Yet another great effort from the Oilers tonight, this time against a pretty decent Montreal hockey club, and a come from behind win with Dustin Penner tallying the overtime goal. I really ought to be happy, but as much as I appreciate the positive signs we see on the ice, I find myself disgruntled with what’s happening off the ice.

Jason Gregor mentioned the Oilers’ meeting with Quebec city politicians in his game-day article, and I thought he presented it rather nicely:

If this is a scare tactic, it is a stupid one. I understand if the Oilers are frustrated with negotiations regarding a new rink, but meeting with Quebec about relocation; PLEASE. No way in hell Gary Bettman ever lets the Oilers leave Edmonton, and it makes less sense for the Oilers to relocate to Quebec where they have less corporations and 300,000 fewer people. The Oilers should stand up and say the only reason for this meeting is to find out how much federal money Quebec will get from the rink, and ensure that they get the same.

There was some suggestion in the comments section afterward that the media was driving the story, but let’s take a look at some of the key passages from the Sun article: 

“We don’t know what to expect from this meeting,” Lowe, a former captain of Quebec City’s junior hockey team, told QMI. “Just the fact that we’re meeting Mayor Labeaume to discuss possibilities, the sky is the limit. Exchanging ideas is the main goal of the meeting.”

A source close to the Oilers says team officials decided to explore relocation options amid opposition in Edmonton to a $1-billion arena that would be partially funded by taxpayers.

The Katz group wants construction to begin in less than 18 months and the source tells QMI that Oilers brass are worried about the slow pace of negotiations. “They even met (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman two weeks ago … if Quebec makes them an offer, they might consider it,” said the source.

Lowe says relocation is not the only option for the Oilers, explaining that team management will also discuss ways to work with Quebec City’s mayor to press Ottawa to chip in for arenas in both cities. “We’re doing all we can, ” said Lowe. “We’re talking to a lot of people, including Mayor Labeaume, to see where we are, where they are and if we can brainstorm together.”

Lowe’s the only person to go on record in the article, and his distinctly unhelpful “the sky is the limit” comment adds some credence to the thrust of the piece. I’d be delighted to know who the unnamed source is (Tyler Dellow’s guess is Lowe himself, based on the David Staples rule that the source talking off the record is often the same person that talked on the record) but given that Karine Gagnon is based out of Quebec City (she’s previously written several English-language articles about a potential return of the Quebec Nordiques) it seems likely that it was one of the participants in the meeting. In any case, I think the most plausible scenario here is that the Oilers leaked the information to get a reaction.

The way Patrick Laforge responded to questions in his “denial” only reinforced that view for me. Again, some of the key quotes:

"The press can be pretty creative…do you need more than that?" said Oilers CEO and President Patrick LaForge.

"We’re both building facilities and we’re both trying to get them off the ground and we have a hockey team and perhaps they don’t here, but there is no reason for that to be drawn together….and we are not planning to move the Oilers at this time," said LaForge.

All Laforge had to say was, “There’s no truth to that report” or “We did not discuss relocation.” Instead, he implied that the press was creating something out of thin air, and said there weren’t any plans to move the Oilers at this time.

Between that sort of very precisely worded statement from Laforge, Lowe’s (either deliberately or otherwise) non-specific comments earlier in the day, and a “source close to the Oilers” saying things off the record, I can’t help but feel that the team is sending mixed signals. Particularly given that this sort of rumour arguably works in the Oilers favour when it comes to negotiating with the city.

As for the rumour itself, I think even an explicit threat of relocation to Quebec City would be difficult to take seriously. The same problems that the Nordiques struggled with – a small market (this is a team that couldn’t sell-out playoff games), limited accessibility to most fans because of the French/English divide (arena announcements were made only in French, that sort of thing) – are still in place. It would be extremely difficult to market the team without the support of Pierre Karl Peladeau, who controls a huge chunk of the Quebec media, and guess what – if there’s a team in Quebec, he wants to own it. Those are major, major hurdles – even if we assume that Katz, with his rather extensive ties to the community, was willing to give up on the team so easily.

I debated not writing anything on this topic, because it’s one I personally find irritating, but after I read Dan Barnes’ piece I couldn’t help but say something. I respect Barnes profoundly, but I’m not inclined to believe that the Oilers organization had nothing to do with the report that came out today. Vague supportive statements from one team president, specific supportive statements from someone off the record, a carefully phrased denial that never denied relocation as a possible subject for discussion (go ahead – reread LaForge’s words: he calls the press creative, says there’s no reason to make the connection made in the article, and says at this time there aren’t any plans, but that’s it) is either incompetence or design, and I’ve never thought of LaForge as incompetent. 

Maybe I’m out to lunch – I’d love to see what people in the comments section think – but is it reasonable to believe that someone leaked this story, and Lowe made his vague comments, without any knowledge of the Oilers’ brain trust?


Fun game tonight, another win, and the Oilers are now 2-2-3 without Khabibulin in net, and 4-2 over their last six games. Hemsky’s back in the line-up, and looked pretty darn good in his return, and for the first time this season the on-ice stuff seems to be working.

Let’s enjoy it.

    • VMR

      What are you talking about? Mandel is in favour of the downtown rink, in fact I dont think there was anyone running who flat out said they were against the idea. The only thing anyone has said is they question how much money the city should put into this, which is a good question.

  • Dan the Man

    Katz’s dream has always been to own the Edmonton Oilers not the Quebec Nordiques. This is a man who could live anywhere in the world and he chooses to live here.

    This may have been done to get the attention of City Hall or maybe it is just what it is …two parties wanting to get rinks built using as much public money as they are able to secure sharing some ideas.

  • VMR

    Katz is in this for the profitability and anyone would be stupid to think he’d be willing to swollow millions in potential revenues and sit tight with the current OLD arena.

    If Edmontonians won’t pay additional tax to get a new arena I won’t blame him for moving the team.

    If Edmonton thinks they are getting a dime out of any of this they are DEAD WRONG. Katz didn’t spend $200 million (correct?) on the club to that he could generate a revenue sharing plan with the Citizens. He bares 100% of the risk of ownership of the club, and therefore, will assume all profits.

    So you pay a few more taxes, suck it up!

      • Dan the Man

        Rexall borrowed the $200M from Michael Dell’s piggybank

        I am looking forward to the Jets’ return! Seeing how the Rider Pride works, I think the ‘Toba is ready for the big leagues again.

    • I see.

      Let me make sure I have it correctly. Katz has assumed all the risk of owning the Oilers so he gets all Oilers profits.

      Therefore… the City of Edmonton should assume the risk for a new building and Katz gets all the new building profits?

      I’m afraid am not seeing the connection between Katz wanting to profit from his private business and the rest of us being obliged to buy him a building. Your assumed risk point actually favors the argument that building profits should be shared.

      There are reasonable arguments in favor of the new building, but your is not one of them.

      If the city wants to look at it as an investment in the city’s infrastructure, great. If the city wants a piece of potential profits that makes sense too.

      The idea that the city should hand over a bunch of cash because “Katz bares the risk of ownership” does not make sense.

      • Bucknuck

        Agreed. The notion that the City/Province (or Federal?) should risk putting tax dollars into a new entertainment district and NOT gain anything from that investment is just plain silly. If anyone thinks that we (taxpayers) should support this investment with ZERO return, I have a few buisness ideas I would like to pitch to you.

  • Dan the Man

    Now, to be sure, the Oilers are leaking this stuff to keep the arena on the public’s mind.

    Also, when the Oilers brass travel with the team to Quebec, this is pretty much an excuse to eat @ Moishe’s (if they are cool) or Buena Notte (if they want to look cool)

    So, organizing a meeting with Quebec’s mayor? Makes our Mayor Mandel feel an unwanted McDonald’s hamburger at a kid’s party.

    As for Expo, I hope the ON realizes that it wasn’t about hosting a fair so much as it was recouping some of the billions in transfer payments we send Ottawa for a huge leg up in re-developing Rossdale, Downtown, the University South Campus, and most importantly the future of our gigantic cityspace, a working LRT network. Maybe even a highspeed train to Cowtown if Bronconnier had helped with the bid, instead of competing against it for no apparent reason.

    Some rather simple corporate bonds would pay for the whole arena project, knowing the Oilers are indeed a profitable enterprise. The Oilers will get a new arena in Edmonton with taxpayer support only if they negotiate in good faith. They haven’t so far, the idle threats mean nothing, and Rexall’s pockets aren’t as deep as it would seem.

    Just deep enough for a flashy roadtrip to Mont Royal.

    In actual news, the Oilers won a killer game after giving up another 2 PP goals, have 4 functioning lines, Vandermeer played well, Foster ripped a bullet, and Hemsky played Foppa-tough on the puck and in the corners. Colour me happy, JW!

  • Oilers4ever

    Hard to know what to believe with this type of stuff and how valid comments are. I can tell you, that one of the reasons I moved out of Edmonton (aside from job reasons)is because I was sick and tired of the mayor et al dragging their arses over every little thing. They cannot see how much of a hole Edmonton has become. This from a guy who lived there for 15 years before moving. At least they finally have the road systems improving. My point is, as much as I love the Oilers and what they bring to Edmonton, if the non-sports fans in Edmonton can’t understand the economics of what this team brings to the city for every team that comes and spends hotel dollars, food dollars, entertainment dollars, etc when playing in Edmonton, then they will regrettably find out if this team moves and those millions of dollars are lost. Then their taxes will go up to cover the loss instead of taking the tax hike now to build the arena (because it’s only the arena tax dollars would fund, not the entertainment district itself). The increase in tax dollars to cover the loss revenue would be a yearly thing, continuously. The taxes to pay for the building would be a one off thing. I do agree that Katz does need to allow the city to have some of the revenue from this though as he doesn’t need it all, he has his drug stores and other entities for that. Anyways.. but if the people of Edmonton can’t see all this, then lose the team and become and even bigger hole than you already are. They already ruined the Capital Ex by changing it’s name from Klondike Days which is how it was known, across North America. They screwed up the Indy race. Quite glad not to live in this city and be embarassed by the idiots that run that place and the morons who don’t understand economics properly to know how important this is. But still an Oil fan through and through and no matter where they play, that will never change.

  • Oilers4ever

    I find it hard to believe that comments on here are so baseless and negative.

    **ref raises arm..calls penalty for offside on many, but not all, comments before this**

    1. Katz lives and is raising his family in Edmonton, went to school in Edmonton, isn’t shy about supporting and donating to Edmonton, loves the Oilers so much he went out and bought them. He know is trying to get a building for them that is good for himself, the city, the team, and good for the fans. Fans we are… he is trying to get us a new rink, So if you ever see him maybe you should thank him.

    2. Penguins…horrible…rebuild…old rink…new rink. How did lemieux handle getting all this done.
    Enough said on regards to whats going on pressure wise from the Oilers(katz group) to the city. I am sure if anyone can think business for a sec, you wouldn’t go into a car dealership and pay sticker price…and they arnt going to offer you the lowest price they could right of the bat.
    Wrong analogy used? maybe… Negotiating with the city?…yes they are.

    3.Mandel has shown support and likes the idea of a new rink.
    – Criticizing Mandel for expo = not related
    (side note) Giving the city exposure, trying to generate more tourism and getting things built that might be useful for the city..yup horrible idea.
    – Mandel pushing the negotiations past the elections = solid choice to make sure he is in place and in control of implementing the push through city council.
    – Once things make sense for both the city and the Oilers there is no doubt it gets implemented.

    4. Discussing ideas with another city that is also planning on building a brand new rink..yup makes now sense.

    5. Worrying about the Oilers moving? I guess the strategy worked out, and hears to hoping your on the city council.

    6. Not worried and realize its part of getting it done? I guess you have a brain in your head.

  • ubermiguel

    Katz would be a fool NOT to explore the possibility of moving the team if someone asks him about it. We’re talking about a multi-million dollar asset. Hometown boosterism only goes so far when big money like that is involved.

    That said, I’m confident that for all the reasons mentioned by Willis they won’t be moving.

    I see it more likely that after the next CBA negotiation the NHL owners will be sick of subsidizing weak markets like Phoenix and and Quebec City will step in then. Quebec City barely making any money is better than Phoenix losing it hand-over-fist.

  • Dan the Man

    @ Smytty’s Mullet

    The League has been pretty clear that teams will be allowed to move when there is not an adequate building for them to play in and there is no-one willing to own the team in the existing facility.

    That is what happened to Quebec and Winnipeg. Old buldings and no-one willing to buy and keep teams in those places, so the teams were allowed to be sold to people who would move them.

    With no new building, that would be the likely fate of the Oilers eventually. When Katz is done with wanting to own them, nobody local willing and able to pay the price to buy and keep them in Edmonton, the Board of Governors would allow a sale to someone who would move them.

  • Bucknuck

    Last time there was a threat to move the team the attendance dropped off to four figures. I remember being at a game where the oilers were beat 5-0 and there were more empty seats than full ones. It was a scary time.

    If you make threats like that it pisses off fans, and that is not a good thing to do. I hope that they don’t start playing these games with a fanbase that has sold out Rexall place for years with a losing hockey club.

  • Bucknuck

    I would not get too worked up about this – it is part of negotiation. Gather info, and tweak the other side if you can.

    WRT funding, I believe I read a quote from an unnamed PC source that arenas could be treated differently than Expo funding since they could be considered “infrastructure”. While the new arena would be used by the Oilers primarily, as long as the city got a cut of the action it could be considered “infrastructure” just like the rural community hockey and curling rinks that were funded with the stimulus package.

  • Ned Braden

    @ Nye

    Winnipeg/Quebec were different situations. Both teams were losing money. The Oilers are a “have” team in the NHL.

    Where are they going to move to? Quebec City doesn’t even have a rink and can only afford it if the provincial/federal government pay for majority of it and Harper has already stated that if they give funding to one city for an arena they would have to give to others. The only places they could move to are all in non traditional hockey markets and we have seen how well that has worked out for the NHL.

    The NHL does not gain/benefit from the Oilers moving to Quebec City or any other location (other than the GTA) because hockey related revenue’s (HRR) will be similar. Sure maybe they sell a few more thousand tickets but in the grand scheme of things is the NHL going to move the Oilers for a few million dollars/year in additional HRR? I don’t think so.

    The issue here is the non hockey related revenue (NHRR) that Katz wants. Guess what, all that cash goes directly into his pockets. It does not affect the NHL at all.

    I don’t believe there is a good chance the Oilers leave. Is there a chance, sure but I put it at less than 1%. I fully support the downtown arena and believe it will get funded. All this other talk is just political posturing.

  • @ Smytty’s Mullet

    Under very good circumstances (high CDN dollar, prosperous times in the local economy, a high level of support for the team regardless of results) the Oilers are near break even. They make a few mil or they lose a few mil based on how close they go to the floor or the cap and how much they invest in development, scouting, etc.

    What makes you certain these very good circumstances will last forever?

    If and when the dollar goes back down, the good times are not so good, or the level of support declines, then the owner of the Oilers in Edmonton will face substantial losses. For the Oilers to be secure in the community in the long term the owner of the team is going to need the ability to generate revenue beyond hockey. That is what some other communities do to attract teams. They throw the keys to a building at a person who can bring a team to them.

    Edmontonians would take a large risk with the future of the Oilers by assuming that the good times will never end, and that Katz will foot the bill to keep the team here no matter what happens. Katz could suffer losses in his other businesses, or he could get hit by a truck. The CDN dollar could tank. The city could easily face a situation where the team has to be moved as a condition of the sale of the franchise, just like in Winnipeg and Quebec City.

    • Im not suggesting the city take all the profits, that make no sense. But if Katz wants city help to build it then the city should benifit from it. I’m sure that even a 10% return for the city would turn their ears to the side of the conversation Katz is talking from.

  • Ned Braden

    @ Nye

    Valid points and I agree with all of them. It definitely is a possiblity that the Oiler’s could relocate at some point. I guess we just disagree on the likely hood of the Oilers leaving by the time the lease is up at Rexall in 2014.

    As I stated previously I am in favour of the downtown arena and for the City to help fund it. I think that the City should get part of the profits back until it has been paid in full for its investment and then all profits can go to Katz.

  • @ Epicus

    The idea for a district downtown is based on information from Columbus about gains that city has realised in taxes from businesses and property around their development.

    I do agree, I would prefer to see a good deal for both the city and the hockey club. Little or no burden to the general taxpayer is ideal. I think that is what is under consideration with a combination of a CRL and ticket tax.

    What I originally replied to was an assertion that the NHL would never allow the Oilers to move. I believe that to be very incorrect and said so and said why I believe that.

    • VMR

      Sorry but you are wrong. There is no way they could allow the team to move in the current economic conditions. At some point in the future if things change then maybe. But as long as the Oilers are selling out constantly there is no way they are moving while at least a half dozen teams in the southern states are sitting with half empty buildings and that includes the Blue Jackets and their revitalized downtown arena.

      If the Oilers tried to move at least a dozen teams would jump to move back into Rexall and why would the league allow Katz to move out while another team moves in. Makes them look real bush league.