Wednesday, May 6, 2009


It's not about a hockey team, but more of a battle between two stubborn powerful egos.
And while it's easy to pick a horse in this race, it's likely that the previous trend will continue.
Ontario -- whether it's Hamilton, Waterloo or Orangeville -- is not the real battleground. It's in the board room of the NHL, where Blackberry's Jim Balsillie is aggressively trying to get his way on the third try.
Although expansion-loving and game-wrecker Gary Bettman should be on thin ice with his bosses, the owners of the 29 other NHL teams, he has been very successful in the past on keeping them on message.
Bettman pulled the rug out on Balsillie when he thought he had a deal for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The NHL commish then deked out the RIM CEO on a purchase agreement for the Nashville Predators, instead prefering to invite future jailbird named 'Boots' Del Biaggio III. Another Bettman protege, Anaheim's Henry Samueli, is currently on probation and wearing a criminal record after pleading guilty to charges of financial wrongdoing.
The roof is falling in on the Coyotes, who were busy denying just a week ago that the NHL had taken over daily operation. The current owner has been seeking an buyer or deep-pocketed partner for a couple of years now with no luck. While the rumours are out there that Russian billionaire Alexander Medvedev, who owns that thorn-in-the-NHL-side Continental Hockey League, is ready to buy a North American team, another story has Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf as being a more NHL-friendly option for Phoenix.
But why the hate on for Balsillie? He has the money and the interest -- two very critical and currently hard-to-find assets in the current economic climate. Under Bettman's watch, NHL owners will continue to carry the burden, even if a miracle new owner steps forward, for low expectations and lower fiscal returns on the dying Phoenix. Never mind the messes that are Atlanta, Long Island, Nashville, Tampa Bay and Florida. The southern markets in general are sucking badly on the league revenues, while Canada continues to be the wind in the NHL sails.
Is it that Bettman has another plan for southern Ontario, which doesn't involve a headache named Balsillie?
While he had no problem shipping 'ready-made' playoff contenders from the northern hinterlands of Winnipeg and Quebec City to Arizona and Colorado, respectively (with the Denver team winning the Stanley Cup in their first year away from La Belle province), it appears he only wants Canadian hockey fans to take the dregs, while the NHL owners pick up the rewards.
An expansion team in a league of 28 or 30 teams won't be blessed with talent, and even under the most generous player dispersal, will be a dog to watch. For years. But Bettman knows Canadians will eat it up, while the other NHL owners will each rake in a pretty expansion-team penny.
While I don't give Balsillie a snowball's chance in Dallas of winning this, I'm thinking he'll settle to see the NHL owners turn on their own employee. Bettman's reign is due to end sooner than later, and this may be the final straw. For Canadian puck fans, Bettman's end can't come soon enough.

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