Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The end of the Predators

Well, we might as well get the formalities out of the way: The NHL’s ‘experiment’ in Tennessee is over.

There’s certain to be a ninth season in the Music City this fall, but it looks to be a lame duck one. Because while professional sports has its fair share of well-heeled absentee owners, hockey’s newest moneyman has already proven he isn’t out to grow the game in the nether regions of the United States.

He wants to bring it home.

Jim Balsillie bailed on what was, in essence, a done deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins in December when it was stipulated the team had to stay put — despite the fact Mario Lemieux’s club is a mere hop away from Kitchener-Waterloo on a chartered flight — something that makes it difficult to believe he’s got a soft spot for the fans of NashVegas.

Let’s just say that it’s all smiles north of the border today.

Balsillie’s essentially acting out every Canadian’s boyhood dream with this buy, grabbing his very own professional hockey franchise and trying to transplant it into his backyard, whether that be Kitchener, Hamilton or the parking lot of his BlackBerries ‘R’ Us compound. And while the resident hockey fans in this part of the world have grown accustomed to their lot in life, namely being punted around by American television interests and the like, it’s always a good thing when the Maple Leaf strikes back.

Six Canadian teams in a 30-team league, the national mindset goes, is far too few — especially considering that, prior to the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets making back-to-back exits a little over a decade ago, that ratio was eight of 24.

Of course, I’m jumping way ahead of myself (and everyone else) here, and there are miles to go before the Predators are put to sleep. But make no mistake — this is the death knell, and the league bigwigs sounded it when they approved back-out Balsillie as a buyer.

This is, I realize, heartbreaking business for the few mustard-blooded Nashville hockey enthusiasts who helped prop up the team — and I know they exist because there was always an earful in the comments section every time the market was dumped on here. But while the city is not the weakest home to an NHL club, it’s in the running for the title, and an owner who had been railing against the losses was surely a telling sign.

But the honest truth is that the league should never have ventured there in the first place, lest the franchise’s inevitable failure break the hearts of those who grew attached to what has become a pretty stellar team on the ice. Those pockets of fandom are now likely to atrophy into bitterness toward a ragtag league and its commissioner of false promises — not to mention the Canadian billionaire who stole their team away.

Just don’t expect any sympathy from the puck-rabid masses to the north, where they’ve seen their fair share of heartbreaking hockey exits.

I can hear the whispers already...

Finally, one of ‘our teams’ is coming home.

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At 12:07 AM, May 24, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:10 AM, May 24, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

I'm hearing that the price tag is somewhere in the $200 million range which, on the surface, seems like an awful lot of money. Anyone hoping to see Gary Bettmen lose his job will have to treat this as discouraging news, because this is strongest evidence yet that the new CBA has been an unmitigated success for the owners.

What did Melnyk buy the Senators for in 2003? $125 million? I know there's still a lot of details to be ironed out (like what Balsillie plans on doing with the team and what restrictions exist) and that it's hard to make an apples to apples comparison of NHL franchises (because we know very little about their debt levels ect.), but my God that seems like a lot money.

At 9:31 AM, May 24, 2007, Blogger Mike Thompson said...

Another "boo on the Preds" post. Great. It's corporate money, not attendence that drives franchises. Nashville had plenty of fans, it just sucks that the Titans have sucked up all the corporate cash.

Didn't the Preds just sign a multi-year naming rights deal with a local corp. a few days ago? Wasn't it this very blog that posted about how Hamilton isn't a hockey hotbed?

What would you rather have, a southern US franchise that struggles, but remains afloat and has recently started moving forward at an accelerated pace, or another Canadien franchise that nobody watches. Hell, must canucks don't even care about the Sens in the Finals, but you want to try and take another chunk out of Leaf-nation? This just doesn't make sense, from a business standpoint.

At 9:45 AM, May 24, 2007, Anonymous showtyme said...

Brunt made some sort of comment about Winnipeg "possibly" being in the running for the franchise. As I've said all along, we would have a tough time supporting a team. The fan base is there, but we are kinda cheap sometimes. A friend of mine offered up this solution: why not have a team that shares hometowns like Hamilton and Winnipeg? Before you all go ape on the suggestion, this could work only because it could be a way to break into Toronto's market at a lesser cost. I believe that both cities have the werewithal to sell out their buildings for 20-25 games a season (even with inflated ticket prices). Apparently this is something that has been done in professional baseball in Japan (not that this is a reason this should work here, but it is something to consider). Whatever, as much as I wish NHL would come to Winnipeg, I don't honestly believe that it will ever happen in a Bettman era.

At 10:34 AM, May 24, 2007, Anonymous pete said...

Hell, must canucks don't even care about the Sens in the Finals ... This just doesn't make sense, from a business standpoint.

I know it's petty of me, but it's really refeshing to hear whining like that coming out of mouth of what I presume is an American hockey fan.


At 10:35 AM, May 24, 2007, Anonymous pete said...

I still don't think Canada's getting another hockey team any time soon, though.

At 12:45 PM, May 24, 2007, Blogger The Forechecker said...

One point of clarification for all the Canadian fans celebrating the imminent "return" of an NHL team to their turf. The Predators were an expansion franchise, not a relocation effort like the erstwhile Jets and Nordiques.

This is a bitter pill to swallow for the hockey fans down here, and only underscores how disappointing that first-round playoff exit was. If they made the second round, another 3 home sellouts (and they were selling out in the playoffs) would have driven average attendance above the key 14,000 figure, and kept the lease-breaking option off the table.


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