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.
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
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
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.
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.