Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

October 27, 2008

SCHMITT: NHL shouldn’t duck Balsillie again

BUFFALO — Ain’t gonna happen, Gary Bettman said in so many words on Monday, just like he has countless times before.

No expansion. No relocation. No second team in Toronto.

Period.

That is, of course, the company line Bettman is obliged to drop. He can’t give Jim Balsillie fodder for Blackberry messages that could get the snowball that is another Canadian franchise into full avalanche mode.

Or heaven forbid he gives any juicy nuggets to the Canadian media, which rabidly gulps National Hockey League gossip like the American media slobbers over NFL tidbits.

So even though stories have buzzed through Toronto about how members of the NHL’s Board of Governors discussed a possible second franchise in Canada’s biggest city, the Commish looked squarely into a small contingent of reporters and summoned his best George H. W. Bush.

Read my lips. No. New. Teams.

“I’m not going to speculate on something that hasn’t been discussed as a possibility,” Bettman said, his nose protruding ever so slightly all the while.

The truth of the matter is it’s discussed on a nightly basis up in T.O., where coach Ron Wilson’s preseason address was more an admission that the Leafs have zero chance of reaching the postseason. The joke is Toronto is hoping the Research in Motion co-founder can finally give the city pro hockey. It’s a classic, but still worth a smile, and on a night when the Sabres forgot to put their skates on, it was nice to find a reason to smile.

It’s fun to despise the Leafs, and it’d be equally fun to despise another Southern Ontario franchise. Balsillie has tried to squelch his maverick image, but he’s a Jerry Jones-like figure, and isn’t that exactly what the NHL needs more of? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Dallas Cowboys evoke emotion. And when they travel, they do it well, typically before packed houses.

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