Monday, December 18, 2006

Balsillie to Bettman: C U L8er, Pens now ponder their options

The surprise announcement from Friday that Ontario’s Jim Balsillie had walked away from the table over the purchase of the Penguins has sent a few shock waves around the hockey world.

The billionaire from Kitchener who is the force behind the blackberry, perhaps felt the urge to text message Gary Bettman with his regrets that after the NHL tacked on a number of conditions to his plan to purchase the Penguins from the consortium led by Mario Lemieux.

The deal reportedly fell apart last week, when the NHL decided that for the privilege of handing over 175 million dollars to run a team in a city that has been luke warm of late, Balsillie would have to declare undying love and desire to stay in the Pennsylvania city, even if plans for a new arena fall apart.

But are things as they appear? Has Balsillie really cashed in his chips and walked away from the table? Damien Cox of the Toronto Star provides an interesting take on the spectacle of the weekend, one which suggests that perhaps the two sides are in tandem to put pressure on the Government of Pennsylvania to hand off the arena issue to the Island of Capri gambling group. And well, there was Balsillie on the weekend in a box watching his former possible investment play the Canadiens, perhaps we haven't heard the last of his name with the Pens after all!

Cox also probes further into the issue and gives some traction to the concept that the NHL would rather have their franchises locate anywhere else but in the nation that gave the game its birth and still provides the bulk of what dwindling fan base the sport has. It is as Cox says, something that should stick in the craw of many Canadians.

While all of that sorts itself out, now comes word that yet another Canadian is interested in buying the Pens, Ontario beer maker Frank D’Angelo from Steelback breweries, who most recently was chasing (and subsequently turned down about) a CFL franchise has turned his self promoting ways towards the legions of Crosby, Malkin and Fleury.

D’Angelo who does seem to enjoy the spotlight, says he’s serious about his interest and will be making contact with the NHL once the arena issue is sorted out in the next week or so. Expect the NHL to put call screening to work on that one.

His attempts to buy the moth balled CFL Ottawa Renegades were turned away by league officials, despite the fact that the number of suitors with actual cash to run the once CFL team have dwindled over the last six months. So you have to wonder what Gary Bettman might think of the very public chase about to be launched by D’Angelo.

Considered too uh, risky, for an always on the cusp CFL, don’t expect him to be greeted with open arms by the Bettman battalion (though you never know with that pack). As a matter of fact if they’re so short sighted as to let someone of Balsillies’ passion (not to mention financial means) slip through their fingers then the league truly shall reap what it deserves.

Whether he finds it sensible to run the team in Pittsburgh, or crunches the numbers to find that Kitchener would make more financial sense, the simple fact is that the league needs a bit of credibility these days. With a couple of owners in jail and past embarrassments the thing of legend, to watch this Pittsburgh situation degenerate into farce is not what the league needs nor what it deserves.

Gary Bettman should get back to his blackberry, type in those characters that will set this all right. R U up 4 a D8! Wine him, dine him and stop putting road blocks in the way of returning you sport to some kind of relevance. The mess in Pittsburgh has gone on far too long, it's time to solve it once and for all.

The above post first appeared on my HockeyNation blog, for more items about hockey check it out!

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