October 21, 2008 :: 12:59pm ET
Real-Time Journal:
Another team in TO? Interesting!
By David Pagnotta

[Toronto, ON] -- Apparently, it's not as crazy as it seems. Toronto is a great market, and one of the biggest in the world for the sport of hockey. Would it make sense, though, to put another team in Toronto, or the Greater Toronto Area? That, my friends, is the real question.

Jim BalsillieI've never been a supporter of an NHL team in Hamilton. I don't like it. I covered a pre-season game a few years back, in Hamilton, when the Penguins (with Sidney Crosby in the lineup) faced the Buffalo Sabres. The game ended up going into a shootout, and it seemed like everyone on both teams and their coaching staffs had a turn. Outside of the game being what you'd normally expect from a pre-season matchup, the crowd was less than impressive. The game wasn't close to being sold out, and the atmosphere in the building wasn't very good. Some of the recognizable players that didn't suit up (like Sergei Gonchar and Jocelyn Thibault) were walking around the arena's concourse level, and actually made it through without being bothered by too many fans. Granted, that was a pre-season game. But, for a hockey market apparently begging for an NHL club, they failed to impress.

I'm glad Jim Balsillie wasn't able to get his hands on the Nashville Predators and move them to Hamilton. It wouldn't have worked. And, it would have likely hurt the Buffalo Sabres in ticket sales and overall support... and that's NOT what the league needs. The league needs to focus on the Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers, and figure out how to get them out of those markets and into a new city.

The realistic options? Las Vegas, for one. The other... the GTA.

I liked what Richard Peddie, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said in the Globe and Mail today.

"The Maple Leafs would not be hurt one bit. In fact, it would help them. They could make all kinds of money renting the Air Canada Centre to the other team," he said.

Because that would ever happen.

Assuming Mr. Balsillie gets his wish, purchases a team and moves it to Ontario, you can be sure he won't be calling the ACC home. He's got the bucks to build his own arena, in another part of the area, and build a new rivalry.

I spoke with Richard Rodier, Balsillie's Toronto-based lawyer, who said his client has no comment on today's Globe article. I don't blame him. It's a sticky situation for everyone involved, providing he actually is still in the picture, and he's already learned his lesson (keep your mouth shut until you sign the last document, because once the team is yours, the league can't stop you from moving it).

But let's examine Toronto, for a moment.

Where would you place a team? Definitely not downtown. You'll want to create your own environment, and playing down the street from the Maple Leafs doesn't make much sense. Sure, you can look east or west of the city and house a team there, but do you still call yourself the Toronto Beavers? Unless Balsillie really doesn't care and just wants to drop a team in the city, the only other option might be his own backyard - Kitchener.

Kitchener, for those unfamiliar with the area, is a live-and-breath hockey town. It's not entirely huge, but it surrounds 2.5 million people. Jim Balsillie's Research in Motion, the company that makes the Blackberry, is headquartered there.

Jay BouwmeesterNow, that makes sense. As I alluded to earlier, Balsillie has the cash to build his own arena, the Blackberry Centre (or Forum, or Arena, or Cell... come to think of it, that's a cool nickname, "the cell"). The city is out of the Buffalo and Toronto boundaries, so there would be no need to compensate either organization. Kitchener is about an hour from Toronto, two hours from Buffalo and three from Detroit. If the Rangers can play nearby the Islanders (about 45 minutes away in Long Island) and the Devils (about 25 minutes), why shouldn't the Leafs have a closer rival to battle with?

It's still very early, but it's expected that two teams, possibly the Panthers and Thrashers, will be on the outs in the coming years. This isn't a knock against their present ownership, their markets simply aren't strong enough to support an NHL franchise on an annual basis -- heck, that's why Jay Bouwmeester wants out of Florida, no local support. Move these clubs to energetic hockey towns (while very lively, even though they're not a traditional hockey city, Vegas will likely get a team soon enough), like Kitchener or even Winnipeg, and let the league stabilize all of its franchises.

Now, some NHL governors may argue that Kitchener is a relatively unknown city to the U.S. people, which could hurt marketing efforts, but stick a good team there and they'll make a name for themselves.

I look forward to driving down to Kitchener to cover the Leafs when they open up the 2011-12 campaign against the Beavers (or whomever) at the Blackberry Centre.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine and covers the Toronto Maple Leafs and the NHL for TheFourthPeriod.com. He is also a contributing writer for NBCSports.com and MSNBC.

  Sept. 23, 2008 Winnipeg remains a viable option


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