Toronto Maple Leafs: Could There Ever be Another Team in the GTA?

Toronto, Ontario, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Toronto, Ontario, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

The GTA has long been talked about as one of the best places to put another NHL team, but how would that affect the Toronto Maple Leafs? Would they allow it? Would they even have a say if someone was willing to pay the price to encroach on their territory?

Toronto Maple Leafs fans may not need to fear losing Auston Matthews to his hometown team, the Arizona Coyotes when his contract expires. That’s because there’s the chance that the club may not have a home in Arizona much longer.  If the team moves, where would they go?

The GTA is among the best choices, depending on how the Toronto Maple Leafs may feel about it.

But the NHL may not want to risk alienating its most important team and so the idea of putting another team in the GTA may never happen.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Expansion

On Thursday, the City of Glendale released a Twitter thread explaining that the relationship between them and the Coyotes is coming to an end. They detailed that there will be just one more season played at Gila River Arena before the team’s lease comes due. It’s an agreement that the city announced they will not be renewing.

From the look of the messaging, things look bleak for the future of hockey in Glendale.

In response to the Glendale announcement, Coyote’s President and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez put out a release. It addressed the situation.

"“We are disappointed by today’s unilateral decision by the City of Glendale to break off negotiations on a multi-year lease extension agreement. We are hopeful that they will reconsider a move that would primarily damage the small businesses and hard-working citizens of Glendale. We remain open to restarting good-faith negotiations with the City.“Most importantly, the Coyotes are one hundred percent committed to finding a long-term arena solution here in Arizona, and nothing will shake our determination to do what is right for our organization, residents of the entire Valley and, most important, our fans.”"

Commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, took to the radio to discuss the future of hockey at Gila River Arena. He believes that something will be worked out and that the Coyotes will remain in Arizona for many more years. Bettman feels as though this has all been a negotiation ploy by the city.

If Bettman and Gutierrez are wrong, that would open the door to relocation. This takes us down a rabbit hole of trying to determine where the franchise may land. When the NHL was looking at expansion, one of the locations under serious consideration was Quebec City. At the time, President and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau of Quebecor Inc. led the charge to try and acquire an NHL team.

Quebec City isn’t the only place that has had eyes on the NHL. When Jim Balsillie was the CEO of Research in Motion, he came close to becoming a franchise owner. In fact, he tried three different times. The closest Balsillie came was in 2007 when he had a deal in place with Craig Leipold, the owner of the Nashville Predators. The businessmen had a letter of agreement in place that would transfer ownership of the Preds to Balsillie for $220 million. Balsillie began selling tickets in Hamilton, Ontario, showing the world that he was going to relocate the team. It’s believed that Leipold pulled out of the agreement because it meant that Nashville would lose the club.

With residency issues in Arizona, perhaps Balsillie returns to try and buy an NHL franchise for the fourth time. If he does, it would actually be his second attempt to own the Coyotes. In 2009, Balsillie attempted to buy the team for $212.5 million after the NHL club filed for bankruptcy. His bid ended up being rejected by an Arizona judge, once again due to trying to move the team to Ontario.

There’s no doubt that the province would be an excellent home for a second NHL team. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) could support another club as was proven when Balsillie pre-sold season tickets to Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.

There has been plenty of debate over the years on possible locations for an NHL arena. Prior to the construction of the multi-pad arena in Downsview Park in midtown Toronto, it was believed that that land would be perfect for the city’s second NHL arena. Markham was another highly talked about location. The truth is, the GTA is so hungry for NHL action that it would draw fans no matter where the arena sat. With the Toronto Maple Leafs tickets being hard to get for most normal people, an expansion team would probably have no trouble selling out.

One obstacle to bringing another team to the GTA is the location would need to be outside of a 50-mile radius. The attempt to bring the Predators to Hamilton proved that the new club would need to pay NHL teams within the 50-mile range a substantial indemnification fee in order to operate. That could mean a windfall payment to either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Buffalo Sabres.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves on moving a team to the GTA. The NHL, Bettman, and the Coyotes will undoubtedly do everything they can to keep the team in Arizona. However, the dream of more NHL hockey in the province is a sweet one.

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Keep an eye on what’s happening in Glendale. There’s a very good chance that this will be an ongoing story for quite some time.