Lots of support for second T.O. team

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Renewed talk of a second NHL team in Southern Ontario, specifically the GTA, is not causing any sabre rattling from the Maple Leafs' nearest rival, but it has some folks in Mississauga jumping with anticipation.

Larry Quinn, managing partner and minority owner of the Buffalo Sabres, says he'll keep "an open mind" on two GTA clubs, the same approach he says he had in a summer of uncertainty when it seemed the Phoenix Coyotes might set up in Hamilton and take a bite out of their Canadian market.

"Obviously, Toronto is the centre of the hockey universe, so draw your own conclusions about a second team (being a success)," Quinn said yesterday. "I've said the same thing, whether it pertains to a team in Toronto, Hamilton or Australia: If the league has a plan, we'll listen."

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk declined to comment to Sun Media.

With the Coyotes staying in Arizona for the time being, the league now appears more agreeable to expanding or relocating into Southern Ontario -- on its terms, not those of maverick billionaire Jim Balsillie.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said this week he has begun to see the inevitability of a second team, as long as the move makes business sense. He doubted the Leafs would suffer financial hardship and that a majority league vote would be the final say about Leaf objections.

Leafs president Brian Burke already said his team would back any sound league business plan regarding two teams, which would likely include a payoff to the Leafs to settle territorial infringement.

The City of Vaughan, north of Toronto, tried to be first in line for a team when ex-Leaf and former NHL ref Kevin Maguire met with Daly in April on behalf of a potential ownership group that was eyeing land at Hwy 427 and Hwy 7. Others believe an arena can be built inside Toronto's borders, somewhere near the northern terminus of TTC subway lines.

Acting Mississauga Mayor Nando Iannicca made a pitch for his city of 700,000 to be considered, too,

"Where else?," Iannicca asked last night. "The airport is here, the infastructure is here, the fans from Hamilton and Buffalo would be closer and you could have a venue near one of the highways."

Iannicca said his council has heard from some parties exploring a team in Mississauga, but nothing concrete developed while the NHL-Balsillie fight raged.

That might change now.

Daly effectively sent Hamilton back to the starting line by saying Copps Coliseum did not meet modern NHL requirements for maximum revenue streams. Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford, a former Leaf who was raised in the area, thinks the Original Six club won't lose any fans.

T.O. IS LIKE NEW YORK

"It will be the same as baseball in New York," Rutherford predicted. "The Yankees will always be No. 1, even if the Mets have good teams.

"You can have successful second teams here and win Stanley Cups like New Jersey does, but the Rangers will always be the No. 1 team in that market."

Leafs players raised in the GTA were very supportive of the idea.

"We were all talking about it today ... look at New York," said Whitby's Wayne Primeau. "You can see it happening. There are so many hockey fans here."

Oakville-born John Mitchell said: "The pie is big enough. If the right business proposal is there, a second team would support itself. But I don't know if it would take Maple Leaf fans away."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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