The entry draft was a day away, yet the main topic of conversation among many in the hockey world was the soon-to-be sold Nashville Predators Â– and the fascinating sidebar stories that have arisen since Jim Balsillie began silently storming the NHL's gate.
I had a number of column topics to choose from this week. I could've gone with the continued bumblings and stumblings of the Boston Bruins Â– 16 coaches in the last 30 years, if anybody in Beantown is still counting Â– or with Mike Keenan's continued ability to rise from the coaching dead and supplant more deserving coaches in the minor leagues.
I also could've expanded upon the idea that the NHL Awards should be moved from the end of the post-season to just prior to the pre-season, guaranteeing attendance from all nominated players. But really, Balsillie's pursuit of the Preds has got it over every other tale that's out there.
It's the story of the hunter and hunted, of the stereotypical mega-rich owner nakedly intending to move his newly-purchased team out of town, of the prodigal son repatriating a gift all his fellow countrymen could revel in, of one big-minded billionaire squaring off against a handful of small-minded multi-millionaires.
Indeed (and with no disrespect intended to the Blackberry magnate), the way Balsillie is making himself known in NHL circles reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield brazenly barging his way through Caddyshack, asking haughty upper-crusters which one of them stepped on a duck and whether one particular socialite wanted to Â“make 14 bucks the hard way.Â”
Of course, Balsillie is nowhere close to as crude as Dangerfield's Al Czervik character. But the two clearly share a passion for sport, as well as the understanding of how an endless supply of money helps a rich man indulge his passion. And they both bring with them the effect of a cool breeze to a room full of sweaty, starched shirts.
The intrigue doesn't stop with Balsillie. For instance, where does the monolith that is the Toronto Maple Leafs stand in all of this? Wouldn't it be nice if they came out and publicly supported a team in Hamilton, rather than standing by silently and praying Balsillie's bid dies on the vine?
Wouldn't it be surprising if they understood how public support would actually help bolster their brand Â– so long as their team was competitive, of course Â– in the long run? Can't they and the league look at the example provided by the history of the Islanders/Rangers rivalry and agree that two teams in Southern Ontario would only ratchet up revenues? Doesn't the NHL have the basest sense of ideal business practices?
Apparently, it doesn't. Why else, short of mass accidental psychotropic drug use, would the Board of Governors elect Jeremy Jacobs as their new chairman Wednesday? Have any of the people the owners pay to live in the real world bothered to interrupt their tee/tea times and inform them of the condition the Bruins are in? Can there be a rational explanation why they've turned over the league's reins to a guy who couldn't market contraception to the Pussycat Dolls?
What's truly amazing about this story is that nobody doubts a third Ontario team wouldn't be anything other than a license to print money. Even Wayne Gretzky spoke out on Wednesday, telling TSN that another Southern Ontario franchise Â“Â…would be tremendously successful Â– we all know that.Â”
If we all know that, then what the hell are we all waiting for? In the wake of a year filled with dismal TV ratings, abysmal optics and the specter of expansion, the NHL needs a sure thing in the worst way. The league needs guaranteed good news more than Clay Aiken needs a beard Â– okay, two beards Â– but the fact it holds Balsillie at bay while embracing Jacobs confirms just how popular (and, coincidentally enough, cheaper) the status quo continues to be.
Thanks to their stalling and quiet brinkmanship approach to Balsillie, Gary Bettman and the owners who employ him have once again revealed themselves as nothing more than a small clone army of Ted Knight's Judge Smails character from Caddyshack Â– petty, spiteful provincialists in desperate need of a wedgie.
I, for one, hope Balsillie pulls on their collective gitch with everything he's got.
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