Penguins players would like to see NHL team return to Quebec City
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn't grow up as a Quebec Nordiques fan.
Quite the opposite, actually, as Fleury — a native of Sorel, Quebec — cheered for the Montreal Canadiens, idolizing Patrick Roy on the other side of the heated rivalry.
But that doesn't mean he'd protest the NHL, and the Nordiques, returning to Quebec City.
“It was always fun to watch those two teams play,” Fleury said. “It was a big rivalry. It made hockey so fun to watch. Hopefully one day they get a team back and have that same rivalry.”
Quebec City has entered the final phase of the expansion process, where the NHL has begun reviewing its business plans and revenue projections.
Few expect that to go poorly, and for good reason, given how eager that market is for hockey to return and how seriously Quebecor, the company overseeing the bid, has shown it is about making that happen.
When the Penguins play the Canadiens on Monday at the sparkling new Videotron Center — an 18,259-seat venue built with the intention of hosting the Nordiques — there won't be an empty seat.
Nor will there be a French-Canadian player who's indifferent about the prospect of playing more games in Quebec City.
“I'm going back home,” Montreal-born Kris Letang said. “My friends and family will be there. I can't wait.”
The earliest that would happen, according to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, likely would be for the 2017-18 season, but good luck finding someone unwilling to wait.
That would create a landscape where eight of the NHL's 32 teams — assuming there's also expansion into Las Vegas — are Canadian. It also could right a wrong in a similar way as what happened in 2011, when the Thrashers relocated from Atlanta to Winnipeg.
Having a second team in Quebec would reignite the rivalry Fleury adored, one that instantly would slide into similarly hostile territory occupied by the Battle of Ontario (Toronto and Ottawa) and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary and Edmonton).
“It would be fun to see a team go back there,” Letang said.
Fleury's favorite memory of the rivalry traces back to 1992-93. That's when Quebec made the biggest single-season turnaround in NHL history — 52 to 104 points — behind newly acquired goaltender Ron Hextall but fell to the Canadiens in the first round.
“I remember Hextall had a big polar bear on his mask and made a ton of nice glove saves,” Fleury said. “Such a close series.
“Montreal won at the end, so I was happy about it.”
Sidney Crosby, who grew up in Nova Scotia a fan of the Canadiens — the team that drafted his father, Troy — remembers hearing stories of the rivalry from his junior coach in Rimouski, former Canadiens player Donald Dufresne.
For Crosby, the game represents something similar to 2006-07, when the Penguins played preseason games in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick.
“It's cool to play in different places, especially in non-NHL cities,” Crosby said. “People definitely get into it. For a preseason game, there's a little bit more excitement, for sure.”