Friday, June 10, 2011

Balsillie Back in Business?

Is Jim Balsillie’s dream of owning an NHL team back on track?

With reports of several teams staring down mounting piles of debt and at least one troubled club already heading back to a hockey-mad Canadian market, you have to think his number will come up eventually. Well, a Forbes magazine blog is dropping some hints that make it sound like it may come sooner rather than later!

Sports Money’s Mike Ozanian reported this week that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has told the Research In Motion co-CEO that if he “behaves himself and doesn’t create any more spectacles or bad publicity for the league, he will eventually get a team.” The NHL has denied that such a conversation took place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen, of course.

Balsillie has tried three times to become the owner of an NHL team, but on each occasion he did something to make the league brass angry. The most high profile of those “spectacles” saw Balsillie try to circumvent league rules and buy the Phoenix Coyotes through a bankruptcy court, which of course ended in the NHL buying the team themselves. It’s now almost two years later and they still haven’t managed to sell the Coyotes.

The obvious first thought is that perhaps the NHL will consider selling the team to Balsillie, since they’ve been trying unsuccessfully since 2009 to find an owner. There have been three or four groups that looked poised to buy the club during that time, but none have managed to close the deal. Maybe it’s time to look Balsillie’s way on this one. How can you really stay mad at a guy that spends millions of dollars advertising with you each year?

The Coyotes aren’t the only option for Balsillie though, if he is still, in fact, interested in buying a team – the Columbus Blue Jackets are losing a lot of money, reports say the Florida Panthers are in financial trouble and the NY Islanders could even be in play at some point too. Islanders owner Charles Wang has been threatening to move the team for a while unless they get a new building and there’s a vote on a proposed rink and casino project on August 1st. If that deal falls through, the team will almost certainly pack up and move.

The big question when it comes to Balsillie though is this: Is relocation to Hamilton still the number one priority?

If the answer is yes, there will be some headaches along the way, not the least of which will be the opposition from the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. On a positive note, having seen what happened in Winnipeg with season tickets a week ago (13,000 sold in next to no time), the NHL can probably assume that the same will happen in Hamilton.

Then again, if Balsille wants a team and isn’t too picky about where he moves it, there is a major thirst for NHL hockey in Quebec City, as well as a few US markets like Seattle or Portland.

What if he were to buy the Coyotes and give them five more years in Glendale before moving them to a brand new (paid for) rink in Quebec City?

What do you think: Will Jim Balsillie ever own an NHL team?

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