Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pens hope to win, as they roll up with RIM.

It’s high octane offence meeting High Tech domination, as the Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly find themselves sold off to the founder of the Research In Motion group, makers of the ever present BlackBerry communication device.

No doubt, many a Penguin fans’ BlackBerry was going off yesterday and all day today as news of the 180 million dollar sale was making its way across the internet and into the world of mass media.

The Penguins who have been on the market for a number of years have an up and coming roster, so it makes sense that they would finally find an owner of a cutting edge technology. James Balsillie, co-founder of the technology company said all the right things at a press conference today announcing his purchase of the Pens, praising the local market, the fans and history of the team. Balsillie said that he planned on owning the Penguins in Pittsburgh for a long, long time.

However, a long, long time could be something up for discussion. The Penguins currently are trying to have a new building put up in the Pittsburgh area, one with all the bells, whistles and boxes that an NHL franchise seems to need these days. So far, the project has been nothing but talk and little in construction.

Keeping in mind that Mario Lemieux kept the Penguins alive (and his retirement checks coming) in the city of three rivers all in the hope of seeing the day when that rink would be built. As Mario steps aside from the Pens, one wonders if too the Pens will eventually step aside from Pennsylvania.

Balsillie’s company is based in Kitchener-Waterloo, a growing city north west of Toronto, the story of his purchase of the Pens of course has become front page news back home, and found some traction in Hamilton as well.

TSN reported last night that the Balsillie group had put down a retainer on Hamilton’s Copp coliseum to hold the NHL rights for that building and lately there have been some rumours of plans for a new building in K-W as the home of RIM is known.

Also up for debate last night on TSN, was the subtle investigations supposedly being conducted by the Balsillie group into whether the territorial rights of Toronto and Buffalo would hold up, should they had wanted to put a team in Hamilton.

All of which seems like a lot of work for a group that plans on playing in Pittsburgh for a long, long time.

Franchise re-locations are a tricky matter in the NHL, unless of course you’re a Canadian city with a team and then apparently the need to keep a team in place isn’t quite as urgent, hello Winnipeg, Bonjour Quebec!

Still, if someone is willing to pay 180 million for an NHL franchise (new salary structure or not), eventually if they can prove frustration in their present location then how could the fellow lodge members stop them from moving even it is off to some perceived Canadian backwater.

It makes for nervous times for Pittsburgh fans, which suddenly have a kinship with those of Winnipeg, Quebec and Hartford, wondering if the team they’ve given their all to, will soon be dressed up in new colours, take on a new name and be playing in another location.

Perhaps Balsillie truly intends to operate his team in Pittsburgh and all the worry and conjecture will be for naught. But if he eventually moves the franchise to Ontario, it would certainly shake up the Southern Ontario sports scene.

The Pens are a fast and rising NHL team, with a number of exciting young players eager to taste success on the way to the Stanley Cup. Compare the possibilities of the Pens to the state of the Leafs of late and you can see why Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment would be willing to send a battalion of lawyers off to fight the good fight.

The sale to the Balsillie group will most likely take the Pens off the relocating to Winnipeg list, a place they’ve popped up on from time to time. It seems doubtful that either they or Quebec will benefit from this sale.

But cheer up, the Pens are but one of many American outposts that have stumbled of late and may wish to recoup some cash, once the floodgates have opened a bit, perhaps another franchise hungry to grab 180 million off the table will come forward.

The only question is does anyone in Winnipeg or Quebec have the financial resources of a RIM to make a purchase like that and still make money in the smaller markets.

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