SUN Hockey Pool

Think regional, instead

The Leafs could one day be part of a tandem of Southern Ontario teams. (Sun Media/Greg Henkenhaf)

The Leafs could one day be part of a tandem of Southern Ontario teams. (Sun Media/Greg Henkenhaf)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

The e-mails arrived about two hours apart.

Their respective messages? Worlds apart.

The subject matter in question revolved around the potential of a second NHL team in Toronto, a concept that reportedly has been discussed, informally, by a handful of league governors.

Let the debate begin.

First came the following text mid-afternoon from one league executive.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," he said. "It has come up in casual conversation amongst governors. It makes sense. New York supports two or three teams."

Fair enough.

Come early evening, another NHL exec offered his two cents, albeit with a far different tone from the first.

"It's a crock," he said.

So, who to believe?

Let's try to separate fact from fiction here.

Fact: The subject never has been formally discussed at a board of governors meeting, nor is it on the agenda for the next one.

Fact: Despite claims to the contrary, the idea has indeed been kicked around in everyday conversation, including behind closed doors at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

Fact: Anyone who actually thinks Blackberry magnate Jim Balsillie would consider owning a team that might be a second tenant to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, a building operated by MLSEL, well, stop sniffing glue.

Sooner or later, the NHL likely will not have a choice but to accept Balsillie's big bucks. There simply are too many U.S.-based teams struggling to make ends meet within the awful American economy. So much so, that speculation already has popped up suggesting some of those clubs might have problems meeting payroll at some point if things don't get better.

But while he and his spokesman, lawyer Richard Rodier, are keeping quiet about any and all things that involve his never-ending pursuit of an NHL franchise, count on Balsillie constructing his own building before ever permanently moving into the ACC.

The apple of Balsillie's eye always has been Hamilton, a location which some NHL sources claim will never land a team because no one in Chicago, Boston or New York would consider Steeltown a draw. That's a crock.

You don't hear many casual NBA fans in Manhattan saying: "Honey, Sacramento is in town -- we have to go."

Southern Ontario deserves another team. People care here. A lot. So, build a rink in Vaughn or Cambridge and call the team the Ontario Blackberries.

The idea of bringing another NHL entry into the Golden Horseshoe has been a hot topic for a while now.

DON'T GO THERE

A month ago, Wayne Gretzky, addressing a business gathering in Toronto, stated he could see the day when another NHL team came to southern Ontario. Asked yesterday about this recent buzz, Gretzky said he didn't want to go there -- referring to the topic, not the city.

Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes are among a handful of Sun Belt teams that might be in dire straits if the market continues to go down the toilet, joining the likes of the Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers.

If a team does come to southern Ontario, the logical road, then, would be via relocation. Adding an expansion team to a league where some of the aforementioned teams don't have their own houses in order would be, well, silly.

MLSEL, meanwhile, is being coy. Instead of dismissing the concept, a statement released by president Richard Peddie said that the corporation would "analyze the recommendation and provide its input" whenever relocation or expansion is tabled by the Board of Governors.

Just know this: Whether it be from a second tenant or from another team moving into the area, MLSEL would demand huge bucks along with other fringe benefits such as, say, airing the new team's games on Leafs TV.

We can hear the cash registers ringing now.

Balsillie aside, don't count out another party attempting to buy a team and put it here. Remember the report a year ago that said Russian moneybags Alex Shnaider wanted to buy the Leafs?

Then there are the poor Buffalo Sabres, who claim about 20% of their crowds on a normal game night come from Canada "although that goes up to 40-45% for certain games like the Leafs." Obviously a second team in southern Ontario would chew into their marketplace.

Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn cautions that pulling the plug on a struggling U.S. team and relocating it would be jumping the gun.

"We were in trouble ourselves not that long ago and we rebounded," Quinn said yesterday. "You don't want to close the door on any options and give up on a team."

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REPLAY

TURNING POINT

After the Maple Leafs tied the game late in the third and overtime settled nothing, Curtis Joseph replaced starting goalie Vesa Toskala -- 0-for-2 in shootouts this season -- for the deciding showdown and looked weak in allowing two goals on two shots to give the Ducks the win and the extra point.

JUGGLING LINES

Toronto coach Ron Wilson broke up his lines early and put together a combination featuring Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan. That combination instantly clicked, resulting in a goal in the second period and numerous other chances and was responsible for the tying goal that sent the game into overtime. Antropov started the game with Jason Blake and rookie John Mitchell.

ROBBED

The Leafs went on a two-man power play for 32 seconds early in the third, but couldn't muster a goal. Antropov let go a one-timer at an open net, but was robbed by Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Nik Antropov 2 0 2

Alexei Ponikarovsky 0 2 2

Mike Van Ryn 0 1 1

Pavel Kubina 0 1 1

Ducks leaders

George Parros 1 0 1

Francois Beauchemin 1 0 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- 7 p.m.; Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins; TSN, AM 640


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