Some day, some way, the Islanders will get a new arena near the crumbling building they play in now. (Anthony Gruppuso/US PRESSWIRE)
By Stu Hackel
On Monday night, I just caught the tail end of the Winnipeg Jets’ game against the visiting Rangers, which, by all accounts, New York was lucky to win, 2-1. In many NHL arenas, frustrated fans would have booed the home team, but in what will almost certainly be a year-long love-in at the little arena on the prairie, Winnipeggers applauded their club for its effort.
Everyone, it seems, loves the Jets. I’ve been giving my Minnesota North Stars hat a rest and wearing my Jets chapeau lately (the old logo, thank you) and getting compliments from hockey friends about my good taste. I can’t recall where I heard this, perhaps it was the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman on a radio interview, but it seems that our neighbors up north, apart from those in Winnipeg, have made the Jets Canada’s second favorite team. Fans in the rest of the country cheer for their team and then for the Jets, the refugee franchise whose transfer north is celebrated as a symbolic “Screw you!” to the NHL’s Sunbelt strategy.
The embrace of the Jets, not just on the ice but also at the cash register, has some people wondering: Can the nouvelle Nordiques be far behind?
Well, no one is reserving moving vans so quickly. We know that won’t happen until Quebec City gets an arena, which is not looming. It has just formed an engineering/architecture group for the $400 million proposed project that was first announced two years ago. No rush, especially because any new building with that price tag is going to draw some fire for being one of the league’s most expensive arenas in what would be the NHL’s second smallest market after Winnipeg and, inevitably, a drain on taxpayers. In fact, the legal wrangling on the new building is just beginning.
And we know that new arena won’t happen until — and unless — there’s a team that is out of options and has no choice but to relocate to Quebec. There are no expansion plans, at least none that are publicly known. Is an NHL team destined abandon its current market and wear a redesigned Nordiques sweater?
Gary Bettman apparently doesn’t see the Islanders as being the team to wear that uniform.