Another GTA option for NHL?

The proposed construction of a new arena in Markham could rival the Air Canada Centre in Toronto...

The proposed construction of a new arena in Markham could rival the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for entertainment dollars. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency/Files)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

TORONTO - If they build it, they will come.

Or will they?

On the surface, the proposed construction of the 19,500-seat GTA Centre in Markham is not an attempt to land a second National Hockey League team to southern Ontario.

Indeed, in an interview with Bauer chairman Graeme Roustan on Tuesday night, the man spearheading the project along with Toronto-area real estate mogul Rudy Bratty, he seemed very sincere when insisting this is to be an entertainment/concert venue, not a building designed to have an NHL team as its prime tenant.

Having said that, it’s impossible not to connect the dots here.

While it might not be the primary purpose for building such a venue, the existence of such a facility does give the NHL one important thing.

An option.

When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg this year, part of the reason was that Manitoba’s largest city had a rink in the MTS Centre where the team could immediately play. Sure, the arena had a capacity that was 4,000 seats less than most NHL rinks, but Jets officials overcame that hiccup by developing a viable financial plan.

Sure, behind closed doors, the NHL isn’t actually jumping through hoops to place a second team in the southern Ontario market, even if many of us feel that it is an inevitability down the road. In fact, according to league sources, the NHL’s priority — when and if the next franchise relocates — is to return professional hockey to Quebec City, a community that sells out the antiquated Colisee for it’s annual pee wee tournament.

But what if those plans in Quebec somehow were scuttled?

Or what if the push to bring a second team into the GTA suddenly became a more warm and fuzzy concept to the suits in the league’s head office in New York?

There, sitting just north of the 407, and west of Kennedy Road, would be this glistening new state-of-the-art arena, one Roustan admits would be adaptable to hockey.

Keep in mind that there also is a group led by front man Kevin Maguire that would like to bring a second GTA team to Vaughan, near Hwys. 407 and 27. While sources indicate the financial backing is in place for that particular bid, the Vaughan group has been forced to sit tight and play the NHL’s waiting game.

Rather than create a public specatacle in the wooing of a second NHL franchise to the Golden Horseshoe like moneybags RIM head honcho Jim Balsillie did in his ill-fated attempt to bring the Coyotes to Hamilton, the Vaughan group has stayed the course and remained silent — behaviour that the NHL finds commendable.

The difference here?

The Vaughan group’s primary purpose is landing an NHL team.

The Markham group has a different set of priorities.

In their vision for this entertainment complex, Roustan and his colleagues see their arena as an alternative to the Air Canada Centre. If big-name acts want to play four or five consecutive nights, it’s difficult to do at a facility that houses full-time tenants like the Maple Leafs and Raptors. The GTA Centre, on the other hand, would be perfect to accommodate those gigs.

Yet, once again, the mere existence of such a building would give the NHL an option.

Ah, the Leafs. Any time talk of a second NHL team in the GTA makes the rounds, chatter of how this would frazzle those at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. always pops up.

For his part, outgoing MLSEL president Richard Peddie was calm, cool and collected when the subject of the proposed Markham rink came up on Tuesday.

“We’ve heard about so many of these proposals over the years,” Peddie said on Tuesday night. “Our stance hasn’t changed. When and if it should come to pass that a second team in the market reaches the stage of coming to the NHL’s board of governors, we’ll let them handle that and go from there. Until that time, it’s not really something we’re spending time concerning ourselves with.”

Would the idea of the new building and the potential competition it would generate end up lowering the price of MLSEL which is now up for sale?

We’ll let the accountants handle that for now.

For now, we also believe Roustan when he claims the GTA Centre is not being built to directly compete with the Leafs and the ACC. He makes some good points when pointing out there is enough entertainment acts for both to survive.

At the same time, this is a man who almost bought the Montreal Canadiens a few years ago, a man who is the chairman of the Bauer hockey equipment company.

A man who, without having it be his main goal, is still providing the NHL with an option one day if this arena does get built.

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