Been there, done that

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

More than three decades after his brief stint with the expansion Scouts, one memory comes to mind when Wilf Paiement recalls his NHL days in Kansas City.

The stench.

"Whoever built the rink there at the time, they must have been in the cattle industry," Paiement said yesterday of the Kemper Arena, the place the Scouts called home from 1974-76 before leaving Kansas City. "I mean, the rink was beautiful, don't get me wrong, but you had to drive through the slaughterhouses to get there. It was kind of in a depressed area.

"I'm from a farming family, so it wasn't any big deal for me. But you could certainly smell the animal smell."

Now, some 31 years after the NHL vacated that same Kansas City market because of a lack of support, disgruntled Hamilton hockey fans -- make that Canadian hockey fans -- feel something really stinks.

You could almost hear the collective uproar rising from the Golden Horseshoe yesterday when reports surfaced that the Nashville Predators might have a better chance of ending up in Kansas City rather than Hamilton.

If Preds owner Craig Leipold does sell to California businessman William (Boots) DelBiaggio rather than Waterloo-based Blackberry magnate Jim Balsillie, the opening is there for the franchise to be Missouri-bound.

All this despite the fact that DelBiaggio's offer is some $48 million US less than Balsillie's $238 million bid.

Leipold, for the record, refused to confirm that Basillie was out of the mix, stating on the Preds website that "we will not comment on rumours and speculation."

In any event, some members of the NHL's braintrust, at both team and league levels, apparently might have been put off by Balsillie's brashness in putting season ducats on the market for Hamilton's Copps Coliseum two weeks ago despite the fact no finalized binding agreement had been signed with Leipold.

Should he get the nod, DelBiaggio, who owns a minority interest in the San Jose Sharks, is expected to cause fewer waves as long as the Preds still have a lease with Nashville.

But his goal appears clear: K.C. seems to be the target.

Come on. Kansas City?

When will commissioner Gary Bettman and his colleagues finally stop this pipe dream of shoehorning the NHL into each nook and cranny of the U.S.?

Hockey is a niche sport in many pockets south of the border. Many Americans just don't care about it.

Phoenix. Florida. Nashville ... the list goes on concerning struggling, non-traditional hockey markets there.

Perhaps this is all about the all-mighty dollar and the NHL's tangled web of bureaucracy but Mr. Bettman should remember one thing.

More than 14,000 season tickets were sold in Hamilton in two days.

Compare that to Kansas City, where the Scouts left for Colorado in 1976 after a season-ticket campaign spearheaded by business leaders netted only about 2,000 - some 6,000 less than the goal they had set.

To be fair, the new Sprint Center, where the Kansas City Cash Cows would lace up, is a state of the art arena, one which has blown away any NHL official who has toured it thus far. The rink is the jewel of a downtown redevelopment project and sales of private boxes have been brisk, suggesting the interest might be there.

Could it flourish there? Sure. But for how long?

"When we played there, they didn't promote us at all," Paiement said. "But with the way the league sells the game now, I think it could work in Kansas City."

There's the rub.

In Canadian markets like Hamilton or Winnipeg, you don't have to worry about selling the game.

Or tickets, for that matter.

Then again, putting teams in markets where fans passionately care about the sport might just be too novel a concept for hockey's movers and shakers to grasp.


Videos

Photos