Don't you think it's time Jim Balsillie got his shot?
Balsillie is a 48-year Canadian businessman with a dream of bringing an NHL franchise to Hamilton, Ontario. Actually, calling it a dream three years and three teams into his pursuit seems trivial. Balsillie is on a mission.
Although he may not look the part, the Blackberry billionaire has earned a bad-boy reputation around the NHL men's club. He attempted to hijack the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006 and land them in Southern Ontario. His 2007 takeover of the Predators went so far, he signed up more season ticketholders in Hamilton than the Preds had in Nashville. Both sales blew up spectacularly, with Balsillie alienating power brokers across the league.
Thursday, he's at it again. He's one of two men bidding at an auction for the Phoenix Coyotes. The other is Commissioner Gary Bettman, representing a league that wants to keep the franchise in Phoenix -- and Balsillie out of the league.
If Bettman and Balsillie truly want to act in the best interests of the game, it's time they started working together.
Still, if Mike Comrie and the Edmonton Oilers can work it out, isn't it time Balsillie and Bettman gave peace a chance? Sure, he's ticked off lots of people with his renegade act, but on the other hand ...
Balsillie has big, legit money. This has been an issue with some prospective (John Spano) and approved ("Boots" Del Biaggio) owners in the Bettman era.
Balsillie loves hockey. He worships the sport. He plays the game. He's dedicated more than three years to being a part of it, and he likely won't stop if he misses out on the Coyotes. NHL team owners love their name recognition and arena development deals, but how many of them live for the game? Half? That may be generous.
Balsillie reportedly has a heart. A husband and a father, he has donated well in excess of over $100 million to schools and charities. Before he crashed elbows-high into the business of pro hockey, there was no evidence of Balsillie being a bad dude.
He's a Canadian kid who made it big and now wants the toy that will give him the most pleasure. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? If Phoenix can keep its hockey team, good for them. We're not advocating any municipality losing a sports franchise. And let's not shed a tear for the money-printin' Toronto Maple Leafs. In Brian Burke, they're in good hands. The only impact a Hamilton team could have on the Leafs is this: the pressure might be a little more jacked up for them to win their first championship since there were only 12 teams in the league.
This is about the commissioner of a sports league and a passionate, committed, headline-making and league-shaking maverick finding a way to meet in the middle. A major league commissioner is supposed to mediate for the good of the game, isn't he? So what if a bunch of the owners will never respect Balsillie? Many of them already don't like each other.
Hockey's biggest problem, and the NHL's biggest failing, is that not enough people care about this brutal and beautiful game. Then you have a puck-loving billionaire like Jim Balsillie banging on the door of the lodge, and no one will let him in.
Grow up. Grow the league.