Now that the throat has been cleared of snarky phlegm, there is a historical precedent people should think about amid the legal hockey tape holding together the remnants of the Coyotes franchise. If applied, it could represent a win-win for both Emperor Gary and BlackBerry boy. Balsillie would get a hockey team. Bettman would have so much hand that it would be coming out of his gloves!
The precedent involves a U.S. city which just lost a major pro sports team — Seattle — and a team located in Southern Ontario.
Of course, this is just one ass-talker's personal theory, not to be taken literally. It derives from:
- A desire to see a second NHL team in Southern Ontario, although its catchment area is very vague;
- Animus/grudging admiration for Gary Bettman;
- A knowledge of the legal pinholes Jim Balsillie must pass through to enter the kingdom of hoser heaven, owning a NHL team.
The Toronto Blue Jays also came into being during that round of expansion, since a baseball league requires an even number of teams. For those who don't remember or find this as dry as a great-uncle's funeral, shortly before that time Labatt's had almost succeeded in purchasing the San Francisco Giants and moving them to Toronto. An 11th-hour effort by business and political leaders in San Fran, including late Mayor George Moscone, kept the Giants from moving.
The thought of three levels of government, the city of Hamilton, the province of Ontario and the government of Canada, suing the NHL might be a little far-fetched, even if Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a professed hockey nut who's not above being litigious. We're probably too docile to take that step.
All three levels of government certainly have self-interest. The city council wants to revitalize the rapidly deteriorating downtown core in the Hammer. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government, as others have already noted, would like to take back some once solidly-red ridings in the 905 area code that have gone NDP in the biggest union town in Canada. Attaching a hockey team to any big federal-provincial infrastructure project, such as the expanded light-rail system Southern Ontario is begging for, would make it an easier sell. (As an aside, you do realize that by 2025, you're going to be nostalgic for the days when gas for your car was only $1.30 a litre?)
There is a scenario which could come into play as this winds it way through the court system. The NHL, as baseball did, could turn around and offer Balsillie an expansion team. It would be a face-save and a sop to Canadian patriotism, plus it is probably inevitable that the NHL will have to put a second team in the Toronto area, since it is one of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in North America and the largest where hockey is a major sport (where it ranks in size is debatable, see the comments from Jason Cormier). Two of the larger three, New York and L.A., have more than one hockey team. Chicago also has a thriving AHL franchise.
It would allow both to get what they want. Balsillie gets a team, albeit an expansion outfit instead of the Coyotes, who are presently a good young team that's close to being a contender. He gets time to build an arena that is more accessible to fans in the Kitchener-Waterloo region and in Toronto. This addresses any concern about a team playing out of Copps Coliseum siphoning off ticket buyers from the Buffalo Sabres, who always seem to have one skate on the banana peel which is Western New York's economy:
"The Sabres are always in a very precarious financial position, given Buffalo's shrinking size and awful economy. The Sabres (company name Niagara Frontier Hockey, L.P.) depend on the roughly 15 percent of their business that comes from the Niagara Peninsula, all the way up the Golden Horseshoe to Hamilton. Never mind that after almost 40 years most of the Canadians who attend Sabres games do not root for Buffalo; the main thing is that they’re helping to fill the HSBC Arena."Meantime, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly will still have "hand," to borrow George Costanza's term, in the relationship. It reduces the possibility of Bettman having to present the Stanley Cup to one of Balsillie's employees in the near future.
— Jeff Z. Klein, The New York Times
Bettman, et al., certainly want to expand the NHL from 30 to 32 teams, even during a recession.
The Hollywood producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, a noted "celebrity puckhead," (From The Rink) is apparently interested in owning a team in Las Vegas (David Shoalts, globesports.com). Please also keep in mind that another fish Bettman would like to fry is to provide a tenant for the Sprint Center in Kansas City, which is operated by L.A. Kings owner Phillip Anschutz's company.
It could become a three-minus-one: The NHL adds Kansas City, Las Vegas and thethe Golden Horseshoe Hammerheads, while subtracting Phoenix. It could also be four-minus-two, if the Sabres' situation in Western New York becomes untenable if the local economy continues to crater; relocation to a more western city such as Winnipeg or Seattle could be on the table. (Klein, a Sabres fan, makes a good point that people should stand up to defend "a true hockey city" such as Buffalo, but he lays on a little thick by pointing out that many hockey people make their home there. They moved to avoid paying Canadian taxes.)
No one knows how an Arizona bankruptcy court might mind. The best we get before Tuesday is an educated guess. However, people should at least be open to the scenario where Balsillie gets his team through expansion, although this would be a few years down the road, so try not take it too literally.
A 32-team NHL with four divisions even works out in terms of scheduling. Each team plays six games vs. each divisional foe (42 games), three vs. inter-divisional opponents (24 games) and one against each inter-conference team (16 games) to make up an 82-game schedule. For argument's sake, here are possible alignments that try to maintain existing rivalries:
- Adams Division: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton
- Patrick Division: Atlanta, Carolina, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Washington
- Norris Division: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City
- Smythe Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver, Las Vegas
Anyway, this is not a prediction on how it might shake out, but an acknowledgement of a possible compromise. Balsillie is not going to give up. Bettman, like one of those Southern expansion teams playing the neutral zone trap back in the '90s, could just be trying to prolong the inevitable.
It's better to look at this way than to jump to conclusions about what a paid liar like Bettman says in a court filing. Sure, he might prefer the Phoenix Coyotes to move to Winnipeg instead of Southern Ontario. Taken another way, that could be on par with a man saying he'd rather be kicked in the rear end than in the groin.