In May 2007, after the Nashville Predators completed their most successful season in franchise history, I was driving home one evening when a breaking story came over the radio. The news was that Canadian financier Jim Balsillie had made an offer to buy the Nashville Predators.
Initially, it was perceived as good news and that Balsillie would save the franchise that had been dripping in read ink for most of its existence. After a few days the news turned from bad to a nightmare for loyal Nashville fans who could go to a website and place a deposit for season tickets for the Predators… in Hamilton, Ontario.
The whole situation was a public relations disaster for Balsillie, the Predators, the NHL, owner Craig Leopold, and Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Broken-hearted Nashville fans, who did not want to lose the team, eventually rallied and sold enough tickets to make the team attractive enough for a mostly local group to make an offer and eventually purchase the team.
There was also the factor that Bettman interceded and made it clear that he did not want the team to move from one of his “non-traditional” market cities. Bettman was clearly able to show Balsillie who was in charge and managed to black-ball his efforts.
Move forward two years and the nightmare has returned and is bigger and has more teeth than before. Under the cover of a non-league approved bankruptcy filling by the Phoenix Coyotes, Jim Balsillie had his bid in for purchase of the franchise along with the filings.
This strategic move by Balsillie, blindsiding the league, who claimed to have been running the franchise, will definitely give him more of a foothold in the dealings than he had with the Predators. The bankruptcy court is more about protection for creditors than appealing to the NHL owners “good ole boys club”.
At this point, it’s a total crap shoot as to what will happen as it plays out over the next few months (or years). All the cards have not been played and most of the facts are unknown.
I personally would like to see the Toronto area get a second team. It’s the center of the hockey galaxy and the loyal Canadian fans need a second team, probably more than any of the US markets with multiple teams.
I, selfishly, as a Predators fan, would also like to see Balsillie get a team so that he will not be looming on the horizon as a potential purchaser of the 26% of the Predators that is tied up in the “Boot” Del Biaggio bankruptcy filing.
My heart absolutely breaks for those Phoenix fans that truly love the Coyotes and live and die with the team with every win and loss. Nashville fans have been there and survived to live another day. I hope that this incident will inspire the Coyote faithful to do as Nashville did and fight for the team that they love. Good luck, and don’t give up!
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass and the Columbia Daily Herald