Word came out of Quebec earlier this week that Canadian media giant Quebecor and the city of Quebec have reached an agreement to build a new $400 million dollar arena. Their plan is to pursue either an expansion NHL team or to move an existing franchise to Quebec when the proposed 18,000-seat facility is completed in 2015.
So this now begs the question: can a scenario like this play out in Hartford? Tough to say. Any talk of reviving the NHL in Hartford always circles back to the 800-pound gorilla that is attendance. Does Hartford/Connecticut have a large enough fan base to support an NHL team? Fifteen years ago, the answer was clearly no. In fact, if we look back at their last eight seasons in Hartford, the Whalers were always near the bottom of the league in attendance:
This trend appears to have continued with the current Wolfpack/Whale in the AHL. During the 2010-2011 season, the Whale/Pack drew an average of 5,695 fans per night (227,792 overall) – respectable numbers by minor league standards and actually slightly above the league average of 5,380. The AHL is a far cry from the NHL, though.
To put it in perspective, Winnipeg’s AHL team, the Manitoba Moose, drew a per-game average of 8,404 for a season total of 336,156 in 2010-2011. (I’m no math magician, but that’s over 100,000 more tickets overall than Hartford.) It was that kind of fan support that helped Winnipeg’s case for re-establishing an NHL team there in 2011-2012.
Look, I loved having the Whalers in Hartford back in the day. They were our team. And as much as I love the Hartford hockey renaissance going on right now with last season’s Whale Fest and the current glut of Whaler merch everywhere, you have to be realistic. It’s going to take a lot more than some (seemingly well-intentioned) Howard Baldwin publicity stunts and a bunch of replica jerseys to make Hartford a serious contender for an NHL team again.