Even in the spotlight of another Pens-Caps playoff game, the most compelling story yesterday was the Balsillie-Bettman death match. Sager over at Out of Left Field has a nice wrap-up of the online journalistic chatter. The best segment of the night belonged to Scott Morrisson and Jeff Marek who were tracking developments in the story. I think my favourite part of the whole day was reading somewhere that a source described Bettman as “apoplectic” when he heard what Balsillie was trying to pull. There’s just something about picturing Gary Bettman losing his shit that gives me a warm feeling.
You see, I’ve been seen as something of an apologist for Bettman in the past. I’ve often found myself defending him to friends and colleagues because I think he’s been unfairly vilified in the Canadian media. I’m not going to revisit now, because those days are over for me. This is a formal declaration of war against the Little Napoleon, and I hope every Canadian joins me in this battle.
It has become clear that whatever plan the NHL had to conquer the US market is now dead. Franchises that bleed money and need to be bailed out by the league are a cancer that needs to be eradicated. Owners of NHL teams need to realize this, and realize that though there is a place for most US teams in the NHL, the real money to be made resides where the passion is strongest, and that is Canada.
There isn’t room for one more team in Southern Ontario: there’s room for two more. There’s room for another team in Montreal, and Winnipeg and Québec deserve to have their favourite sport represented at the highest level of competition in which that sport operates. I’ve argued against the reality of these things in the past, but I believe now is the time to pounce. If the rumour that the Lightning want to move to Winnipeg holds any water, well it’s time for other NHL governors to man-up and give this thing a kick in the ass. If Atlanta is struggling as badly as we think it is, then it’s time to explore relocation to a market that will go absolutely ape-shit (in a good way) when it finds out it’s getting an NHL franchise. Same goes for Nashville and Miami.
You see, I had my moment of clarity when I compared how Bettman reacted to a franchise being moved south from Québec and Winnipeg to the current Balsillie struggle of moving a team North of the border. The man corellates the loss of a US franchise to a Canadian city as a personal affront to the master plan he and the NHL governors had of landing a huge US television contract. That payday is not coming. We’re a stone’s throw away from the NHL having to pay a major network for air time. The real television money is here in Canada, as the CBC and CTV Globemedia continue raising the ante at every negotiation. Throw in a couple more Canadian teams and the stakes get doubly serious.
Mr. Balsillie’s got his teeth sunk deep into the NHL’s flesh, and this time he ain’t letting go, to the benefit of all Canadian hockey fans.
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