Rumours of a conversation between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Kitchener-Waterloo businessman Jim Balsillie just got interesting again.
According to reports, an NHL franchise in southern Ontario is an option for Balsillie if he plays according to NHL rules and doesn’t turn things into a media circus before a purchase and franchise move is made.
More realistically, the NHL is looking at its dead-end loser USA franchises like Phoenix (an almost guaranteed loss of $25 million for Arizona tax payers) and comparing them to Canadian markets like Winnipeg (which sold out season tickets before you can say, “Hockey is Canada’s game”) and thinking, “we’re going to be moving more franchises north before we know it, so we’d better start finding places for them to go, NOW.”
In the past, Balsillie has tried to get a team according to his rules. The NHL didn’t like that, so blocked the attempts. But times change.
Now that the NHL has less and less choice, they will be returning to their prime Canadian buyers and seeing what the options are. A 2nd NHL franchise in southwestern Ontario is a big part of this, as is Balsillie. It’s either move a franchise to southwestern Ontario or let a team lose millions in the desert.
The only question marks around Balsillie getting a team in southwestern Ontario now are:
- Does Jim still want in?
- How large is the Toronto “home market” zone? 20 miles? 30? 50? Is Oakville too close? How about Hamilton? Even better, how about Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph/London just off the 401/8 intersection, or just off the train tracks in Kitchener near King if you believe in the public transit craze hitting Ontario?
- How soon will the deal go down?
Regardless of how these three questions play out, the larger picture is clear: several US franchises are failing, Canadians are ravenously buying season tickets faster than they’re made available, and at some point the NHL will catch up with simple fact that 2-3 US franchises need to move to Canada if the NHL’s best interests are to be served.
The release of the recent rumour that Bettman has had conversations with Balsillie certainly does not give anyone a roadmap to the future, but it does corroborate the theory that hockey is moving back to Canada over the next few years one way or another.
If the NHL’s wishes come true, Balsillie will still be a willing buyer by the time the NHL figures out that hockey belongs in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph/London.