QUEBEC - Quebec City would be a great place for the National Hockey League to expand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.
"If you're looking at markets, I would certainly say to the NHL, to anyone, there is no better place for an expansion team in the National Hockey League than this city, Quebec, which is a great hockey centre," he told a news conference in the provincial capital after an unrelated announcement.
Harper's comment came a day after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will begin a formal expansion process next month.
When asked if he was afraid of upsetting people in Markham, Ont., which is reportedly interested in a franchise, Harper replied, "there are already two teams in Ontario. We need two teams in Quebec."
He then took a jab at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I have to say that the last time I was in Toronto, people were saying they (also) needed a professional team," he said to laughter.
"But maybe with... the new coach, Mr. (Mike) Babcock, one of my teams will greatly improve."
Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B) issued a statement shortly after Bettman's comment to say it plans to apply for a franchise with the intent of bringing back the Nordiques to Quebec City.
Any parties interested in an expansion team must apply between July 6 and Aug. 10. Bettman said the expansion fee will be at least US$500 million.
Quebecor, which owns the new 18,259-capacity Videotron Arena in Quebec City, is among several groups that have expressed interest in an expansion franchise, along with Las Vegas, Seattle and others. Bettman said he didn't know if there was another group interested in bringing a team to Quebec.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the earliest any expansion would happen is the 2017-18 season.
Currently there are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West, which would seem to make Las Vegas and potentially Seattle or Portland, Ore., favourites for expansion. Bettman said geography is an issue, but not the determining factor.
The NHL has a relationship with Quebecor through its French-language television-rights deal with the TVA television network.
Quebec City has not had an NHL team since the Nordiques left for Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. The NHL has not expanded since adding its 29th and 30th teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, in 2000.