Alright. Picture this. No more Oilers hockey. Get all your one-liners in while you can, but it was a distinct possibility for this franchise in the late 1990s. Fortunately for us, we hopefully will never have to endure that pain of losing our professional sports franchise, but for four teams in North America, they weren’t so lucky.
Minnesota was the lucky one, having been able to land the Wild some ten years ago. It also happened to Denver in the 70s when the Rockies became the Kansas City Scouts. Wounds which still fester large in the hockey community are those of Hartford (1997), Winnipeg (1996), and Québec (1995).
It doesn’t take much effort to see that there are grassroots initiatives within these three cities in an attempt to lure big name NHL hockey back to their respective cities. You’ve never seen more Hartford Whalers gear around than you do now, and I’m certain that the Whalers booster club is still in operation some thirteen years after the Whalers have become the Hurricanes.
Fans of the Jets? They’re salivating over the chance to see the latest misstep in the Phoenix Coyotes’ dramatic and tenuous fourteen year existence in the Sun Belt. Sites like this and this are forerunners to the Return The Jets movement in Manitoba.
When the Comsat Entertainment Group purchased the Nordiques in the spring of 1995 subsequently moving them to Denver, the entire sale process was over in a matter of weeks. The Coyotes have been in a loud financial disarray for some time now (by that, I mean have never made money), and there’s still talk of the city of Glendale ponying up $100M to keep the team afloat. There’s a vote tonight in Glendale about all of that, and it’ll be something I plan on keeping tabs on.
Québec and their fans got pushed under the table when the Nordiques moved to Denver. The weak Canadian Dollar (about .60 to the American dollar at the time) plus the changing landscape of the game (as well as the indeterminate need for a new rink) helped push the Nordiques from Québec into Denver. It’s been fifteen years since the Nordiques played their last game on Le Colisee’s ice, but from the turnout in Long Island over the weekend, you’d never know it.
The Thrashers were in Long Island for a game that probably wouldn’t have gotten much notice off of Long Island, except that 1100 Nordiques fans, calling themselves Nordiques Nation hopped on buses and took the 550 mile drive from Québec City down to Long Island to see Atlanta take on the Islanders.
Simple, really. They want a team. They don’t really want the Islanders, as they respect the rich history that the Islanders have brought to the NHL. The Thrashers on the other hand…
Really though, they want something to call their own. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest dollars and cents guy behind the whole operation. Getting an NHL franchise isn’t like going to the United Furniture Warehouse and buying an end table. Derek Zona wrote an in-depth article about how Québec and Winnipeg might not be the most viable choices for franchises relocated or otherwise.
But let’s wear those rose coloured lenses for a while. Can Québec pull it off?
That’s the way you want to get noticed. You’re not coming off as a frothing at the mouth slacktivist, starting Facebook petitions that will go nowhere. You want a team? Alright. Get your passports checked, pony up a few dollars, we’re going on a trip to another country.
How can you as an Oiler fan or otherwise not get behind something that looks like this? Look at those Nordiques fans in the lower bowl, cheering on the Islanders as if they’re Québec’s team. Again, I’m not in favour of relocating the Islanders, but once you see an Islanders goal and a thousand Nordiques fans cheering so loudly, I thought I was watching Game 1 of the ’95 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals after Joe Sakic sealed the deal late in the third.
Good luck, Nation. Stay vigilant, stay polite, but stay firm.