Quebec City is the best expansion market for the National Hockey League, which should have two franchises in the province, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
Speaking in Quebec City Thursday less than four months before a federal election, Harper backed the notion of an NHL return to the city, which lost its franchise two decades ago.
“I would certainly say to the NHL, to anybody, there is no better place for an expansion team in the National Hockey League than this city,” Harper said at a press conference. Quebec currently has one team, the Montreal Canadiens, while there are two in neighboring Ontario, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Harper cracked a joke at the expense of the Leafs, who finished with the league’s fourth-worst record last season.
“There are already two teams in Ontario, we need two teams in Quebec,” Harper said. “The last time I was in Toronto, people there were saying, ‘We need a professional club.’”
Harper declined to comment on any specific ownership group.
Quebecor Inc. announced Wednesday it would apply for a franchise after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league would begin a formal expansion process. A new arena, the Videotron Centre, is due to open in Quebec City in September and is “designed to meet NHL standards,” the company said in a statement.
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume welcomed Harper’s comments Thursday.
“The new arena allows us to be in the race,” Labeaume said at City Hall in comments that were carried by ICI RDI television. “We have done everything that we needed to do. The work that remains must be done by the Quebecor people. They have our entire confidence.”
Quebec City lost its NHL club in 1995 when the Nordiques moved to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche. The franchise went on to win the Stanley Cup in its inaugural season in Colorado.