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.