“Bettman has only a marginal interest in the weaker teams. He only wants the NHL to make a bigger profit as a whole.” -- Dominik Hasek

May 24, 2007

So Long Predators, We Hardly Knew Ye

Jim Balsillie wanted to buy the Penguins. When that didn't work out, he just scrolled down the list of NHL teams alphabetically organized on his Blackberry and decided to go for the Predators next. This time, he had a little more luck.

Not so lucky are the 15,000 or so Nashville residents who attended the Predators games (on average) last season. Despite being a dominant team during the regular season, the Preds haven't been able to generate the kind of local corporate interest so critical to the survival of modern professional sports teams. There was plenty of talk during this past season that of all the teams in the NHL other than the Florida Panthers, the Nashville Predators were the most likely to move in the coming years.

It's likely that it won't take more than two. Balsillie won't move the Predators next season, but there is no doubt that his plans involve taking the team back to Canada with him, probably to somewhere in Quebec or Ontario---or so the rumors go.

Can't say that I blame him, since Canada could use another team (or four) and the fine residents of Tennessee just aren't going to appreciate hockey like people farther north.

I've actually been to two games at the Gaylord Entertainment Center where the Predators play. They were both Avs games, of course. I saw the Avs lose to Nashville during the 2000-01 season (the last year they won the Cup) and again I saw the Avs play an awesome but unfortunate OT loss to the Preds during the 2005-06 season. Both times I had a lot of fun and enjoyed the Nashville atmosphere. It will be a shame to lose it as a hockey town.

But such is life. One more year and the Predators will be somewhere in Canada, probably with a new name and a new look. Whatever pans out should be interesting, at least.


Mike Thompson said...

The death knell may be a bit premature. Attendence for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs has been horrible, and this is the playoffs!

The Preds just signed a multi-year arena naming-rights deal with a local company that has many 'ins' with the local business community.

The Board of Govs may have OK'd the sale, but will the OK the move? Doesn't Bettman want more US viewers? How will moving a team north of the border help those numbers? How will moving a team to Hamilton improve the league?

I just don't see it being this clear cut. Balsille got his toy, but it doesn't mean he's taking it through customs just yet.

Jibblescribbits said...

I am gonna agree with Mike on this one. I am not sure they are 100% gone, but there is a very good possibility.

If they move to Canada, where would they go? Winnipeg? Quebec City? Didn't teams already move from those places for lack of Fan support, and local businesses. Why would they move from one troubled market to another.

I think he will keep them in Nashville a couple more years, and see how the Seattle Sonics situation plays out. If they move to OK City, I would think he'd try to move the PRedators to Seattle.

Dear Lord Stanley said...

Mike - I'd argue that there's a big difference between an AHL team and a full-on NHL franchise as far as fans would be concerned. And I'd also argue that any deals signed while the old ownership was in place could pretty easily disappear with Balsillie now in charge. Multi-year deals always have "outs". And Bettman may want more US viewers, but if they're not there (and they aren't in Nashville), what choice does he have? He can't squeeze blood from a Tennessee turnip. Your points are all valid, but we're both speculating here and I really think there's a solid chance Nashville won't have a team in two seasons. I can totally accept that fact that I may be way off base.

Jibs, while I don't think Winnipeg can support an NHL team today, it's tough to say---for any city---"they didn't then so they won't now." Things change, and it's been a long time (relatively speaking) since Quebec and Winnipeg lost their teams. The environment that teams like the Nordiques and the Jets abandoned in their cities in the early 90s may have changed. All I know are the rumors I've read, so I'm just speculating here. In all likelihood, the cities I named CAN'T support an NHL team---but neither can Nashville, so who knows?

Teebz said...

Quebec City and Winnipeg will never get an NHL team back. They're too small, and they don't have the corporate support. I've gone over the reasons why Winnipeg is not an NHL city on my blog.

If here is any city that can support an NHL team, it's Nashville. The problem is that college sports, the NFL, and auto racing occupy the major sports niches in that city.

Balsillie should be encouraged to support the team there. Moving it will only hurt hockey in the long run.

Dear Lord Stanley said...

I'll be honest with everyone. I don't think any city---US or Canada---needs another NHL team. Not Seattle, not KC, not Hartford, Winnipeg or Quebec. In fact, I think the NHL should shrink by at least two teams. I don't think expanding the league to 30 teams and the Deep South was a good plan, and judging from attendance numbers and revenues, it wasn't.

Now, as for Balsillie, again, everyone here has made great points about the legitimacy of (or lack thereof) specific Canadian markets, but that doesn't mean he will listen to reason. He seems dead-set on moving a team to Canada, and I'd wager he'll take that risk.

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