Even though The Voice is here at blogspot, as a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, I attempt to approach each article with an unbiased view. I am not a fan of the rumour mill and speculative blogs. However, once in a while, like everyone else I need to vent as a sports fan. This is one of those occasions... Today's posting is pure opinion - backed up by facts of course.
There is certainly a great debate on hockey in Canada with the events of the past few weeks involving Mr. Jim Balsillie's attempts to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes and move the team to Canada. I have not weighed in on the matter until now because until the bankruptcy hearing is resolved, it's all speculation and the story has been written to death by every reporter in the hockey world. I will make a few brief comments now though in an attempt to clear up a few items I believe have not been reported properly.
Who Owns this Team?
If the city of Glendale has not been receiving rent on their arena since August (as reported in the Arizona Republic), and the NHL claims to have taken over the team in November 2008; then the league is proving to be a bad tenant. If the NHL is the owner, then pay your bills like the rest of us! You cannot claim ownership and yet owe the city $2.5 million in rent. In a revenue driven league, why take hard earned league dollars to support this failing franchise? I realize Phoenix is important as one of the largest television markets in the United States but if the people there do not watch or like hockey, doesn't the argument that the league "needs" to be there defeat itself? Each year part of the players salaries are held back so that their income does not surpass a certain percentage of league revenues as negotiated in the post-lockout collective bargaining agreement. I am sure the NHLPA and their members would appreciate higher league revenues and having that money back in their wallets.
Buy a Team and Move it the "Right Way"
Those opposed to the Balsilie take-over bid are saying he should follow league rules and "do it the right way"; applying for relocation in a few years time. Well, he tried to do it the right way - twice! Gary Bettman came into Pittsburgh at the last minute after a deal was struck between Balsillie and the bankrupt Penguins and placed several conditions on the sale. One of which was that the team could not be moved. Fair enough - the Pens have a long and illustrious history as one of the original expansion teams in 1967 and have been Stanley Cup champions several times.
Next came Nashville, where Mr. Balsillie was again told there was no-way the league would vote in favour of relocation so basically, don't even bother trying. Bettman then found his Nashville saviour in William "Boots" Del Biaggio. Turns out "Boots" had falsified bank records, defrauding investors and banks of $110 million and he now faces six years in prison. "Boots" claims that the NHL did not investigate his finances before awarding him the team. Nashville has local ownership but remains one of the failing franchises in the NHL.
Milbury Makes Strange Claims on CBC
Which brings me to my last comment. On a recent Hockey Night in Canada telecast, former NHL General Manager Mike Milbury claimed that Mr. Balsillie and the "no good" Del Biaggio already tried to steal the Predators from Nashville. First, can someone please explain to me why Milbury is on the telecast talking over Ron MacLean, Al Strachan and Peirre LeBrun? Secondly, if you are on a national telecast, being paid in tax payer dollars, please do some research and have your facts straight. Del Biaggio was Bettman's choice over Mr. Balsillie in Nashville. Craig Leopold took less money from "Boots" at the urging of Commissioner Bettman. Del Biaggio by the way had the arena rights for Kansas City... Hmmm, Balsillie can't bring a financially crippled team to Canada but it is appropriate to sell the Predators to a man with eyes on Kansas City? Something smells fishy here... So, to sum up, Mr. Balsillie has tried to buy a team "the right way" twice. Only to have the door to the Commissioner's office slammed in his face (metaphorically speaking). Now he is doing it in a business way. Making a very lucrative offer to a bankrupt owner for a team that is worthless as long as it remains in its current market.
Make it Seven - Why not Make it Ten?
Now on to my original thought... If the make it seven campaign is not successful and the NHL and Commissioner Bettman keep this team in Phoenix, I suggest that the make it seven campaign becomes the make it ten campaign; as in, create ten new teams in a new league. I can see it now, teams in Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Quebec City, Halifax, Winnipeg, Regina and perhaps a team or two in B.C. or Alberta. Several teams in the AHL could move up; Hartford, Chicago, Worcester and Grand Rapids could all join in the fun of a new league. Mr. Balsillie already has corporate support for his new team, would support be there for a new league? Recent reports have indicated that the owner of the Russian Super League - the KHL is interested in a North American team. Would Alexander Medvedev be welcomed into the NHL as an owner after starting up the competing league in Russia and taking players like Jaromir Jagr across the pond and out of the NHL? Something tells me that as long as Bettman is in charge, the door will be closed to this billionaire as well.
NHL Needs a Wake-up Call
As a Canadian, hockey is in my blood. I could not stop watching it personally or professionally no matter how hard I tried. However, the constant rhetoric coming out of New York and the Commissioner's office is beginning to wear thin. Even in the midst of this current battle between the league and Mr. Balsillie, Bettman continues to say that the league has not looked into putting teams back into Canada. Really? Isn't that poor planning, or at the very least short-sighted? He also claimed repeatedly this season that the Coyotes were not in financial troubles. He has certainly been caught in that lie, the team is in Chapter 11. If they are not bankrupt as the league claims, losing $300 million will put them well on their way to Chapter 11 or worse. The games with the best television ratings are usually regional rivalries. Is a national television deal in the United States that important that the NHL is willing to seriously jeopardize all of its teams and alienate its only paying fan base - Canada? The price for season tickets in Tampa Bay will start at $1200 next year, a recent caller to the Fan 590 in Toronto spent $1200 on four tickets for one Maple Leafs game in December. She felt it was worth her entire Christmas bonus so that her two sons could experience a live NHL game.
Good luck Mr. Balsillie in your attempt to do what the NHL is unable or unwilling to do - bring a team back to Canada. Personally, I hope it is the first of many teams to return to the Canadian market but if the NHL continues to shut the door, I feel it is time for someone to take them on - head on. Perhaps Mr. Balsillie can team up with Mr. Medvedev and create a fresh, new environment for hockey fans that are growing tired of the same old song and dance coming out of New York. Have a great sports day everyone.