Initially published on may 7 at palhalpall.blogspot.com
Hockey fans throughout the country and particularly in Southern Ontario are currently salivating over the prospect of the Phoenix Coyotes moving to Southern Ontario. As such, the reaction to the latest ploy by Jim Balsillie to wrest a team away from Gary Bettman and the sunbelt has for the most part been positive. This is not surprising, as the world's most unsatisfied hockey market has for too long wanted for leadership and is delirious about finally having a champion. Of course, there remains a delusional faction of naysayers who insist that Jim Balsillie is assing things up or worse, that it would be folly for the NHL to give up on Bettman's ambition of popularizing a winter sport in a geographic region that for all intents and purposes doesn't have a winter (incidentally, I'm thinking of opening up a surfboard store in Iqaluit - anyone want to invest?).
As such, I would like to address all of the skepticism that is accompanying the excitement about a potential seventh NHL team in Canada. Let's start with the easy stuff. A certain thick-skulled columnist has questioned the premise that Gary's blueprint is indeed a failure and that a second NHL franchise would necessarily succeed in Southern Ontario. In his poorly written column, Damien Cox trots out the standard defense of Bettman's and the NHL's position before offering two uninspired recommendations: "The sensible approach, then, is for the NHL to do two things. First, try and fix the Coyotes by putting quality ownership in place. Second, establish a blue-ribbon committee to examine the viability of a second team in southern Ontario." Yeah, I'm also trying to figure out how it is that someone is getting paid to come up with this stuff.
Let's humour Damien by actually taking the time to refute his brilliant suggestions. First, the NHL has never demonstrated an ability to seek out quality ownership. This is not surprising, for why would anyone who isn't either a fool or a crook invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a hockey team in the desert, especially one that is already drowning in debt? Also, even if you could find quality ownership - and a definition of 'quality ownership' would be handy - and convince it to take on this mess, what could they possibly do? Is there some measure that could be taken to turn the Coyotes into a successful, profitable NHL franchise? Even the best seafarer in the world couldn't unsink the Titanic.
Second, the viability of Southern Ontario as a market for another team has been proven by the season-ticket sales of the Hamilton Predators along with the fact that this story is garnering more headlines and discussion than anything else in the entire province. Establishing a committee would only waste time, money, and people's patience. This is the kind of suggestion you get from people who can't come up with original ideas but still want to have an impact on the process. As for Damien, he's just trying to stay relevant in an increasingly overpopulated community of professional and amateur hockey analysts, most of whom are smarter than he is.
Then there are those who want Balsillie to bring a team to Southern Ontario, but think he's going about it the wrong way. These people accuse him of acting like a spoiled brat who is too arrogant to play by the supposed rules of becoming an NHL owner; that he is merely banging his head against a brick wall in a stubborn attempt to knock it down; that he is simply rehashing his failed strategy to buy the Predators and that what he ought to be doing is trying to make nice with Bettman and the board.
What these people don't realize is that this latest move is not some mindless, whimsical attempt to nab a franchise while Bettman's back is turned; this is in fact a calculated play by both Balsillie and current Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes to handcuff Bettman by throwing the matter into the lap of a bankruptcy judge. And I must say, it is absolutely brilliant. Moyes is willing to play ball with Balsillie because unlike Craig Leopold, Bettman has nothing to offer him; there is no incentive for Moyes, a guy who just wants to get the hell out of the NHL, to heed the league's insistence that he not deal with Balsillie. Furthermore, any impartial judge would see that it makes perfect economic sense to sell a heavily indebted business to someone with deep pockets and a sound plan to turn the enterprise into a financial success and so would most certainly rule against the league. The only chance the league has is if they can convince the judge that Moyes's bankruptcy claim is illigitimate, and while I'm no expert, that seems to me like a longshot.
This could be a turning point in the history of the National Hockey League. Jim Balsillie is not just trying to buy a team and move it back to Canada; he is taking on an NHL establishment that virtually everyone agrees has lost its way but that nobody else seems willing to do anything about. It may offend some that he is an outsider trying to change something to which he does not belong and to do so on his terms, but the insiders have had more than enough time to act and have failed to do so. Let's hope Balsillie succeeds, for he is the only one that has shown the willingness to challenge Gary Bettman's tyrannical and destructive authority.