BRUSSELS - With apologies to Winnipeg, former Quebec Nordiques great Peter Stastny says Quebec City should have been first to see the return of NHL hockey.

Stastny even says he was "saddened" to learn that the Manitoba capital got an NHL club before Quebec City, which he felt "deserved" it more.

But Stastny told reporters today that he remains convinced Quebec City will get an NHL team back — perhaps even sooner than people think.

He made the remarks in Brussels, in a scrum with Quebec political reporters who were following Premier Jean Charest during a European tour.

Stastny is now a member of the European Parliament for Slovakia. He spent 10 of his 16 NHL seasons in Quebec City.

For his part, Charest says he's optimistic that Quebec City's arena project will go ahead.

The premier added his own enthusiasm to that of Stastny's. Wandering into the news scrum, Charest quipped that he wouldn't mind attending the future home opener with the former Nordiques great.

Despite Stastny's assessment, Winnipeg did claim several advantages over its Quebec rival.

The Manitoba capital has a larger population and a completed, modern arena — built mainly with private cash.

Quebec has 491,000 people (compared with Winnipeg's 633,000), and groundbreaking has yet to begin on an arena to be constructed entirely with public money.