When I heard that the Nashville Predators were almost guaranteed to move to the metropolis that is Hamilton, Ontario, I wondered how they'd compete with the Maple Leafs. Hamilton has 1/5th the population of Toronto. It's also located between the home of the Maple Leafs and Buffalo, where the Sabres play. With the tradition and history of the Maple Leafs, I think it's fair to say their fanbase is strong and extends wide, to Hamilton and beyond. I just don't see the hockey loyalists up there giving up the blue and white and adopting a new franchise. You could see the rumors of a future Hamilton team moving to Portland in 2013 from a mile away.
I don't think the Maple Leafs are incredibly worried about an upstart expansion franchise from Nashville usurping their presence. But did they and the Sabres corroborate with the NHL to make sure the Hamilton move doesn't happen?
Predators owner Craig Leipold has backed out of a $238 million deal with Jim Balsillie, who'd move the team to Hamilton. He has already, apparently, agreed to a $190 million deal with William DelBaggio, who'd move the team to Kansas City. Fred Patterson thinks he knows where that lost $48 million is coming from.
Do the math and it doesn't add up, and that leads to only one conclusion. Somewhere along the line the 48 million dollar difference has been made up by somebody.
It all makes sense now. There's no way Leipold would accept 48 million dollars less than Balsillie was offering. But if the league promised to make it up, with a little help from say the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres, then Leipold could have been convinced to dump the Balsillie offer.
It's obvious this thing was going to court, so rather than spend millions upon millions fighting Balsillie in court, and testing and exposing the NHL's territorial policies, the league probably decided to spend its money elsewhere. Give it to Leipold in exchange for him doing business with an American rather than some guy who wants to move the franchise to Canada.
It's a bold accusation, albeit something I wouldn't put past Bettman. Part of his inability to be a good commissioner is his reluctance to adapt when his plans fail, which they always do. It took 10 years for him to even attempt to bolster league scoring, and even then he did it half-assedly, by instituting scheme rules which would eventually be worked around instead of settling the problem once and for all with the unavoidable solution of making the nets bigger. So Bettman relented on that point, sort of, eventually, but it took a year-long absence that did even more damage to the sport's reputation and ruined the only positive exposure it ever really had, its contract with ESPN, in the process.
Despite results from more than a few American markets indicating hockey is just not working, Bettman continues to try to cram the sport into as many semi-relevant American markets as possible, alienating the people who created the game and love it unconditionally. I'm against a team being in Hamilton, but I'm absolutely for moving Phoenix back to Winnipeg, the Panthers to Quebec, and any other underachieving, low-drawing American squad going north of the border. I did say above that I think a team in Hamilton will eventually fail, and I believe that, but a Canadian market is guaranteed at least a semblance of success. Kansas City might have a higher ceiling, but it's got a much lower floor, and the NHL isn't really in the position to risk big at the moment with so much going wrong all around the league.
Meanwhile, Canadian fans are in a deserved uproar over the notion that Bettman has no concern for their satisfaction. This is a major event in the rapid degradation of the NHL as Bettman continues to offend Canadian hockey fans. The best rock bands are the ones that are able to attract a new audience while continuing to please the foundation, the loyalists. Bettman is pushing those people to the side for visions of grandeur that history strongly indicates (almost 60 years of failing to captivate American audiences) will never come.