It seems simple enough—a struggling professional franchise, having exhausted all options in its present location, preparing to move to another city. It is not an unusual circumstance—there have been a number of organizations that have moved in the past. But if it is as simple as Atlanta picking up and moving to Winnipeg why was it so difficult for Jim Balsillie to put a team in Hamilton?
Since we are dealing with simplicity the simple answer is this—the league, despite all protestations to the contrary—has an agreement in place with the Toronto Maple Leafs to not place a team within its area. How else to explain a move to a small city like Winnipeg when the population that lives in the region between Niagara and Toronto is much, much greater? And anyone in the know has stated that Toronto (a city that claims to be the center of the hockey universe but barely has one NHL club) could easily house two NHL teams.
Now there are other factors that kept Balsillie from placing a team in Hamilton—most notably Balsillie’s aggressive nature that consistently irritated the NHL board of governors and, more specifically, the dictator-like commissioner (then again aren’t all the professional sports commissioners acting like they are in charge of a totalitarian state). But when dealing with, multi-millionaires—and often multi-billionaires—isn’t aggressiveness a standard business practice?
When did these multi-millionaires get so sensitive?
So Balsillie tried doing it the NHL’s way when in the midst of purchasing the Pittsburgh Penguins but was shut down when he informed the league that he wanted to move the team to Hamilton. The league demanded that the team stay in the Steel city.
Balsillie then tried going in the side door in an attempt to purchase the Nashville Predators but was turned aside by turncoat Nashville owner Craig Leipold who was initially eager to take Balsillie’s money but then, after conversations with Bettman and the governors, became a Balsillie basher.
Balsillie’s third, and seemingly final, endeavour to purchase a club came when he wanted to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and took the NHL to court in an attempt to sue his way into the league. But his back door attempt failed as the NHL managed to sway the court their way.
The league was right in keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh, is looking like they made the right decision with Nashville (though that story is far from over) and was dreadfully wrong in keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix. The league is now trying to keep the team in the Arizona desert simply to save face in the Balsillie saga—they don’t want to look like they made the wrong decision.
So why is it so easy for Atlanta to pick up and move when the transfers of Pittsburgh, Nashville and Phoenix were quickly blocked? Simply–they aren’t moving into Maple Leaf territory.
Atlanta would not be able to move to Hamilton—especially if Balsillie was anywhere in the vicinity.
Now Balsillie was more than willing to pay the necessary fees to the Leafs and the Sabres upon the infringement of their territory but the league insisted that it wasn’t so much in fear of losing the Leafs as much as they feared the affect it would have on Buffalo. Of course this is simply a transparent excuse and quite an indictment on the people of Buffalo and its surrounding areas. There was no such concern for the Rangers and the Islanders when the Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982.
So where did this non-agreed agreement come from? When the lockout was in its infancy in 2004 the big teams of the league—the Flyers, Rangers, Black Hawks, Red Wings, Leafs etc—expressed concern about the loss of revenue. Bettman assuaged their anxieties with assertions that the desired salary cap would create even more revenue. For the Leafs—the organization with the highest revenue—the league quietly assured the club that they would quash any desire a team had to move into such an underexploited area. The Leafs wanted it all for themselves. The league needed the support of the Leafs and agreed.
As such any owner who wishes to enter this hockey mad area will find a brick wall of opposition. But even though the American owners are not happy at the thought of Winnipeg returning to their league—there is no interest, or knowledge, of the Canadian city among the American fan base—they are willing to accept the move. Better to have a successful franchise in a Canadian city rather than a floundering one in an American city.
After all they can’t, and won’t, financially support any more impoverished clubs.
And there aren’t any more paper millionaires on the verge of jail time (Boots Del Biaggio) around.
…There is still too wide of a margin in their play for the Toronto Blue Jays to seriously consider them a contender. They can look like world beaters in sweeping the struggling Minnesota Twins but can also look lethargic in losing to the struggling Houston Astros. Until they develop some consistency in their performance they will continue to hover around the .500 mark in a division that is crying out for a club to get hot and take control.
…Only when the NHL decrees that any hit to the head results in a penalty and immediate expulsion from the game will it finally get control of the swarm of concussions that is affecting the game. Trying to keep the aggressiveness in its game is a nice objective but if their prominent players are in sitting in the box seats then their game will never grow.
…Yes, the Miami Heat are a team that is either loved or hated. Consider me part of the hated group. I hate artificially created clubs.