Thrashers move to Winnipeg a win for Quebec, too

ALBERT LADOUCEUR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:10 PM ET

While the pending move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg surely will disappoint hockey fans hoping for a new franchise in Quebec City, the news still marks a memorable time for Canada and fans of our national sport.

Quebec should be as excited about the Thrashers relocation as the people of Winnipeg, a partner city of Quebec's in the old World Hockey Association through to the league's merger with the NHL. Unfortunately, it also was a fellow victim to losing a beloved hockey team to the United States.

Upon confirming the move of the Thrashers, the team that many hoped would be headed to Quebec City, league commissioner Gary Bettman will give hope to Canadian and American cities that want a franchise of their own. The move will be a huge win for all of Canada, a country that the NHL's American directors once considered an nonviable market, outside of the established franchises.

The Bettman-era collective bargaining agreement favours Canadian markets, and the players know it. The higher the revenues, the higher the salary maximum and minimums will rise each season. The six Canadian teams bring in millions of dollars to the NHL accounts; local and national television networks love covering hockey and fans in each of cities support their teams unconditionally.

In saluting the success of David Thomson and his partners in Winnipeg, Quebecor head Pierre Karl Peladeau, already more knowledgeable than the media concerning conversations with Bettman, knows his efforts weren't in vain. His hope to resurrect the Nordiques is becoming increasingly possible because, after Winnipeg, there is only one other city in the country currently able to join the ranks of the best hockey league in the world.

Fans will realize they shouldn't get discouraged by the comments of Bettman and Bill Daly when they say that there will be no franchise relocation, that teams aren't in financial peril. After all, the situations were very similar when the Nordiques and Jets moved in 1995 and 1996.

The Phoenix Coyotes won't survive in Arizona. The situations of the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets, among others, don't seem to be improving. Now, it will be up to Peladeau and Quebec to target a new organization.

Winnipeg had an advantage over Quebec. Remember the declaration made by former Nordiques president Marcel Aubut ever since the team left town: "We have to be ready for the day when the NHL relocates a team." Winnipeg got a head start by building the MTS Centre in the city's downtown core. All that's left is to increase the building's capacity to about 18,000 seats.

Quebec still doesn't have its new arena and the concept of playing four years in the old Quebec Coliseum didn't sit well with the NHL, nor with Peladeau, I presume.

There are still issues facing Quebec City that Mayor Regis Labeaume will try to clear up by convincing the province's National Assembly to unanimously adopt the private bill regarding the arena, which would make the deal between Quebec City and Quebecor irrefutable. A few weeks ago, former Quebec City manager Denis De Bellval questioned the legality of the agreement.

I will leave up to the lawyers and Minister of Municipal Affairs Laurent Lessard to establish whether the agreement is legal. However, in light of these new developments, it appears to be, at least when it comes to fair competition.

I find it unfortunate that a single person is trying to derail such a huge economic and athletics project for Quebec City and the eastern part of the province. I don't like that De Belleval, a retiree from the public service for several years, wants to crush the dreams of hundreds of thousands of Quebecers. His time has passed. The municipal party he was a part of was blamed for the departure of the Nordiques in 1995, and refusal to co-operate in building a new arena.

Here's hoping that Quebec hockey fans will applaud the success of Winnipeg when the news is official confirmed, as they wait for the result of the National Assembly's June vote.


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