It's time for two teams in Toronto

MICHAEL TAUBE, GUEST COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 1:07 PM ET

It's springtime, and the NHL playoffs start tomorrow. For the fourth consecutive season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the outside looking in.

In the team's storied history, this is the longest streak without a playoff appearance. The road to futility has reached a new and painful stage for Leafs fans.

Or has it?

The team is doing well in other respects. The Leafs topped the 2008 Forbes list as the most valuable NHL franchise at $448 million (US). Essentially every home game ticket since 1946 has been sold. Rivalries against the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators generate lots of excitement.

As well, Toronto is a one-team NHL city. Possible competitors are either too far away geographically (Ottawa), based in the U.S. (Buffalo), or aren't likely to get an NHL franchise any time soon (Hamilton).

So while the Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and keep missing the playoffs, they're still the only game in town. The team is sitting pretty, and the owners are laughing all the way to the bank.

For the record, I'm a Leafs fan -- and even I don't think this sits well. Maybe it's time to shake things up and award Toronto a second NHL team.

Last October, there was some scuttlebutt about setting up a second Toronto hockey franchise. An NHL governor reportedly told the Globe and Mail, "Why shouldn't we put another team in the best and biggest market in the world?" Why not, indeed?

Toronto is a world-class sports city. Besides hockey, there are professional teams in baseball, basketball, football and soccer that are widely followed by Canadian and international fans.

This city could easily support another sports franchise. And a second Toronto-based NHL team would be a positive step forward for the city and the game of hockey.

First, it would create more choice for hockey fans.

Since the Leafs currently achieve 100% capacity at the Air Canada Centre, some interested parties are left in the dust if they want to purchase season or game-day tickets.

MORE TICKETS AVAILABLE

The introduction of a second Toronto franchise would enable more people to purchase more available hockey tickets on a given night. This would benefit Torontonians, and give a real boost to the travel and tourism industry.

Second, it would establish a new fan base and possibly poach some of the old Leafs fan base. It all depends on how well this expansion franchise -- or existing team that shifts to Toronto -- does.

History shows that people in cities with two or more teams in the same sport have conflicting allegiances. In baseball, New York Yankees fans are exceedingly different from New York Mets fans -- and both are proud of it. In hockey, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils fans are barely distinguishable. And when it comes to soccer rivalries between Manchester United and Manchester City in Britain, or Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, they can tear city blocks and local pubs apart.

Leafs fans would therefore not be the same as a second Toronto team's fans. This would be good financial news for manufacturers of hockey jerseys and caps, media event coordinators for autograph signings, and the like.

Third, it would provide the city with a brand new rivalry and possibly increase interest in existing ones.

FANS IN A TIZZY

When the Habs and Sens come to town, Leafs fans get in a tizzy. It's only logical to assume it would also be exciting if a second Toronto team played against them. If nothing else, these teams would be visiting our city a few extra times each season.

And who knows? Maybe the new Toronto NHL franchise would establish a rivalry with an American team like the Buffalo Sabres. Imagine the cross-promotional possibilities -- and dollars!

For all you Leafs fans grumbling about the team's lacklustre performance, fear not. If the NHL decides to grant Toronto a second hockey franchise, there could be more to cheer about.


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