MOSCOW - After a long discussion with National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman last Friday, Quebec premier Jean Charest says he believes the NHL will return to Quebec City.
According to the premier, Bettman is "sincere" and wants to see a franchise return to the former home of the Nordiques. Charest noted that the "planets are aligned" in such a way that the profitability of a new professional team is no longer a question for him.
Charest is in Moscow for a round of economic talks with the Russian government and business leaders. The premier was asked by QMI Agency Wednesday if he thought a deal would be worked out.
"Yes, I think it will happen," Charest replied.
The conversation between Charest and Bettman last Friday focused on Quebec City and the possibility of bringing in an NHL team to the city nearly 15 years after the Nordiques left for Colorado.
"I sat next to him and had a long conversation during the hockey game. I questioned him about the possibility of getting a team in Quebec City and I found his reaction very encouraging. He seemed very open to me," Charest said Wednesday.
Charest said he understood the NHL would have to "take steps to find an owner," but that this wasn't a real obstacle.
Weighing his words carefully, Charest reminded Bettman that Quebec City will very likely have a multipurpose arena that is due to replace the current Coliseum, a key element to snagging a professional team.
Charest said he explained to the commissioner that the long-term goal was to have the Olympic Games held in Quebec City and that world-class sports infrastructure was part of that plan.
"So, I see the alignment of the planets and I really liked Bettman's reaction because I felt he was sincerely interested in having a team from the NHL come to Quebec City," Charest said.
The premier said the likeliest scenario at this point would involve the transfer of a troubled team, such as the Phoenix Coyotes, to Quebec City.
"A hockey team is expensive," Charest said.
The Phoenix Coyotes are currently valued at between US $200 million and $300 million. But Charest said that his conversation with the Bettman was reassuring.
"They've established rules that give a better chance to cities like Quebec City. They've put a framework together that allows a club to be operated with predictable costs," he said.
Bettman also told the premier he's already discussed the idea with Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume.
"I think it's going to happen. I say that by intuition. With these issues, [it's possible] to only see obstacles, but when you realize that the people who are directly concerned are looking for reasons to do it. And that's what I felt with Mr. Bettman. You can feel that he's optimistic and very open to there being a team in Quebec City.
"After that, it will take competitive operating costs for the arena," he said.