Jim Balsillie thought he had a deal to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in October of 2006. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
All right, I’ll say it. Jim Balsillie is the perfect NHL owner; a hockey-fanatic billionaire.
And I’d love to see another Canadian NHL team, especially in the under-served southern Ontario market. But I’m sick of Balsillie’s act.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NHL ownership is a country club; hopeful members must apply and be invited to join. Balsillie has tried to force his way in through the side door with the Coyotes and attempted to turn the whole affair into a Canada vs. the U.S. deal, after making no friends by selling season tickets to the Hamilton Predators a couple years back, before even coming close to purchasing that team.
The saga is not entirely Balsillie’s fault; surely the league has to take some of the blame, what with the way it reacted to initial reports of problems in the desert and even the way it continues to conduct its business concerning the team. (On Sunday, the league essentially submarined the very idea of a viable Phoenix franchise by saying in regards to a relocation fee, “the notion that a team in Hamilton would be worth only $11.2 million to $12.9 million more than a team in Phoenix is patently absurd.”)
Balsillie’s means to his desired end have done nothing but tarnish the reputation of the NHL – my NHL, your NHL, every hockey fan’s NHL. And for that I have not even a modicum of sympathy for the RIM magnate.
The latest maneuver in his ill-conceived stab at gaining control of the Coyotes is to essentially pay off the city of Glendale. Balsillie’s lawyers admit Glendale will suffer “significant damages” if the Coyotes leave town, but hope the short-term gain of $40-50 million will assuage the city enough to get it on Balsillie’s side, along with current Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes.
No matter how many ducks Balsillie manages to get in a row, does any reasonable person believe any entity other than the NHL should be able to control where the league’s teams play? No other franchise-based business – McDonald’s, Home Depot, whatever – allows rogue owners to put restaurants or stores wherever they please – and especially not within direct-competition range of current franchises.
Balsillie’s antics – and that’s really the best word I have for them – while trying to gain control of the Coyotes likely have burned too many NHL bridges now to ever allow him membership. But if there is any hope he can be granted control of a franchise, I hope he changes tactics.
If Balsillie dropped his pursuit of the Coyotes, privately apologized to the league, the board of governors and all of the other owners – especially Eugene Melnyk – for his machinations, maybe when the NHL seriously considers expanding or moving another team to Hamilton, Toronto or wherever in Ontario, he’ll be allowed to put forth a bid.
Maybe if he stays quiet when this is all said and done and doesn’t set his sights on whichever economically-challenged franchise next comes down the pipe – Tampa, the Islanders, Atlanta (if that ownership mess is ever solved) – with his I’m-a-billionaire-and-can-do-whatever-I-want attitude, he’ll actually be handed a team; treated as a savior, even.
Maybe. Not likely, but maybe.
Most importantly, let’s all hope however the Phoenix situation is resolved, it ends quickly. What we don’t want is for this to drag on into the season any more than it already will.
Lets just get back to playing hockey, already.
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