Another team in GTA?

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:20 PM ET

The National Hockey League is coming to a second Southern Ontario market near Toronto -- it seems it's just a matter of when.

That was the between-the-lines message today by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Brian Burke, president and general manager of the Maple Leafs. Both were part of a panel at a sports management conference and trade show at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel.

"Without talking about about time frame, there may be," Daly said, given the obvious economic benefits of bringing a team to the strong market and its potential to boost league revenue sharing. "You could rise the tide for all boats. I don't think it would make the Leafs any less successful."

But Hamilton is not on the short list as a base for such a team, as Copps Coliseum can't currently provide what Daly calls "modern-day NHL economics."

Though the Leafs strongly objected to Jim Balsillie's plan to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, within what the Leafs consider their exclusive market, Burke said it was the method and not the concept that had riled his team.

"Our view on a second team is that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. has never said once we're unfalteringly opposed," Burke said. "If a business case is made (the Leafs will work with the league).

"(The Phoenix to Hamilton ploy) was a hijacking of a team and shoehorning it into an existing market. We were also worried about the harm a second team would do to the Buffalo Sabres."

While expansion and re-location aren't on the league's radar in the immediate future, Daly did say it's possible the next owners of the Coyotes (the league bought them and is now looking for a local buyer) could seek an early termination deal with Glendale, Ariz., officials in case the team continues struggling in the next few years and the arena lease deal proves too difficult.

A hefty financial indemnification fee would make the Leafs more accepting of another team in its area, likely to be proposed at some point in the well-to-do suburbs north of the city. But even if the Leafs were opposed, Daly said the NHL could move forward on the issue. The league would also have a big say in what the Leafs would get in territorial fees as part of approving a move.

"They can be dead-set against it, but that doesn't mean they can stop the league from putting a franchise here if the league thinks it makes sense," Daly said.

Daly repeatedly denied stories that the Leafs have veto power regarding any new team, saying a majority of NHL governors would make the ultimate decision.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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