Heavyweight fight is on!

JOE WARMINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

"This is about the league's rules and the enforceability of our rules."

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

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Is that what it is really about, Gary?

Is it not also about a bankrupt U.S. hockey team that could be bailed out if not for hard feelings for someone who won't play by the rules that continually block him?

Or about a rigid NHL commissioner whose continual denial of a rich hockey fan putting up $212.5 million US to move a failed team to southern Ontario where people actually like hockey?

And is it also about the unwillingness of a stubborn commissioner to recognize that putting teams in warm places, where tickets go for the cost of parking at a game here and still can't be sold, has tanked as miserably as attempts to gain a proper U.S. TV contract?

It's certainly about a lot more than so-called big, bad and offensive BlackBerry boss Jim Balsillie and his oh-so-offensive offer to make a success of a dead team and pay back all creditors stiffed by it.

But go ahead, Mr. Bettman, enforce your rules and defend your half-full arenas in Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami, Tampa and Nashville.

Unlike colleague Steve Simmons' over-the-top comment in yesterday's Sun that Balsillie is "well on his way to becoming the dumbest, most stubborn, successful entrepreneur around" with "his clumsy, all-too-public attempt to bully the National Hockey League," I figure the billionaire is the one who has it right. He wants the team, has the money, is breaking no laws from trying to buy it and has clearly outmanoeuvred Bettman.

"As a hockey fan I would sure like to see it moved here," said former NHL all-star Eric Lindros at a McHappy Day event for the Toronto East General Hospital at McDonald's.

Fellow NHL great Bob Nevin said: "What's the criteria for stopping it -- because you don't like the guy? Does that make sense?"

And Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos said at some point people "have to pay attention" to the fact that full arenas in Canada are better than empty ones in the U.S.

This might turn out to be the best playoff battle yet! The line is drawn in the sand. It's a hockey shootout. Call this war Barbarians On Ice. And you thought the Bettman-Goodenow battle was bloody. Bettman won that one by a clear knockout.

As the Apple phone people found out, it's not going to be quite as easy to knock Balsillie to the canvas.

But make no mistake, savvy and smart Bettman has some moves left, too. We'll see how much pull he still has with owners deciding between a bright and wealthy billionaire who will pay his bills or more cash out the window in NHL markets where hockey falls behind televised poker!

One of these two men is going to lose. Of course there is another option and it was one Don Cherry suggested wisely last night: Compromise!

"It's only a matter of time before there is another team in southern Ontario," said Grapes, who says he loves the idea of the Coyotes coming to Hamilton. "It's automatic. It's a great town. It would be a gold mine."

But he said Balsillie has to be "smart about it" and "should not try to bully Gary Bettman too much because he is a tough guy."

Cherry said Balsillie is also a "very smart guy" who would be good for the game.

Cherry always likes it when after a hockey fight the two combatants pat each other, say 'good fight' and don't hold grudges. "This can be worked out," said Cherry, adding that "with the NHL, you have to play the game a little."

This game is on and is as tough as one can get. Stay tuned for the final score!


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