In what has been the bluntest talk yet about the future of the Calgary Flames, president of operations Brian Burke said the much-loved NHL team will leave the city if they don't get the new arena they've been seeking.
"We're not going to make the threat to leave. We'll just leave," Burke told a business luncheon at the Canadian Club of Calgary Wednesday.
"We still have a building that was built in 1983, the oldest in the league by more than 10 years.
"They figured it out in Edmonton. Where they know that a new building can rejuvenate the downtown. But I guess we're just smarter than that here."
Burke's speech aimed to focus on the financial challenges that Canadian NHL teams face, from a low Canadian dollar to more public support for new builds in the U.S.
He also took questions, and while most agreed with his stance that the city deserves public money to build a new arena, one attendee challenged him on the notion of taxpayer funding, leading to a lengthy exchange.
"I'm not sure what the benefit is to taxpayers...Right now, you guys are getting a building for free, you're paying no rent at all," said Chris MacRae, whose family has held seasons tickets for more than three decades.
"But at least if you build a bunch of condos on a site, the city will benefit from a lot of tax revenue."
Burke lashed back, reiterating that if the NHL team doesn't get the support they need to build a new rink, they could easily move the team elsewhere.
"Where are you going to go?" MacRae asked.
Then Burke replied: "How about Quebec? There you go."
Burke then ended the exchange by adding: "People that are intelligent get this."
Burke refused to answer any media questions as he was leaving, but McRae stopped and spoke with some apprehension, worried his family might lose their tickets if he speaks out against the club.
"I don't want us to get in trouble over this," he said.
"We are huge fans of this hockey team, and I'm not opposed to some public support.
"But there has to be a better way than what's being proposed here.
"We are not Edmonton. We already have a vibrant downtown.".