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Balsillie: Canada should have another NHL team

QUEBEC CITY – Would-be NHL owner Jim Balsillie said Thursday night he enjoys pursuing what he believes in and he made it abundantly clear that he firmly believes Canada should have at least one more NHL team.

So despite the fact that Balsillie - co-CEO of Research In Motion, the company that makes BlackBerry mobile devices - has been rebuffed in his attempts to buy a team, don’t look for him to go away anytime soon.

“I don’t know how or if I will be involved,” Balsillie said, “but I do believe Canada should have another NHL team.”

Balsillie said he was in Quebec City for a hockey tournament last week, but the fact he is here for the World Championship undoubtedly has given him the opportunity to keep in contact with the power brokers at all levels of the game.

Some industry sources have indicated that as many of eight teams in the NHL are for sale right now and Balsillie acknowledged he’s well aware there are a number of teams that could be purchased. He declined, however, to either confirm or deny reports he met with Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano last December to explore the possibilities of buying that team.

One thing Balsillie did seem to make clear is he’s not interested in buying a U.S.-based team, particularly one that is in a struggling market, and keeping it where it is. He said at least a half-dozen times in a five-minute period that he believes Canada deserves another NHL team whether he is involved in the ownership or not.

Balsillie was part of a Champions Alumni Game Thursday at the Pepsi Colisee where the World Championship is being played. It was an interesting dynamic to say the least, considering the fact the game was organized by the Gazprom Export company from Russia, which is run by Russian billionaire Alexander Medvedev, who is restructuring the Russian League amid speculation that it will poach Russian talent from NHL rosters.

By having both Balsillie and Medvedev in the game and at the championship, it brought together the two most powerful and richest men in the hockey world who do not currently own NHL teams.

But the way Balsillie was talking, he sounded like a man who is intent on not making that a permanent situation.

“Canada is the home of hockey, the birthplace of hockey and the soul of hockey,” Balsillie said, “and I think Canada should have another pro hockey team. Wherever, they should have one or two more.”

Balsillie even acknowledged he thinks Quebec would make a fertile market for the league if it ever returned.

The NHL is not exactly in agreement. Sources have said that if the league ever does return to Canada, the most likely destination would be Winnipeg.

“Obviously, Quebec should get its team back,” Balsillie said.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently said in order for the league to return to Quebec, it would require both a committed owner and a new building to replace the antiquated Colisee and Balsillie acknowledged he would be in the position to fill both of those requirements.

“I could afford to pay for it, yeah, I could afford to…sure you could build a building, of course,” Balsillie said. “Canada is a prosperous country and people love hockey and you would fill the building in a day.”

When he was asked why he doesn’t go ahead and do it in Quebec City, he replied, “It’s not my decision.”

Medvedev, meanwhile, quelled fears his league would attempt to poach players under contract to NHL teams, but said the new Continental Hockey League – which is made up of the former Russian League along with teams from Latvia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine – will undoubtedly pursue high-profile players who will become restricted and unrestricted free agents July 1.

He said each of the 24 teams will have a salary floor of $10 million and an upper cap of $22.5 million.

“I believe you’ll see some interesting names next season in our league from the NHL” Medvedev said.

When asked who some of those players might be, he said he couldn’t say because not all the contracts are signed yet. In the absence of an agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation, there doesn’t seem to be any tampering issues for the Russian league to deal with, so it’s possible the league is talking with players who are under contract and will be free agents July 1.

Medvedev also announced he will be running for vice-president of the IIHF at the annual congress next week in Montreal and there is a good chance he will win. Medvedev is seen as something of a renegade and the IIHF is privately encouraged by the fact he’ll be on the executive, since it will be easier to reign him in if he is in their fold.


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