A move by Oilers' owner Daryl Katz to operate Copps Coliseum and other sports and convention facilities in Hamilton, Ont., was not undertaken to force the hand of Edmonton city council in the downtown arena debate, the Oilers president said Tuesday.
"This is not about the Edmonton Oilers. This is not about a leverage opportunity for the Edmonton Oilers," Laforge said at a news conference Tuesday in Hamilton.
The Katz Group is proposing to take over the management and operation of Copps Coliseum, Hamilton Place, the Hamilton Convention Centre and the sports stadium that will be built for the 2015 Pan American Games.
Hamilton city administration has been directed to negotiate a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Katz Entertainment Holdings Corp., which is part of the Katz Group.
"That proposal will be vetted through our staff and there will be some discussion," Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger said. "And it may very well come back in similar or different form, so it's not ready for prime time."
Hamilton city council will make a decision on the agreement on Sept. 1.
Echoes of Pocklington threat
The move comes three weeks after the Katz Group and the City of Edmonton announced the postponement of a public hearing on rezoning for a downtown arena and entertainment complex.
The Hamilton proposal brings up bad memories for Oilers fans. In 1993, then-owner Peter Pocklington threatened to move the team to Hamilton after he became displeased with negotiations with Northlands, the operator of the arena.
Mayor Stephen Mandel would not comment on the Katz Group's motives for making the Hamilton bid or what it means for the future of NHL hockey in Edmonton.
"I don't get nervous about those things," Mandel said. "My comment is about whatever Mr. Katz is doing, you need to ask him. My job as the mayor is not to overreact to things. "
When asked what the move means for Edmonton, Mandel replied, "I don't know. You'll have to ask Mr. Katz."
Coun. Karen Leibovici said she also didn't see the move as a threat to the Oilers' future in Edmonton.
"I wouldn't get too excited about it," she said.
While Edmonton city officials were subdued in their response, the announcement does give Katz a bargaining chip in the downtown arena debate, according to one sports economics expert.
"I've predicted for years that he'd eventually threaten to move," said Brad Humphreys, a professor at the University of Alberta. "It would certainly provide him with a little of leverage if he said, 'I'm going to move my franchise, 'cause look, I've already got somewhere to put it.'"
Katz Group wants rink built by 2014
The proposed downtown complex, which would replace the Oilers' current home at Rexall Place, has been controversial for what critics have called a lack of transparency on the part of the Katz Group.
How the complex would be funded has never been made clear, beyond the $100 million commitment Katz made when he bought the team two years ago.
Many people in Edmonton have expressed opposition to a plan that would see taxpayer dollars go towards an arena that houses a privately-owned NHL team.
Some are also angry that neither Katz nor his representatives have appeared at a public Edmonton city council meeting to explain what they would like to do.
The Katz Group will be invited to appear at the July 21 city council meeting, Mandel said.
Rexall Place is the second-oldest arena in the NHL. The Katz Group would like to have the new downtown complex built by 2014, when the lease expires for Rexall Place.