Does Boots have cold feet?
"There's been all this speculation because I've been out there very publicly saying I want to bring a team to Kansas City, either through relocation or expansion. (But) it's also public that Nashville is not easy to get out of there."
"I really just don't want to comment on anything. I think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion."
On June 15, Craig Leipold announced that he had invoked an escape clause in the lease with the city of Nashville that would allow the franchise to move.
Less than two weeks later, Leipold informed Balsillie that he had turned back to Del Biaggio.
The next move, it would seem, is up to Boots.
Del Biaggio became the front-runner for Predators by default after Balsillie fell out of favour, but given the BlackBerry king has been blackballed by the league, I wonder just how much Boots will now be willing to pony up for a franchise potentially mired in litigation that could keep it in Tennessee indefinitely. His reported offer of $190-million was only in response to a bidding war initiated by a "renegade" party now out of the mix, and aside from a late-arriving local group that wants in (for substantially less, apparently), Del Biaggio's on his own.
And despite reports out of Nashville yesterday that optimistically account for the possibility of Boots owning the team in that city, I think he has just as much interest as Balsillie in taking over Leipold's sinking ship and covering the losses.
Del Biaggio's role here is as the middleman for the Anschutz Entertainment Group, with whom he has a contract to operate an NHL team at Kansas City's new Sprint Center. AEG president Tim Leiweke factors in here given his role as the president of the Los Angeles Kings, and Phil Anschutz himself wants to see a team in the now empty rink his group has signed on to operate.
Leipold doesn't want the team in Nashville. Neither does Balsillie, Del Biaggio, Leiweke or Anschutz.
K.C. is Boots's one and only play, and it always has been. Commissioner Gary Bettman whispered in the venture capitalist's well-connected ear after the Pittsburgh nonsense that a franchise would be made available for the open arena owned by these friends of the Board of Governors.
Whether or not that ultimately ends up being the Predators is all that remains to be decided.
But if Del Biaggio decides the Nashville situation is too volatile for him to sign on the dotted line, where does that then leave Leipold? And just how long will he hold the bag at Bettman's bidding, ignoring the elephant of an offer from north of the border as he's forced to entertain the minnows looking to keep the team at home?
"I believe Boots and his group will step up and get an expansion franchise if there is one to be had," Leiweke told a Kansas City reporter in May. "In the meantime, we're going to try anybody and everybody that ultimately is in trouble. We're willing to be used a little bit if that's the process it takes to get Kansas City a team."There are sharks in the water, to be sure, and they don't have designs on helping Leipold or Nashville's fanbase, not when there's a buck to be had in another untapped market.
Just ask Bettman:
"The best thing Kansas City can be is patient. These types of processes take time. I don’t know if anyone thought that the building would have a tenant overnight. ... But Kansas City put itself on the map as an attractive, viable place for a future arena franchise, be it the NHL or NBA."Translation? Hockey's coming to Kansas City, as soon as we can get it there.
Here's one final bit of business to contemplate: If you're Del Biaggio, shouldn't there be just a wee bit of concern that, 10 years down the road, you may very well be the NHL's next Leipold?