Here's the last AA for 2006. I'll be back with another Jan. 12th, so keep your questions coming over the holidays. A safe and happy festive season to everyone who's written in or read the column this year. (If you haven't, you're on your own.)
The last couple days have not been good for Pittsburgh Penguins fans like myself. Since the casino deal didn't go their way, is it a fait accompli the team will be leaving? Damn, it's depressing just talking about it.
William Loney, Medford, Mass.
If you think just talking about the Pens leaving Pittsburgh is a downer, wait until the move actually happens.
Nothing is set in stone, of course (and count my colleague Ken Campbell as one who believes they'll stay), but there's little doubt the NHL expects the team to relocate. As a matter of fact, league brass have expected such a result for weeks, as indicated by the stipulation bombs Â– which, according to numerous reports, centered around keeping the team in Steeltown until 2013 Â– they dropped last-minute-style on former owner-in-waiting Jim Balsillie.
On the surface, it would seem the NHL is in favor of the Pens sticking around. The truth is, the league could care less where an owner gets his 46 per cent of total revenues Â– so long as it isn't in Canada.
With apologies to Pittsburgh fans, that is the equally important (and for Canadians, equally depressing) story to arise from the Pens' non-sale. Though he'd never cop to it, commissioner Gary Bettman's actions have make it clear he and the owners would rather appoint Bob Goodenow as the league's social convener and vice-president of diplomacy than move a team north of the U.S. border.
As Eric Duhatschek pointed out in Thursday's Globe And Mail, the league hasn't the slightest interest in shrinking its U.S. footprint. And if Madison Avenue's cadre of advertisers yawn at the league and its pitiful American TV ratings now, how do you think they'll react at the sight of young phenom Sidney Crosby skating around in a Kitchener-Waterloo Something-or-Others jersey?
Not well. To put it mildly.
Hence, Bettman's subterranean crusade against a seventh Canadian franchise. The only folks who would benefit from one of those things are people who grew up with the game, and they aren't nearly as attractive a business opportunity as a U.S. group that (a) already has built a brand new facility that awaits an anchor tenant; and (b) has been lobbying for an NHL team for years.
The Kansas City group, in other words.
It was no coincidence Bettman and Lemieux used such strong, aggressive language after the Isle of Capri's bid was rejected. Sure, they're both in businessman mode, but they're also fed up with the situation Â– and the knowledge that the longer the ownership soap opera continues, the more it adversely affects Crosby's marketability. (It's difficult to build a brand around a player when there are constant questions surrounding the team he plays for.)
Kansas City makes perfect sense for Lemieux and the Penguins. There are no legal challenges to worry about there, no building still to build, no lack of political will and enthusiasm for their potential arrival. Houston and, to a much lesser degree, Las Vegas, are other options, but Winnipeggers and Quebec City-zens and Kitchenerites should not get their hopes up.
Sorry, William, got off on a wee bit of a tangent there. In any case, Pittsburgh's civic and Pennsylvania state officials are going to have to bend over backwards to retain them. At this stage in the game, I'd guesstimate the odds of the Pens packing up at 65-35 in favor.
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