Monday, January 21, 2008

Rolling out the welcome mat for Paul Kelly

The new executive director of the NHLPA will have no shortage of places to drop into on his next vacation that is if he feels like traveling to Canada.

Kelly offered up his thoughts on NHL expansion for the Palm Beach Post over the weekend, and as would be expected of a labour leader he’s quite in favour of the NHL adding a few teams (and with it a few union positions) in some high profile locations in the USA.

Making the usual nod to Seattle, Las Vegas, Houston and Kansas City, Kelly then went and made sure that the maple syrup and Molson’s will be flowing to his Boston area home, when he also pointed out that such Canadian cities as Hamilton, Winnipeg, or even Halifax would in his opinion be fine candidates for NHL expansion.

The only mis-step in his bring the game back home plan, was that he overlooked Quebec City. This was a fairly serious mistake on his part, considering the fine cuisine and thriving night life he’ll be missing out on, if he doesn’t add NHL jobs to the Quebec capital.

Of course, it’s not really his decision where the NHL sets up its brand, and in the past Gary Bettman has shown little inclination to move the game back above the 49th whether it be to return to Winnipeg or Quebec City or dip into Jim Balsillie’s bank account for a Hamilton franchise and all that financial indemnification that it might provide.

Still, Canadians will at least feel like there’s at least one American with a head on his shoulders when it comes to running the NHL, when you see some of the struggling franchises in the Bettman footprint states of the deep south, you have to think that they would be a tad more successful in the towns where hockey is not just a sport but as close as one can get to a religion.

Kelly must sense that spirit and has put his stamp on this side of the border when it comes to offering support to hockey fans from Nova Scotia to Manitoba, it doesn’t take much to become more popular than Gary Bettman in Canadian eyes.

But with just a few supportive words, Kelly has probably jumped so far ahead of the NHL Commissioner that there’s dust whirling around the NHL offices.

Canadian cities want in, one or two moneyed fellows seem ready to drop the cash to make it happen. The players have fallen in behind them, as has their union chief. Who at least seems to understand where the money may actually be for the NHL.

At times it seems like the only person that doesn’t understand where the game will find its best support is the guy running the league. While it’s unlikely that he’ll heed advice of the labour side of the debate, Mr. Bettman could do a whole lot worse than taking a few notes and sending out some fact finders of his own.

If the idea of the league is to play before large crowds and sell lots of merchandise, there are at least three Canadian cities standing by ready to fill the bill.

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