The middle man
Hockey fans were essentially introduced to Jim Balsillie in December of 2006.
At the time, he was in the news as the Canadian billionaire about to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Balsillie made his coronation official by going on Hockey Night in Canada, giving a candid interview with Ron MacLean via satellite from the backyard of his home in Waterloo, Ontario.
We knew the BlackBerry; we didn't yet know Mr. BlackBerry.
That appearance on network television, answering questions on a forum for millions of hockey fans, wasn't the norm for Balsillie. As we've seen since, he's never been front and centre when it comes to the media coverage of his bid for an NHL franchise in Hamilton.
And that's where Richard Rodier comes in.
As part of some work I was doing on the Never in Hamilton package last week, I was sifting through the photo archives, looking for any kind of visual representation that would work with the stories. And one search for various entries in the 'Hamilton' + 'NHL' theme, going back five-plus years, turned up a grainy, black and white head shot of Rodier.
What on earth did Rodier, Balsillie's middle man and the lawyer now serving as the face of his bid for the Nashville Predators, have to do with bringing NHL hockey in Hamilton in 2002?
From The Globe and Mail on Jan. 24, 2003:
A Toronto-based group has submitted an all-cash bid to buy the Ottawa Senators and plans to move the team to Hamilton.HHC Acquisition Corp.? That's a new one. Or at least when it comes to the most recent history involved here.
Richard Rodier, a corporate lawyer in Toronto, submitted the bid yesterday on behalf of HHC Acquisition Corp. Rodier declined to provide details of the offer or say who else is involved. But he said the bid has been fully financed and he and Hamilton city officials have discussed using Copps Coliseum.
You see, Rodier fronting bids for NHL teams isn't anything new. It was even later reported in The Globe that this HHC group had attempted to make a play for the Buffalo Sabres during that team's bankruptcy — although those overtures, and those made regarding the Senators, were never taken all that seriously in the press or the hockey community at large.
After all, who was this crackpot Rodier making all-cash bids? And what kind of takeover could a mystery company no one had ever heard of make?
We now know who Rodier is, and just what sort of financial heft he has in his corner. We also know that Balsillie's been in the market for an NHL team going back long before his play for the Penguins, even if his ties to the process have been kept relatively secret.
Here's a quote from Rodier from that same 2003 article:
"In addition, we have considered the issues regarding any territorial rights issues that may exist and we are confident that we have a strategy in place to address those issues," he said, declining to provide further details.There's been a plan in place for years, and it apparently includes some sort of circumvention of the rights issues regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs. (As an aside, current Senators owner Eugene Melnyk was approached regarding moving that team to Hamilton prior to his taking ownership in Ottawa, and it was only when Gary Bettman stepped in that Melnyk backed off that relocation.)
If you include the plays for the Sabres, Senators, Penguins and Predators, Balsillie's been lining up for troubled NHL franchises now for a lot longer that has been reported to this point.
And you can bet he'll be at the front of the line for whoever bottoms out next.