Saturday, December 23, 2006

Balsillie wants back into the game

Now that the gambling boys have been sidelined in their bid to build a hockey rink in Pittsburgh, the real power poker game is about to start over the fate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And one guy that wants a seat at that table is Jim Balsillie the Ontario billionaire who earlier this week walked away from a deal with Mario Lemieux. Balsillie withdrew his 175 million dollar offer over some extra terms that the NHL had apparently decided were necessary to make the sale go.

At the time, Lemieux was less than impressed with the way his Ontario suitor had left him high and dry, back at square one. Since then, Balsillie has penned a Dear Mario letter, apologizing for the misunderstanding that his intention was never to offend Lemieux or his organization.

Balsillie urged Lemieux to join him and go arm in arm to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to get this deal done.

It might be an offer that Lemieux would want to take, the lure of 175 million dollars is surely of interest to Lemieux who has sunk enough of his own money through deferred salaries and such over the last number of years.

With the Isle of Capri deal falling apart as it did after they lost a slot machine licensing bid, the Pens are very much back to the drawing board. With the prospect of having to build an arena or at least contribute to it, the value of that Pens franchise will surely drop down from the 175 million plateau.

Mario has done some yeoman service in Pittsburgh, keeping that franchise alive longer than many thought was possible. Few would begrudge him a chance to take a high end figure home to the bank as he washes his hands of his days as an NHL owner.

What would happen next between Balsillie and Bettman would be an interesting study in where the NHL is going to go over the next few years. The suggestion is, that if the Pens indeed have to re-locate, the NHL would prefer the likes of Kansas City, Las Vegas, Houston, Seattle and even Oklahoma City over such Canadian outposts as Hamilton, Winnipeg or the suddenly in vogue Kitchener-Waterloo.

Should Balsillie prevail in his quest to rekindle the fire between him and Mario, it will be well worth watching the reaction in New York. The last minute machinations earlier this week scuppered one deal, now with a new dynamic at play, Balsillie is back at the table. Mario should take his money and run, leaving Gary Bettman to stare down his new Canadian entrepreneur as to what he can or can’t do with his multi million dollar investment.

If the man wants to spend 175 million of his own money on a franchise that surely isn't worth more than 100 million, who are the NHL to deny him a move if he ends up deciding that is what is needed, to find a spot where he can best recover his costs and build his product.

As they say down at the court house, lawyers are standing by!

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