Thursday, June 28, 2007

Right In The Balsillies

I sat down at the Sports Desk this morning with the intention of writing about Jim Balsillie. However, I read the news today and now everything has changed - The Spice Girls 'once in a lifetime' reunion tour includes no Canadian dates. I don't know if I'll recover. But we're all professionals here and the blogging must go on, right? Right.

Oh... you thought I was talking about the story in the National Post this morning saying that Balsillie's agreement to buy the Nashville Predators now has about as much worth as 17 hobo nickels. Guess again. But don't worry we'll get there.

On Ten Question Tuesday this week I included an item about Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of the company that is responsible for unleashing the Blackberry on us, and whether or not he could potentially be the guy that saves the NHL. Now admittedly this was a bold statement, especially since I hadn't properly explained my position on him. So here it is...

I firmly believe that Jim Balsillie has the potential to save the NHL. Now I know this statement opens up an enormous can of worms - and there's no way I'll be able to deal with all of those worms here, at least not today. I could still be writing late next week if I went deep into all of the issues.

That being said, I'm still going on record to say that Jim Balsillie could save the NHL. I say this for 2 reasons. Firstly, he is a Canadian billionaire who loves hockey and knows the game. And secondly, I believe that deep down, in places he won't admit he has, even at night, Gary Bettman is absolutely terrified of Balsillie.

The hope I have/had for Balsillie is that he would become the NHL's version of the NBA's Mark Cuban. Cuban is an absolute thorn in the side of NBA commissioner David Stern. As a young man with a lot of money who passionately loves basketball and his Dallas Mavericks, Cuban is an outsider in the NBA owners club. And as such, his priorities are taking care of his team and the game itself. He is brash and he is vocal, for which some people can't stand him, but he always makes sure the NBA commissioner's office is accountable for every decision it makes.

Can you think of one owner in the NHL who has ever been vocal about anything, for any reason except needing a salary cap... didn't think so. During the lockout Commissioner Bettman beat the NHLPA like a gong and because of that he made the current group of NHL owners a lot of money.

Ah, there's the rub.

As long as the money keeps rolling in, you aren't likely to hear a peep out of the current NHL owners. If you think they care about the game in and of itself, you're crazier than Lindsay Lohan after her third vodka and Red Bull

However, I think Balsillie might be a different story. He was not part of the owners club that went through the lockout and therefore would feel no real loyalty to Mr. Bettman. He was going to buy the Nashville franchise and move it to Canada, where people would actually care about the team. It was my hope that he could be the guy that would stand up to the commissioner and not just be another crony.

But of course Mr. Bettman knew all of this as well and today the National Post reported that he torpedoed Balsillie's deal harder than the USS Indianapolis ("So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb. ") It's reported that Bettman has been putting all kinds of pressure to scuttle the Balsillie deal on current Nashville owned Craig Leipold. Now it seems that a guy named 'Boots' is likely to end up with the team, for 50 million dollars less than what Balsillie offered.

Oh the lawyers would be feeling joy in their hearts if they possessed that anatomical device. Does this not reek of conspiracy (in the legal sense, not the draft-fixing sense) and collusion?

Just when you think a league could not possibly embarrass itself any more publicly, this happens. I'm not sure what Mr. Bettman hopes to prove with his over the top power trip. However, there are already rumours that a group of current NHL owners are making a push for the Balsillie deal to be approved. They're businessmen after all and 50 million dollars is 50 million dollars.

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