Another team in Canada a good thing

JORDAN HEATH-RAWLINGS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

What's the best thing about Jim Balsillie buying the Nashville Predators and possibly moving them to Hamilton or the Kitchener-Waterloo area?

Well, hockey fans in Toronto might not have to drive to Buffalo to watch an NHL-calibre team.

All joking aside, rumours that hint at another team possibly playing in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe area can only be a good thing for the sputtering Maple Leafs and their all-too-loyal fans.

Competition brings out the best in anyone -- witness the effect the Battle of Alberta has on keeping the Flames and Oilers competitive -- but the Leafs have had decades of no-contest dominance in the Toronto sports market.

If Balsillie, CEO of Research and Motion, which has its headquarters in Waterloo, attempts to relocate his newly-purchased Predators to southern Ontario, he can expect an outcry from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment brass who won't give up their stranglehold on the area without a fight.

There is still red tape to wade through in Nashville before leaving the city is an option, and there will be even more red tape -- not to mention significant stadium challenges -- to navigate before any puck ever drops in Hamilton or Waterloo. And it's hard to believe Winnipeg will let the chance to reclaim a team pass without a fight.

But if the Preds end up near the GTA, it might just be the kick in the pants the crew in Canada's most-hated hockey city needs to snap out of almost a decade of mediocrity.

With a 110-point team featuring a solid goaltender, a savvy defence corps and a bevy of offensive talent playing down the road, MLSE would be hard-pressed to raise ticket prices after another season that ends without a playoff berth.

After they have a chance to root for the likes of Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun, Steve Sullivan and exciting youngsters like Alexander Radulov and Shea Weber in person, it would be even tougher to sell the hockey watching public on the idea of Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky as viable first-line players.

That isn't a bad thing. When there's a decades-long waiting list for season tickets and scalpers are getting rich selling ducats for another Leafs loss, doesn't the passionate Toronto fan deserve another option?

There will always be sellouts at the Air Canada Centre, regardless of where the Predators land. Too many people in this city simply bleed Maple Leaf blue, no matter how long their Cup drought lasts.

But -- and I'm speaking as one of them -- there are more than enough non-Leaf fans in the area who would relish the chance to perhaps actually take a family to an NHL game or two without going hungry for a week.

Toronto hockey fans already drive to Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal and even Pittsburgh to see their team play -- you think they wouldn't make a one-hour trek to watch the Predators?

I think they would, and I think MLSE knows that, which is why they will fight any such move to the death.

Because if Southern Ontario gets another NHL team -- and a good one at that -- the brass at the ACC might not be able to take its fans for granted anymore.

When members of the board of governors drive around Toronto and see every Hamilton Predators jersey as $120 that isn't flowing into the coiffers of the Teacher's Pension Fund, maybe they'll get off their butts and give Leaf fans a truly competitive team.

But until then -- and if this rumoured move ever happens -- you'll find me and thousands of others heading out on the QEW at 6 p.m. on Saturday, heading for Hockey Night in Steeltown.


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