Balsillie good for NHL

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

This is no game Jim Balsillie is playing, although it is certainly unfolding as most intriguing theatre.

It is more like an assault, an overt, aggressive, full-barrelled, well-financed attack on conventional wisdom, the National Hockey League and that great untapped hockey resource that is the market of southern Ontario.

And yes, while nobody is saying so for the record, this is also a thought-provoking offensive on the unregulated monopoly that happens to be the Toronto Maple Leafs.

You can argue with Balsillie's almost hostile approach in his attempts to buy and move the Nashville Predators.

You can argue with his far-too-public strategies.

You can argue that he hasn't been nice enough and polite enough for the very nice and polite NHL.

But you can't argue -- not as a league, not as a business, not for the game -- that what he is attempting isn't absolutely in the best interest of the sport, the NHL, and the most passionate hockey market in the world.

That is what should matter here. The timing has never been more right or more real for a second NHL franchise in Southern Ontario. The appetite for the league has never been so ripe. And here, and almost nowhere else, everything and anything about the NHL matters.

Across the border, the NHL fights for any smidgen of attention, forever an afterthought. Once, there was some hope for an American breakthrough. Just not anymore.

So, you're Gary Bettman, and you have a choice to make. Do you, as commissioner, do what is in the absolute best interests of your league, your business and your ownership? Or do you, in a small way as a small league, get your back up and reject Balsillie and say 'He can't tell us what to do?'

To date, Balsillie apparently believes he can.

Soon, we are about to find out more about Bettman and friends than maybe we care to know. Soon, we are about to find out whether pragmatism wins out over NHL pride.

Should the NHL block Balsillie's over-paying for a money-losing Nashville franchise in a place where hockey is all but dead (except on the ice), in whose best interest will they be acting?

There is, after all, no right way to go after a major league franchise as we have found out in this market.

For the better part of two decades, Paul Godfrey has been Mr. Polite in his dealings with the National Football League. They have said jump and he has answered 'how high?' And where has it got him?

The NFL has expanded to Cleveland and Houston -- after teams in those cities moved elsewhere -- and before that to Carolina and Jacksonville. Toronto hasn't got a sniff.

During that period, Larry Tanenbaum made the National Basketball Association aware he was interested in bringing a franchise to Toronto. He made it a point to attend league meetings, get to know owners, at one time attempted to buy an existing team and have it moved North.

How impressed was commissioner David Stern with Tanenbaum's approach?

When the time came to making the choice for an expansion franchise, he passed over the public front-runner Tanenbaum and stunned people by awarding the Toronto franchise to John Bitove, who was less overt.

So there is no right way here: Especially not when you consider the history of the NHL.

This is a league that has awarded expansion franchises to two cities without buildings and neither with credible owners.

This is a league that has watched its chairman of the board go to prison for stealing money from banks.

This is a league that has anywhere from six to eight of its 30 franchises in places where next to no one gives a damn.

This is hockey country. The NHL may not be relevant anywhere else, but here it has never been so relevant.

And Balsillie is nothing if not bold.

He has, while investigating the legality of territorial rights in the NHL, seriously considered moving a franchise not to Hamilton, but right into Toronto. He looked into the concept of building an arena on the property of Woodbine Entertainment.

Even the idea of building his own trademark facility in Cambridge has now been pushed to the backburner (unless he loses his territorial fight) with thoughts of giving Copps Coliseum in Hamilton a $140-million facelift.

Let's do the math for a moment: Balsillie wants to pay $238 million for a team that is worth maybe $150 million; He is willing to pay $140 million for an arena renovation. Up front, Balsillie is willing to invest $378 million to make his point, sell out his games and make the NHL stronger all the while.

How does the NHL say no to that?


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