20070614_hamilton-preds.jpg

The Hamilton Predators?

Images: Copps Coliseum, OHL Arena Guide. Predators logo, The Team Traveler

The hockey world, especially those in southern Ontario, has been a buzz with talk of the Nashville Predators possibly relocating to Hamilton (or Waterloo) though the move is far from certain.

So before you start pulling on a Paul Kariya jersey with the word "Nashville" scratched off the shoulder and dreaming of the NHL's version of the Labour Day Classic there are a few things you need to know about.

First of all, whether or not the Predators leave Tennessee is not entirely prospective team owner and former Research in Motion chairman Jim Balsillie's decision. No matter how much RIM Jim wants a professional hockey team in his own backyard the NHL board of governors would need to approve both the sale and the relocation. This is where things get sticky. The votes on Balsillie's ownership bid and possible relocation are not even on the agenda at the next NHL board of governors meeting.

Besides, before the Preds could even dream of facing off on Copps Coliseum ice the arena would likely need massive renovations. A recent Toronto Star article said that it would take a "total retrofit" just to meet NHL standards. The arena "just doesn't have the amenities necessary to make a viable NHL facility." Though, to be fair, Jim Balsillie isn't shy about spending money. He lost what is believed to be millions of dollars when Mario Lemieux refused to return Balsillie's deposit after Balsillie pulled out of a deal that would have seen him become the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm sure the money needed to renovate Copps would end up being less than Balsillie spends on lattes.

So money may not be the issue here. Another factor that could block this move would be everyone's favourite blue and white franchise: the Toronto Maple Leafs. You see, the Leaf Nation extends down the QEW into Hamilton. Hamilton is also dangerously close to Buffalo Sabres territory. While Hamilton is just outside of the 80-kilometre radius that is Buffalo's home territory, the Sabres count about 12 per cent of their season-ticket holders from the Niagara region.

Finally, would Hamilton, London, or Waterloo even be able to sustain an NHL franchise? And would the board of governors approve a move into Canada while the NHL is trying to expand viewership in the United States? Las Vegas, Kansas City, Houston, and Portland are among the larger American television markets that do not currently have NHL teams. It's feasible to assume that the NHL would prefer a move to one of these markets. Kansas City does have the brand new, NHL-ready, Sprint Center sitting empty after the Penguins decided to stay in Pittsburgh.

That being said, about 40 per cent of the NHL's revenue comes from Canada and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the highest revenue-generating team in the NHL. In Nashville the Predators challenged for the President's Trophy but only averaged 13,815 in paid attendance and generated less money that most teams in the league. Relocating a struggling franchise into southern Ontario could be exactly what the NHL needs to bring in some extra cash.

The Leafs may even enjoy some increased profit, as a Hamilton franchise would create another "battle of Ontario." Think of how much you hate the Ottawa Senators and multiply that by about 10, add in the millions of dollars Balsillie would likely be required to pay the Leafs in indemnity fees and you'll see that the answer is big money.

Is it feasible that we could be battling the Hamilton Predators for a playoff spot in the near future? Balsillie thinks so. Ticketmaster has already begun taking deposits for season tickets at Copps Coliseum, and no one even knows if or when an NHL team will play there.


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