Good move for NHL -- and Leafs

PETER WORTHINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Why are sports fans rarely consulted about teams that depend on them?

Sometimes, fans seem wiser than the people who own professional teams, and certainly wiser than some bureaucrats and Big Egos who run leagues.

At the moment, I'm thinking of Jim Balsillie, billionaire CEO of Research in Motion -- RIM is creator of the BlackBerry (which I wish I had invested in) -- who's offered $212.5 million US for the insolvent Phoenix Coyotes which he wants to move to southern Ontario (Hamilton?).

This seems a no-brainer to hockey fans -- of which I've been one for longer than most Canadians have been alive (one benefit of age!).

To me, the greatest benefit of another NHL team in Ontario, especially Hamilton, is it would likely end both the recent playoff drought of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the 42-year Stanley Cup drought the Leafs (and fans) have endured since 1967.

Nothing would spruce up the Leafs quicker than a rival hockey team in Hamilton -- dreaded Hamilton, a good sports town that we Toronto fans always relish beating.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is said to have a special form of fury reserved for Balsillie, whose been rejected before in efforts to get an NHL team for southern Ontario. Tough bananas I'd say, and hope the owners and players' association would combine to spike Bettman's prejudices.

It seems obvious to me (and to many fans) that an NHL team in Hamilton would instantly be a rival to the Leafs -- even more than Montreal has been over the years, and to a lesser extent Ottawa in recent years.

The effect of a competitive team in Hamilton might resonate with Maple Leafs management who, the way things are now, are prepared to endure a so-so team, so long as every seat at the Air Canada Centre is filled for every game.

If fans showed more discretion, management would insist on a more competitive team. So Maple Leafs owners may do what they can to have the Coyote move rejected for the fan-rich Hamilton/Kitchener-Waterloo region.

As it is, all of us who enjoy NHL hockey, even on a casual basis, owe enormous gratitude to Jim Balsillie for his persistence and determination to be the owner of a team to rival the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.

Judging from his attitude, he'd not be a leisurely owner, satisfied with a so-so team. His enthusiasm could well affect his players -- as we see in the enthusiasm among Blue Jay players these days, who don't pay attention to "experts" who figured they should be at the bottom of the American Baseball League East, instead of at the top where they reside at the moment.

Sadly, we fans have little influence with the NHL.

NO BEST OF TIMES

A hockey team in Arizona seems an oddity at the best of times -- and there've been no best of times for the Coyotes. Partial owner and head coach Wayne Gretzky seems to have done a commendable job with the team, and there's every likelihood he'd do even better coaching the Coyotes if Copps Coliseum in Hamilton became the team's new home.

Let's hope the NHL commissioner and owners come to their senses.

There seems no downside to such a move, especially when the owner is rich enough to indulge his wishes, and fans and players themselves would benefit accordingly -- especially Leafs fans who yearn for a revived Leafs team.


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