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A second Toronto NHL team, while great in theory, will never happen

Feeling particularly frustrated with the Leafs and their sluggish start? Well, you could be in luck. There are plans, yet again, to bring a second NHL team to Toronto.

According to a report from Lindsey Dun of CityNews Toronto, Legacy Sports and Entertainment has a plan to build a $5 billion, privately funded 25,000 seat venue near the Sheppard-Yonge subway stop with the goal of luring a second NHL team to the Greater Toronto Area. The plan is to build the world’s largest hockey arena and a non-profit museum surrounded by new residential buildings. Beyond housing an NHL team, the group plans to use $1 from every ticket sale would go towards the salaries of a proposed women’s professional hockey league.

The group has not yet formally made a proposition to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and they haven’t met with the City of Toronto. The plan is to submit their proposal this week. According to the group, the land developers are already ready to pay for the land as early as this upcoming Friday. So even without the arena approved and any thumbs up in regards to a possible expansion franchise, the group plans to go ahead with purchasing the land to begin the real estate development.

Despite not having spoken to the NHL about any of this, the group is planning to have “The Toronto Legacy Aces” start play in 2021-22, becoming the league’s 33rd team along with Seattle’s new franchise. Of course, the hypothetical stadium wouldn’t be ready in time for 2021, so the plan is for the Legacy Aces to play their first three seasons in Hamilton.

While this sounds fun in theory, there are plenty of logistical issues with bringing a second NHL team to Toronto. It’s all the same as it was 10 years ago when Gary Bettman squashed an idea presented by the same group. 

First off, the Leafs have a massive amount of influence in the league and would absolutely not want another team shoving their way into their already-existing market. It isn’t even a concern about luring fans away from Leafs games, but instead the possibility of losing corporate clients and revenue to a different franchise. Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment has been building a monopoly over professional sports in Toronto, owning all major teams in the city aside from the Blue Jays. Allowing somebody else to take a piece of the pie is counterintuitive to their goal.

Then there’s also the issue of the NHL expanding beyond 32 teams, which doesn’t make any sense. The league realigned divisions after the lockout in 2012 with the purpose of adding two more teams to the league. They created four divisions, with the eastern divisions having eight teams and the western divisions having seven because the goal was always to add more teams in the west. Vegas joined the league in 2017 and Seattle will join in 2021, creating perfect symmetry around the league. Jumping to 33 teams would again be counterintuitive to what the league has been working on for a decade.

Though the owners around the league would surely appreciate pocketing a third expansion fee in under a decade, going beyond 32 teams isn’t realistic for the NHL. The more realistic play for the Legacy Aces would be relocating an already-existing franchise to the GTA, such as Jim Balsillie tried to do multiple times back in the 2000s. Still, the Leafs would do everything in their power to ensure this wouldn’t happen.

There’s really no doubt that Toronto could hypothetically support a second NHL team. In fact, it would probably be a good thing for the city. Leafs games are inaccessible for most people given the high demand and the volume of corporate seats in Scotiabank Arena. A second team in the city would be an attractive option for fans who can’t afford to attend Leafs games. It would certainly put even more pressure on the Leafs to be successful. Any time you can get in the way of a growing monopoly, it’s a good thing for the market.

Beyond that, it would also be a hilarious addition to the soap opera that is hockey in Toronto. Maybe this new team is the New York Mets of Toronto that becomes the useless little brother who always gets laughed at. Maybe they have an inexplicable Vegas-style hot start to their existence and win a playoff series before the Leafs do. Maybe there’s a fascinating rivalry created between the two teams and their wildly different fanbases. There are plenty of interesting scenarios that can arise from another team being thrown right into the middle of the world’s biggest hockey hotbed.

But, unfortunately, there are too many hurdles in the way of making this a reality. The Leafs own Toronto and nobody else is going to get in the way of that.