffered because of hits to the head.

Kelly said the issue is "probably the top issue on our list for discussion next time the competition committee meets" but said the association is starting to take steps.

He said they'd like equipment manufacturers to reconsider how shoulder pads are constructed -- mainly make them softer and improve helmet technology.

He added players are being shown video of hits and how to show more respect.

And Kelly and director of players affairs Glenn Healy are meeting with all 30 clubs since the union has the option to dissolve the current collective bargaining agreement after this season or extend it three more years.


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