MOSCOW - Quebec's premier says he is now confident the NHL is keen on bringing a team back to Quebec City.
Jean Charest tells The Canadian Press that he discussed the issue with league commissioner Gary Bettman at a Montreal Canadiens game last week. The premier says Bettman seemed sincerely interested in bringing pro hockey back to the provincial capital, a decade-and-half after the Nordiques left to become the Colorado Avalanche.
He says the commissioner appeared convinced of two things: the economic viability of a team in Quebec, and the prospect of finding investors.
The men spoke in Montreal at the Habs' 100th anniversary game last Friday.
The premier says several factors - including revenue-sharing and a salary cap - have made pro hockey more viable from a business standpoint than it was in the 1990s.
"I find it encouraging that the National Hockey League sees viable market conditions there," Charest said in an interview Thursday.
"The real question for a hockey team is whether it's economically feasible and, in a market like Quebec, I believe the answer is yes."
He conceded that the team will remain a pipe dream as long as Quebec doesn't build a new, modern arena. The city administration wants to build one but expects almost all of the money - $250 million - to come from public funds at the federal and provincial levels.
"We're still far from having a hockey team," Charest warned.
"We would need a multi-purpose centre and I believe in that project because a city of Quebec's size needs a multi-purpose building."
But one prominent sports economist suggests that if the project were truly smart economics, private investors would already be lining up to build the arena with their own money.
Michel Poitevin, head of the University of Montreal's economics department, notes that the Montreal Canadiens were purchased, and their Bell Centre was built, without public funds. So was the city's Saputo stadium for the Montreal Impact soccer team.