Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hey Hamilton, don’t go looking for a refund just yet!

Perhaps we were a tad too quick in our pronouncement of the death of the Hamilton dream. Yesterday’s announcement from the NHL that Nashville Predator’s owner Greg Leipold had asked the league to stop the application process from Jim Balsillie "until we reach a binding agreement." It sent shock waves through the Friday night draft audience and reverberated around Canadian bars and homes as Canadian hockey fans tried to make sense of the latest twist in the story.

In the less excited light of the day after, many observers suggest that in the grand scheme of things it means nothing more than perhaps a bid to spur Balsillie on a bit from the Preds owner, who most likely would like to have his money sooner than later. Yesterday, the thought was that the hand of the NHL brass was at hand, with a determined effort to make sure that Hamilton would once again be denied a place in the NHL family. Today, while the conspiracy buffs still ponder the subterfuge that could come from New York, the calmer heads are suggesting that things are still on track for the eventual sale.

The Preds in the meantime seem to be on a determined effort to reduce the salary base to the lowest possible level, a fire sale of staff members has been going on for the last couple of days, yesterday’s trade of goaltender Tomas Vokoun another indication of the deconstruction of the Preds as they prepare for new ownership, should that day ever arrive. One thing seems certain; the scaled down Preds will probably make sure that attendance should slump rather dramatically in the coming year, allowing for the much discussed escape clause to become fully operational.

If ever there was an indication that the white flag has been put up, the recent roster movements act like a giant neon sign testifying that everything must go, relocation imminent. From free agent departures to Philadelphia earlier in the week, to Vokoun’s trade on Friday and draft steeped in far away future picks, the message that next year is a rebuilding (pre-relocation) year couldn’t be any clearer.

If Leipold does end up having to hang on to the team for any great length of time he’s going to make sure that salaries will be at the lowest range possible. Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg can probably count on new uniforms next season if they play, it’s doubtful that they’ll be offered a renewal of their current pacts or even a handsome tithe to carry them through for a few more seasons.

While Leipold cleans out the closets, Balsillie is apparently busy keeping his lawyers and accountants occupied with the paperwork required to finalize a deal with the Preds owner. The recent bit of drama may merely be a hiccup, perhaps just a preamble to the real fireworks to come. That’s when he takes his bid to the NHL board for approval. With an NHL head office that seems suspicious, if not down right hostile of his intentions, some observers say that Balsillie’s next battle with Gary Bettman and the board may be his biggest skirmish yet.

For Hamilton the door it seems may still be open a crack after all, what will be of interest to hockey fans across Canada but particularly in Southern Ontario will be if Gary Bettman decides to open it wider or slam it shut!

RIM boss hit by delay of game
Balsillie still in the hunt for Predators
NHL calling the tune in Nashville
Mixed messages out of Nashville
Drawing the Line
Owners need to size up Balsillie, reach collective stance on Preds
Predators pressure Balsillie for deal
Balsillie deal not dead: report

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