Jim Balsillie plays in the Champions Alumni Game at the 2008 IIHF World Championship in Quebec City. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)
Over the last little while, the NHL has accepted a guy who makes slasher movies and a former NHLer over Jim Balsillie. It enthusiastically took in William Del Biaggio over Jim Balsillie. It allowed Craig Leopold to divest himself of a money-losing franchise, only to land a lucrative one in Minnesota. And still Balsillie sits on the outside looking in.
Gee, you'd think a guy would be discouraged by this time. But not Balsillie. I visited the BlackBerry magnate at his offices in Waterloo, Ont., for an upcoming story in The Hockey News and came away with the distinct impression he isn't going anywhere when it comes to his pursuit of an NHL team.
“I would absolutely love it to happen and I hope it will happen and I want it to happen,” Balsillie said for a piece that will appear in the Dec. 29 issue of THN, “and I'm somebody who stays with things. I'm predictable and I'm consistent. I'm a passionate person, to the point of too much sometimes in some people's minds. It doesn't seem so to me, but I'm sure it is for some.”
With a number of teams in serious financial peril – no, we don't believe commissioner Gary Bettman when he says the league has 30 healthy franchises – there would be no shortage of money-losing hockey owners willing to sell to Balsillie. But the NHL, intent on preserving the Toronto Maple Leafs monopoly over southern Ontario, has so far kept Balsillie out of its ranks.
It stirs up some real frustration among Canadian hockey fans, but not with Balsillie. The 47-year-old billionaire actually can sympathize with Bettman, saying he has a very difficult job and is in a no-win situation when it comes to being criticized for almost everything he does.
In fact, Balsillie seems to have adopted a more patient approach to all of this. Even he probably knows that at some point, the NHL is going to have to do something about its money-bleeding franchises, a situation that looks as though it's going to get worse before it gets any better.
“I've been very candid that I'm a team player and I work within the NHL rules and I respect the leadership and I respect that it's a club and there are partners and you have to work with partners,” Balsillie said. “And I have a lot of success working with teams and partners and relationships for decades, so that's OK. I've also made it clear to the leadership that there's a desire and a commitment and a clear market opportunity to support a team if they choose to want to have one come here. There will be full community involvement and full resources. But it's a league prerogative. With Pittsburgh, I was committed to Pittsburgh. So it's really a league decision and if there's a fit with me, so be it. That would be great. If not, it wasn't meant to be.”
Something tells me that at some point, it's going to be meant to be. Canada, and particularly fans in southern Ontario, continue to wait and hope.
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