Thursday, October 23, 2008

A second NHL team in Toronto?


TORONTO — NHL governors are talking informally about placing a second hockey team in Toronto alongside the Maple Leafs, The Globe and Mail has learned.

“Why shouldn't we put another team in the best and biggest market in the world?” one of several NHL governors who spoke with The Globe anonymously said of the Greater Toronto Area.

According to this governor, one idea floated is for prospective owner Jim Balsillie to be rewarded with an expansion team in Toronto after helping to restore financial ballast to the Nashville Predators.

“I've heard this exact scenario,” a second governor said.

Calgary Flames co-owner Harley Hotchkiss, a former chairman of the NHL board of governors, is also aware of the Balsillie movement.

“I've heard bits and pieces of this scenario, although not in that kind of detail,” he said. “Our priority is to have the existing franchises solid.”

“[It is] an interesting scenario,” Mr. Hotchkiss added, “ but I can only speak generally.”

Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said the organization would not automatically reject the idea of a second team in Toronto.

“When and if the league brings expansion to the table, we'll listen and decide what is best [for hockey],” he said.

As to the potential impact on the Maple Leafs, the first governor dismissively waved his hand. “The Maple Leafs would not be hurt one bit. In fact, it would help them. They could make all kinds of money renting the Air Canada Centre to the other team.”

Richard Rodier, a Toronto lawyer who acts as spokesman for Mr. Balsillie on hockey matters, declined to comment. Bill Daly, the deputy commissioner of the NHL, did not respond to a request for comment.

Two more NHL governors said the league should put a second team in Toronto, although one of them said it should be by relocating an existing franchise rather than expanding.

“I don't think it can be an expansion team,” a governor said. “We can't expand because we would be the laughingstock of professional sports.

“We've got too many troubled franchises. We've got to look at relocating a couple of them. These franchises were troubled long before the economic downturn and next year is going to be worse on them.”

Mr. Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research in Motion Ltd., angered league executives by attempting to buy the Nashville Predators with the intent of moving the franchise to Hamilton.

The league will never allow Mr. Balsillie to put a team in Hamilton for two reasons, according to one governor. One is that the city would be a tough sell for U.S.-based teams, and the other, more significant reason, is the belief it would ruin the Buffalo Sabres.

“It's a minor-league town,” the governor said of Hamilton. “How could we sell a team from Hamilton? Do you think the New York Rangers want to put the Hamilton Steelers on their marquee at Madison Square Garden? Do you think anyone in Manhattan would buy tickets to see them?”

He also said a team in Hamilton would mean thousands of fans in the Niagara Peninsula who attend Sabres games would simply drive to Hamilton to avoid border lineups.

“We do not want to kill the Sabres,” the governor said. “But if there was a second team in Toronto, that would not hurt Buffalo.”

A comparable situation exists in Los Angeles, where the Staples Center houses three professional teams – the Kings of the NHL, plus the Lakers and Clippers of the NBA.

A third governor thinks the Buffalo Sabres might accept a second team in Southern Ontario as well if it made business sense. He said that means charging Mr. Balsillie as much as $700-million (U.S.) for an expansion franchise.

Original here

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