It's All Over For Jim Balsillie

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIJune 18, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 05:  Jim Balsillie Chairman and Co-CEO of Research In Motion and new owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins poses with his Blackberry in a press conference announcing the purchase of the team after the first period at Mellon Arena on October 5, 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Sadly, Jim Balsillie should stop trying to ram his head through a brick wall.  This time the NHL didn't say no, it said never.  If the NHL won't accept Balsillie's money this time then it never will because there won't be a worse mess than Phoenix that will arise.

There is no point of him trying to "negotiate" with the league to get the Coyotes, because any "negotiation" will be nothing more than a sham.  Nor should he try for another failed franchise because the same thing will happen.

And now he can't even "come through the front door" and get an expansion franchise.  If the NHL sees his name on any bid for a team, even if he is not the front man, they will automatically reject that bid because his tactics were so odious to them.

The NHL was right to reject Balsillie for two reasons.  He acted like a pushy house buyer who embarrassed the league when he couldn't buy Pittsburgh, and his attempt to get the Coyotes threatened the framework of the NHL's constitution.  Also, no league likes to have its franchises shifted and Hamilton would have gained its team at the expense of the Phoenix fans, however few there are.

When Gary Bettman puts his defense of the league's constitution as the reason to reject Balsillie, you can't argue with him.  So Balsillie should stop wasting his time and money with this lot and forget them.

If he wants to be a Canadian sports patriot, the only thing left to him is to become the owner of a 10th CFL team.  That league will not reject his money.

I use the word "sadly" above because everyone knew this was going to happen, and Hamilton, which deserves a franchise, is being treated shamefully by the NHL again.

While Bettman and the NHL were right to reject Balsillie for the above reasons, the whole Balsillie episode from Pittsburgh through Nashville to Phoenix shows how little the NHL values its Canadian markets, which Canadian fans should be rightly alarmed about.

To begin with, Balsillie was defeated by the usual gang which I talked about in my five articles about the history of NHL expansion to Canada.

There were the six Canadian owners, who, like their predecessors in the past, such as Harold Ballard and ex-Canadian, Jack Kent Cooke (who went to my high school), don't want to share their Canadian TV money or their markets with another Canadian team.

They were joined by the American commissioner and American owners who want to make hockey an American "national game" and view any new Canadian franchise as a threat to that goal.

While Balsillie's tactics to try to embarrass the league merit rejection, what is also revealing is that the NHL made no attempt to find any compromises.

After his attempt to buy Pittsburgh failed, the NHL could have promised Balsillie an expansion team or the chance to buy and move another team if a similar situation arose.  With these assurances, the Nashville and Phoenix situations would not have arisen.

But the NHL looks down on Canadian markets.  Their defense of Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Phoenix stands in contrast to how much they defended Winnipeg and Quebec.  There were no all-out attempts to find new investors and get new arenas built when those franchises were threatened.

Their position is clear.  They would rather continue to lose money in an American market that has yet to make one dollar since it arrived than accept an almost guaranteed money-making Canadian one.

The Phoenix franchise is in dire straits.  They have a bad lease, a bad team that got rid of all its top players in a fire sale at the trade deadline, and few fans.  Why would anyone want to invest in such a market?  The last owner lost $300 million.

The defense of Phoenix only emphasizes how much the NHL is spiritually alienated from Canada.

It was written in the Toronto Sun that the only good thing about this episode was that the NHL finally knows how much southern Ontario wants another team.

I say two things:  First, Copps Coliseum was built nearly 30 years ago with the avowed aim of getting an NHL franchise.  If building a proper NHL-size arena didn't make the league aware that Hamilton wanted a franchise, nothing will.  If you watch the last game of the 1987 Canada Cup, you'll see several signs asking for an NHL team.

Second, even if they are now "aware" of southern Ontario, the NHL will continue to belittle the market.  They'll set up barriers like "territorial rights" to protect "threatened" franchises like Toronto and Buffalo.

And when expansion is announced, the NHL will prefer other "non-traditional" hockey markets like Houston, Las Vegas, San Diego, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, etc.

It was that kind of thinking that gave rise to Phoenix, Nashville, Atlanta, Florida, etc.

And Canadian saviours like Balsillie are told to ride off into the sunset.


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