SUN Hockey Pool

Oil arena saga setting precedent

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:20 PM ET

There have been no lengthy public speeches to city council, no impassioned pleas for funding and no ultimatums from the Calgary Flames.

But what’s going on up north with their provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers, could be the biggest boost to their own plight for a new arena.

The leases on the Oilers’ Rexall Place and Flames’ Saddledome both expire in 2014. They are two of the five oldest buildings in the National Hockey League.

That’s where the similarities seem to end.

The way the franchises have approached replacement rinks are as different as their on-ice philosophies. The Flames have been quietly working behind the scenes on establishing their plan. They have no interest in sharing publicly where they stand with regard to their post-Saddledome era.

And with the Oilers blazing a trail through their own city council, it’s best for the Flames ownership group to just sit back and see how things play out there.

What takes place between Oil owner Daryl Katz, Edmonton city council and even the provincial and federal governments will set a precedent for the Flames to follow — or at least to integrate into their own formula of funding.

Holding his own council hostage with unspoken threats to move the team if he doesn’t get what he wants, Katz is laying the groundwork for the Flames.

If the City of Edmonton concedes to doling out millions in taxpayer money to ensure the Oilers stick around, their counterparts in Calgary would essentially also have been held hostage by the Oilers billionaire.

Although the Flames’ current deal is much more reasonable than the one in Edmonton that sees land-owner Northlands taking a big bite out of potential Oilers profit, it would be tough to envision Calgary council taking a hard stance against funding if Edmonton ultimately crumbles.

Katz says his team will not play in Rexall once the lease expires in four years.

The Flames have never made such a statement. Team president Ken King suggested last September the timeline for a new arena here was three to five years. He also said for that to happen, they “would need a lot of things to go right in a lot of areas.”

So an extension of their lease at the Dome seems likely, although as that date draws closer, the Flames might bargain for ground to be broken on a new home before putting pen to paper on any renewal.

In the meantime, the Flames continue to move forward in other areas. Studying state-of-the-art arenas across the league, the Flames have been doing their research.

Places like the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., and Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus, Ohio, have given them plenty to think about in terms of design.

Tabs for new rinks aren’t cheap. The Consol Energy Center, the new home of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, rang up a price tag of more than US$320 million. The Oilers envision something in the range of $400 to $450 million.

Despite being owned by a bunch of successful businessmen, the Flames won’t want to foot that kind of bill by themselves.

Calgary’s city council has never been supportive of public funding. And with the local politicians scratching to find something like

$60 million for next year’s budget, it’s unlikely that stance will change.

Unless, somehow, the Oilers set a precedent.

It’s a rare time one of those two teams is allowed to root for the other.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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