I admit, I always find it a bit exciting when I hear about the big, new hockey rink that will evidently be built in Markham, just north of Toronto. (It now looks like the project is officially going ahead.) Ostensibly, this is all about attracting another NHL franchise to this market—a region with, obviously, a huge appetite for hockey.
Even setting aside Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment—which has, clearly, unlimited self-interest in this unfolding little drama—there is a fairly big question that lingers: do the rest of us hockey fans even want another NHL team in these parts?
I’m very open to hearing differing thoughts on the matter. But as I think I have mentioned here previously at some point, while I acknowledge that the idea of a new arena is neat, I have zero interest in another team actually parking itself in Toronto, whether it be within the “city limits” of Metropolitan Toronto or in the so-called Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which of course includes Markham.
I will try to explain my position, which I hope goes beyond the classic “not in my back yard” syndrome (though you may come to the conclusion that is precisely what I am saying…)
First things first; let’s go over some of the basic arguments/discussion points in favour of another NHL franchise here:
- The New York area has three teams, and Toronto is a better hockey town than New York and the surrounding area.
- Toronto is clearly a stronger hockey market than Phoenix, Florida, Anaheim and wherever it is that the Hurricanes play, so surely if those lousy markets can have a team, we can house two...
- Toronto has the infrastructure and the corporate activity to support a second franchise.
- Too many Leaf fans can’t even get to games at the ACC, because long-time season-ticket holders have first dibs on tickets, so this would be an opportunity for more folks to get to NHL games.
I don’t really know what to say about the New York comparison. The Islanders play in an awful old building. (I have to believe they are moving to Brooklyn, like the NBA Nets, though I know nothing about any such possible arrangement.) The Devils play in a gorgeous new building, but are bankrupt, or something. (I’m sure that will be taken care of with new ownership at some point….) Yes, Toronto could “handle” a second team, but I do wonder this: will all the current “hockey fans” in Toronto suddenly support a new team? I don’t mean simply in terms of attendance at the games, but more, well...emotionally.
What will the identity of this new team be? Are some Leaf fans going to jump ship and start cheering for, say, the transplanted former Phoenix Coyotes? What if this supposed new team is an expansion franchise? Does that make them less, or more, appealing to the local hockey fan base? (I’ve always felt the baseball Blue Jays, for example, benefitted by being a fresh “start-up” organization back in 1977, as opposed to what almost happened- a re-location of the San Francisco Giants.)
Yes, Toronto is a “better” hockey market than most of the locations in the southern U.S., but I’m not sure that means we should necessarily have two teams here. While I sympathize with those who have a hard time getting tickets to see Leaf games (I’m one of those who also has no “inside access” to tickets, though I was a season-ticket holder for a brief time way back in the mid-1970s, way up in the wonderful old ‘greys’) but again, that still doesn’t make me yearn for another team here.
While I’m a hockey fan, yes, I’m primarily a Leaf fan who has made a career out of not liking other teams—on principle. (My hatred of the Montreal Canadiens, for example—muted in recent years since they have fallen to the same kind of mediocrity that has afflicted the Leafs—has been well chronicled on this site…). So Leaf-oriented have I been over the decades, that I have often found it difficult to cheer for guys from other teams when they performed with Team Canada. (I realize I may be alone in this regard...)
Bottom line, the idea of another team in Toronto just doesn’t work for me. This is a Maple Leaf town. I’m not even sure it’s a hockey town, frankly. In the modern era, junior hockey has largely died here. The Marlies finally drew when they went far into the AHL playoffs this past spring. But I don’t know how successful a second NHL franchise would really be as the years went on, after the initial excitement wore off.
Does this mean there shouldn’t be a second team here? Of course not.
I’m not trying to rain on Markham’s parade. Hey, if they can somehow make this happen, and convince the NHL to come here, good for them, I guess. Personally, I’d rather have a team in Hamilton, which has long deserved the opportunity and would seem to be a natural rival to both the Leafs and the Sabres. (Heck, I’d rather have a team in Saskatoon, where I know they would absolutely love their team.)
I’m just not sure what the point is of another team here, when we already have the Leafs—albeit not a recently successful franchise, but one filled with almost a century of history, heritage and personal meaning for millions of their fans around the globe.
I mean, I’m not going to chain myself to a fence or anything when they start construction of this new building. Again, if the league wants to place a franchise in the GTA, whether an expansion team or a re-located franchise, I’ll certainly not protest.
To be clear, this has nothing to do with supporting the obvious financial interests of MLSE. It wouldn’t concern me in the least if someone cut their grass in this market, from a business perspective. (In fact, I suppose it could be argued that this might spur the organization to really try and produce a winner, though I’ve never believed the theory that management hasn’t "cared" in the past. Ownership may not have always cared deeply about winning over the years, but every Toronto GM in my memory has wanted to win badly…) My views are simply those of someone who has been a fan of the Maple Leafs as a team for more than 50 years. I’ve always liked the team; I don’t have to love ownership.
In any event, I’d like to get some feedback from you. What are you pulling for? Whether you live in this area or not, if you’re a hockey fan, a Leaf fan, would you like to see another NHL team in the Toronto market?
If you are from or live in the area, would you consider switching allegiance away from the blue and white to a new Toronto team, one where you could (ideally?) bring your family to a game and it wouldn’t cost you $1,000 for a night out?
Maybe there are some positives to this that I’m simply missing. Again, I’m not trying to be an old ogre, just being honest that I’m a Leaf guy and am not particularly enthused at the idea of another team here, when there are other Canadian markets that deserve a franchise.
Let me know what you're thinking!