I haven’t heard one word from Daryl Katz or anybody associated with Rexall Sports suggesting the Edmonton Oilers will leave town if the team doesn’t get a new arena. That’s not a card that needs to be played in negotiations with the city. That doesn’t mean it’s not in the deck as a possibility.
As foolish and counter-productive as it would be for anybody in the Katz camp to try and move negotiations on the $450-million (and growing by the day) project along by suggesting the team will go elsewhere if it doesn’t get everything it wants, it’s equally misguided to dismiss the possibility it could happen under the right (or is that wrong?) circumstances.
Jason Gregor and I discussed the negative aspects — they are many — of playing the "fear card" on his show today. And, while I agree with Gregor it’s highly unlikely the Oilers are going to pull up stakes, failure to build a new facility, in concert with other circumstances, could certainly change what has been a relatively healthy landscape in recent years, despite the on-ice failures of a team that’s missed the playoffs for six straight seasons.
Is that fear-mongering? I think not.
GET IT DONE
Put me in the camp of people who’d rather see city council and Katz put pen to paper on an agreement that will get shovels in the ground before costs rise more than they already have in the months of back-and-forth we’ve had up until now – a deal that will include a location agreement that will keep the team here for the next 35 years.
I think most people, although I stand to be corrected, can agree that the city and the Oilers need a new facility. We are past the point of that debate, no? Does anybody think Rexall Place has a shelf life beyond the next five years as a viable facility? It needs to be replaced. The question is when and, of course, who pays what to make it happen. Now, I think, is the time. Katz and council had best settle on the "who" sooner than later.
Yes, the Oilers could certainly play out of Rexall Place for another two or three seasons – they’ll have to, even if a new facility is agreed to tomorrow – but if the project goes sideways now, it’s only going to get more expensive down the road. Again, correct me if I’m wrong.
If you take away extreme points of view on either side of the debate – "Screw Katz and the horse he rode in on" and "Give Daryl everything he wants no matter what it costs" – what is the long-term viability of the team in Edmonton without a new facility? That depends.
SOME FACTORS TO CONSIDER
. . . Despite several economic bumps in the road, it’s fair to say Edmonton is one of the NHL’s best hockey markets, at least right now. Season tickets are in demand despite six years out of the playoffs. Will it remain in the top-third of NHL markets if the economy goes south again?
. . . What happens to the dollars-in and dollars-out, even with a new and more favourable CBA, if the Canadian dollar slides? Might those who believe the Oilers can scrape by, even turn a profit, much longer in Rexall Place change their stance if the dollar slides by 10 per cent from par or slightly better? We don’t even need to discuss the 63-cent dollar the EIG was dealing with at its last cash call. What would the buck at even 85 or 90 cents mean to the team?
. . . Say what you want about Gary Bettman, he fought to keep the Oilers in Edmonton during the days of the 63-cent dollar after Peter Pocklington’s house of cards collapsed and the EIG was riding to the rescue. Bettman wants the Oilers here. He’s philosophically opposed to moving teams unless it’s a last resort. The never-ending saga in Phoenix is Exhibit A. But Phoenix taxpayers have skin in the game with Glendale Arena. Without the same skin here, as in no new facility, might the door open for a Quebec City or a Markham or Seattle? Perhaps.
. . . In terms of investing in a roster that’s built for the future, I can’t think of too many teams that have more young top-end talent than the Oilers when you start with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I’d take this group over the lot Winnipeg got from Atlanta any day. Wouldn’t you? If you were kicking the tires on a franchise, might one that was struggling in an old building with a devalued dollar and a roster of talented kids interest you?
Get the arena deal done.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.