Group forgot NHL in expansion plans

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

It seems everybody with a pulse these days has plans for another National Hockey League team in Toronto.

It is, for the record, getting a bit silly out there.

Today, a group of investors will announce plans to bid for an expansion franchise for Toronto for the 2012 hockey season. All that is nice, but it would have been much nicer had the group bothered to contact the NHL first.

That might have bought them some credibility. But in these Jim Balsillie make-some-noise times -- and never mind the rules -- why bother with credibility when public relations and chest-thumping rules the day.

You would think people would learn by now: If you want to play in the NHL, you have to play nice with the NHL. That isn't so hard. That isn't so complicated.

If you want an expansion franchise, even if the league hasn't announced any plans at all to expand, the least you should do is meet with commissioner Gary Bettman or his right arm, Bill Daly, and inform them of your plans.

"We are not aware of the group or their interest," Daly said yesterday. "As far as I know, they've never contacted us."

And had they contacted the league, he would know.

The NHL is a funny bunch. They don't care much for surprises. Bettman was probably the kind of kid who hated surprise parties. As an adult, what he hates more is being ambushed.

You may not like Bettman, but you have to respect him or at least respect how he wants his business done. And you have to respect the timing of conducting that business, and with today's announcement, all that renders this group irrelevant before they even begin.

Somebody named Paul Pellegrini, from something called Sussex Strategy Government Relations is involved. Somebody named Andrew Lopez from something called the Toronto Legacy Group is involved. That's fine. But we question their strategy and wonder what kind of legacy they will leave when they don't have the good sense to make their announcement after the Stanley Cup final is over.

There are many ways to anger Bettman. One, like in this case, is to surprise him. Two, is to make him answer questions that he has no answer for. Three, is to take the spotlight away from his precious playoffs.

So clearly, whomever is providing advice for this band of investors and their apparent $1 billion, with money going to charity and some kind of involvement with Herb Carnegie, whom everybody is fond of, isn't providing advice that's worth a damn.

If anything can be learned from Balsillie's three at-bats with the NHL it's that they don't play by other people's rules. It's their game. You have to be a team player, not an individual (wonder what Bettman would have done with Harold Ballard?).

ENORMOUS LONG SHOT

And, of course, should Balsillie somehow win in a Phoenix court room on Tuesday and be granted both ownership and ability to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, this billion-dollar bunch disappears. But that remains an enormous long shot.

The only good to come out of any of this is what Balsillie already has planted and this group is taking advantage of. There is need and want for more NHL hockey in Southern Ontario. If the NHL wasn't aware of that prior to Balsillie's campaign, they certainly are now. If they weren't considering expansion to this market, they will now.

This is an issue that isn't about to go away, even if announcements like the one made today are certain to disappear quietly.

This is where the hockey fan is most passionate. This is where everything hockey matters. This is where Colorado hires a general manager no one has ever heard of and it dominates talk radio all day long.

That said, I'm hoping at least the food is memorable at the Rosewater Supper Club for this morning's announcement. The announcements, as real as they think they are, will soon be forgotten.


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