SUN Hockey Pool

Another team in T.O.? Yeah, right

GARY LOEWEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Put the fantasy on ice, it's a frozen pipe-dream.

Toronto won't be getting an NHL franchise this week or next year.

Afraid you're stuck with the Leafs, my friends.

We have to give Jim Balsillie credit for his dogged pursuit of another Ontario franchise and some day the NHL may give him a chance to establish the Hamilton, or Waterloo or North Toronto Blackberries. Certainly, the fan base exists to fill another NHL arena.

NHL governors, a newspaper report said yesterday, are talking informally of placing a second team in Toronto.

The governors, we have learned, also have talked informally about where to play some golf during their next round of board meetings.

Two years ago, Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion Ltd., the maker of the Blackberry, tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins but withdrew his offer in December 2006 when commissioner Gary Bettman declared an intent to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

ON THE VERGE

In May 2007, Balsillie was on the verge a deal to buy the Nashville Predators, but his stated intention of moving the team to Hamilton was an obstacle to finalizing the deal.

Numerous governors were said to be peeved with Balsillie because it is in the jurisdiction of the league, not the individual, to relocate a franchise.

One of the new suggestions is that Balsillie be awarded an NHL expansion franchise in Toronto.

Bettman said 10 days ago that the NHL hasn't been adversely affected by the North American economic downturn, that it is still in "growth mode" and that there are no teams looking to relocate.

And Bettman said last month that expansion was not on the NHL's agenda.

So one thing is for sure: Brian Burke won't have his choice of two Toronto teams to join next season as a general manager.

As for Balsillie, members of his camp aren't commenting on the latest speculation or about the prospects of him becoming an NHL owner.

His most promising entry point might still be with the Predators, but as a part-owner, bailing the NHL out of the Boots Del Biaggio mess. Del Biaggio apparently bought a chunk of the Preds with other people's money and filed for bankruptcy protection this summer.

Balsillie wouldn't have control of the Predators and wouldn't be able to move them without NHL approval down the road. But it would be a foot in the door.

In his previous dealings with the NHL, the scuttlebutt was that Balsillie was too strong-willed to sit in Bettman's court.

If, indeed, some governors are coming around to accepting Balsillie as a partner, that's a good thing.

Balsillie twice has tried to become a member of this club, so it stands to reason that he would be an upstanding governor. He likes hockey, he has money and if he were to come into the league with some strong opinions, that would be a good thing -- the NHL could use that at the top.

The topic of another team coming to southern Ontario is raised almost annually. Dating back to 1993, Hamilton alone has been in line for the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, an expansion team headed by Ron Joyce in 1990 -- Hamilton truly got the shaft on that one -- Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues, Penguins and Predators.

Is it any different now? The timing seems odd, unless we're hearing from jittery U.S. owners keen on unloading their investment on a guy who has indicated a willingness to pay top dollar. Financial markets are in the tank -- even Blackberry-buoyed RIM isn't immune -- and gaining corporate support and selling private boxes for a new team would be a massive chore.

Still, Hamilton, or another southern Ontario centre, would seem better suited for a franchise than a second one for Toronto's Leafs-or-nothing fans.

The further from the city, the more Leafs mania gets filtered and the greater the acceptance for a new team.

Certainly, we could use a second franchise here. Maybe in the post-Bettman era.


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