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NHL needs to bring back Nordiques

By Kristy Koehler, December 18 2018 —

The National Hockey League grew by one team in 2017, holding an expansion draft and setting up shop in Sin City with the Vegas Golden Knights. More importantly, Canadians collectively lamented being passed over in favour of yet another American team.

As Canadian hockey fans, we love to cry foul over NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s treatment of us and, on Dec. 5, we received another blow to our national ego when the league announced a team for the city of Seattle. Once again, Canadians were denied what feels like our right as inhabitants of the true north strong and free.

Before any other expansion takes place, the Quebec Nordiques should be resurrected and our lost hockey teams should make their way home. After all, the history of the NHL began in Quebec. Founded in Montreal in 1917, the NHL began with only Canadian teams before expanding to the United States in 1924 with the addition of the Boston Bruins.

Quebec has always been a hotbed of hockey. Even though the Nordiques are not one of the Original Six on account of initially belonging to a different league, the team is firmly entrenched in the cultural lexicon of Canadian hockey. The Nordiques were one of the original members of the World Hockey Association (WHA) — which also included the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers — and became a bedrock team of the NHL after the leagues merged in 1979.

Popular sporting goods stores still sell Nordiques jerseys, hats and memorabilia while hockey fans around the country nostalgically pine for the team’s return. It isn’t so much that the team moved, but that it moved to the United States. Normally a humble people, known for our easy-going, friendly nature and our penchant for apologizing, Canadians ferociously defend hockey as our game. National identity in Canada can be tied to our participation in the sport. International hockey tournaments are a matter of national pride — older generations can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing during the 1972 Summit Series against the former USSR, while younger generations still get misty-eyed remembering Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Much of our national identity is based on not being American. We define ourselves as the antithesis to the United States, cloaking ourselves proudly in the stereotype of their poutine-eating, beer-drinking, hockey-loving neighbours to the north. That’s why it hurts so much that we seem to be losing our grip on our game. Canada has a history of losing its professional sports teams to the United States — the Montreal Expos baseball team moved to D.C. to become the Washington Nationals, while the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Tennessee reincarnated as the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Quebec Nordiques played in the WHA from 1972–79, then in the NHL from 1979–95. As the league expanded, cash became king. In May 1995, citing financial reasons, the Nordiques were relocated to Denver, Colorado and renamed the Colorado Avalanche.

Despite our unwavering fan support, most Canadian cities are small markets in comparison to those in the U.S. Fan support would be high in even the smallest market, but support doesn’t equal profit. I’m well aware of the financial considerations involved in having a team in Canada — expanding salary caps, operating costs and rising exchange rate concerns between the Loonie and the U.S. dollar are all factors — but it doesn’t make it any less viscerally torturous to see our teams head southbound.

A year after losing the Nordiques, the Winnipeg Jets relocated to Arizona and were renamed the Phoenix Coyotes. Canadians watched another of our teams depart the land that built them. After a failed expansion by the NHL into Atlanta resulted in a team that wasn’t financially viable, Canadian fans thought perhaps the NHL had come to its senses and realized that no one can love a team like a Canadian fan. The Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011. To our joy and jubilation, the team was named the Jets and it was something akin to a homecoming. Canadians embraced their long-lost team and held out hope that an era of relocating teams from sunshine states back to the north drew nigh. The Las Vegas expansion was a reality check.

Seattle gaining an NHL team isn’t necessarily a bad thing — the city has a fantastic sporting tradition. Having a hockey team in Seattle adds a fun dynamic to the NHL and creates an instant divisional rival for the Vancouver Canucks. Having a Pacific-Northwest rivalry that could reach Flames-Oilers proportions is great for fans. A
Seattle franchise also puts attending games within reach of more Canadians — Seattle is a shorter drive than some Canadian franchises for fans in British Columbia.

Detractors cite the small size of the Quebec City market. But the province is full of passionate hockey fans and, with only so many seats at every Montreal Canadiens game and under a three-hour drive between the two cities, it’s a safe bet that fans from surrounding areas would spill into Quebec City. The city has a new arena, with the Centre Vidéotron built in 2015 that could easily house an NHL team.

Expanding the game of hockey is never a bad idea — I just wish Canada would reap the benefits of that expansion. It’s nostalgia, tradition and love for the game that keeps me hoping for the return of the Nordiques.

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