Why Balsillie went ballistic

RIM’s billionaire boss has been shut out of the NHL. Is the league to blame—or is he?

by Charlie Gillis and Michael Friscolanti

Why Balsillie went ballisticCraig Leipold is not the sort of man who shoots off his mouth. Even before he joined the cloistered ranks of the National Hockey League as owner of the Nashville Predators, the sandy-haired entrepreneur from Racine, Wisc., had carved a reputation for discretion—a virtue no doubt learned from his in-laws. Leipold’s wife happens to be Helen Johnson of S.C. Johnson & Company fame, and while her husband long ago proved his business bona fides, Leipold’s social station speaks for itself. You don’t gain entry into one of America’s most venerable families by waging unseemly personal battles.

But when the subject of Jim Balsillie comes up, as it did during a deposition hearing last month, Leipold’s customary reserve flies out the window. Now the owner of the Minnesota Wild, Leipold was testifying as part of the high-profile bankruptcy proceedings of the Phoenix Coyotes, recalling the six months of fractured negotiations in 2007 when he’d tried to sell the Predators to Balsillie. For two years, Leipold had kept his feelings about the quixotic Canadian billionaire largely to himself. Now, from his lawyer’s Main Street offices in Racine, he was about to pound a rhetorical stake through Balsillie’s reputation.

“He’s untrustworthy. He’s deceiving. He’s arrogant. He’s a person who doesn’t know how to be a partner in our business,” Leipold testified. “When there is someone that you have dealt with and that has lied to you continually, that has deceived you—knowing that he was going to deceive you at the end—that is a pretty good reason to dislike him. Yes, it is true. I do dislike the man.”

At some points his tirade turned ominous: “This is the way [Balsillie] operates. He operates by threats, by innuendos, by phone calls to people. Quiet phone calls, and you can connect the dots.” But mostly it revolved around what Leipold viewed as Balsillie’s rank capriciousness. “This is a person,” he said, “I could never support as an owner.”

How things have changed. This was the same Craig Leipold, recall, who’d gone to bat for the Research in Motion magnate back in 2007 in hopes of completing his deal, scrambling to assuage the suspicions of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and coaching the Canadian on how best to navigate the Byzantine initiation process of league ownership. Initially, Leipold had even contemplated retaining a minority stake in the Predators so he could work with Balsillie. That the mild-mannered Wisconsian has since sunk so far into vitriol speaks to his disappointment at a failed mega-deal. But it also illustrates something many Canadian hockey fans are loath to consider: that Balsillie has fumbled three attempts to acquire an NHL franchise, and fumbled them badly.

Such a view diverges, of course, from a popular narrative here in Canada, in which the NHL’s resolute opposition to locating a second team in southern Ontario has driven Balsillie to ever more desperate measures. The multi-billionaire and his agents have fed that story with messianic enthusiasm, granting friendly reporters access to the dressing room for his pickup games, and launching a website aimed at stoking our offended patriotism. “My motivations are simple,” he proclaimed in a recent affidavit. “They are my love of the game of hockey, my repeatedly demonstrated commitment to Canada and southern Ontario, and my strong belief that the community of southern Ontario, the game of hockey and Canada will benefit from a seventh NHL franchise.”

But in recent weeks, another narrative has arisen from the mountain of court documents filed in Phoenix, pointing to something more visceral than mere jingoism, or passion for a game. What started five years ago as a sincere desire to join the club of NHL owners has mutated into full-blown obsession, prompting Balsillie to take actions no rational business person could imagine succeeding. To be sure, he’s been pushed. From the outset, the league and its combative commissioner, Bettman, have treated the Canadian tycoon with suspicion; they’ve never been completely forthright about their reasons for resisting an NHL team in Hamilton (the prospect of confrontation with the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs). But the best deal makers learn from their mistakes, and in this case, Balsillie hasn’t. Far from building support among potential allies, he has left behind a list of powerful enemies who want nothing more than to see him fail. Again.

There was a time, believe it or not, when Jim Balsillie wanted nothing more than to keep his NHL fantasies a secret. Back in 2003, years before he tried to use a bankruptcy spat to smuggle the Phoenix Coyotes into Hamilton, he was the silent partner (i.e. driving force) behind another, much smaller enterprise: HHC Acquisition Corp. The company was created for one reason—to bring a National Hockey League franchise to Steeltown—but Balsillie, the man holding the purse strings, was anxious to avoid the spotlight. So anxious, in fact, that he set up a second company (2039802 Ontario Inc.) to funnel his investments to HHC. As one of his lawyers later wrote, the goal “was to keep Jim one step removed” and “to protect his privacy.”

There was also a time, believe it or not, when Jim Balsillie exchanged civil pleasantries—and cellphone numbers—with Bettman, now his arch-nemesis. At their first formal meeting, a New York sit-down on March 28, 2006, the BlackBerry boss shared his top-secret dreams for a hockey team in southern Ontario. Accompanied by his bulldog attorney, Richard Rodier, Balsillie told Bettman that HHC had already secured a lease agreement for Copps Coliseum, and that he was willing to reach into his own deep pockets to renovate the ill-fated arena. The commissioner, though, was not impressed. The region simply cannot support another franchise, he said, even if the rink does get a much-needed facelift.

Instead, Bettman looked across the table and suggested another option. What about Pittsburgh? The Penguins are still for sale.

And so it began: Jim Balsillie’s gradual, improbable plunge from wealthy, wannabe owner to NHL pariah.

Almost immediately, Balsillie’s camp began negotiating a deal to buy the Penguins from a group that included scoring legend Mario Lemieux. Later that June, while Bettman was in B.C. for the annual entry draft, he received a surprise phone call from his new friend. “I was actually in the lobby of the Sheraton Wall Hotel in Vancouver, and he was on his way to either a bicycle trip or a bicycle race,” Bettman recalled, testifying this summer at his own deposition. “And he said to me: ‘I need some advice. I’m not sure what to do about these negotiations.’ And I remember saying to him: ‘Jim, unless you’re prepared for the possibility that you will own the Penguins in Pittsburgh forever, you shouldn’t buy the team.’ And he said: ‘That’s really good advice, I appreciate it.’ And then he dropped out of the bidding.”

To Bettman, the message was crystal clear: Balsillie was still in love with his southern Ontario scenario—the same one they discussed on March 28—and he had no interest in owning a team south of the border.

Which is why, when Balsillie suddenly changed his mind and re-entered the Pittsburgh negotiations later that summer, Bettman became suspicious. “There was a real concern as to whether or not Mr. Balsillie was really going to try and work things out in Pittsburgh or try to figure out a way to extricate them and move them,” he testified. “This was an issue relating to Mr. Balsillie’s credibility. Did he mean what he said?”

What he said (or allegedly said, or allegedly didn’t say) is now the stuff of sworn affidavits. But this much is certain: when the Penguins were on the market in 2006, the team was in desperate need of a new rink. At the same time, the state of Pennsylvania was in the process of granting a slots licence for a casino development in downtown Pittsburgh, and one of the bidders, Isle of Capri, had pledged to fork over US$290 million toward a new arena—but only if it won the casino licence. Any potential buyer, Balsillie included, would have to honour that arrangement and keep the Pens in town.

Despite his Hamilton ambitions, Balsillie insists he was fully committed to staying put in Pittsburgh. On Aug. 29, 2006, during another sit-down with NHL brass, he threw his unequivocal support behind the Isle of Capri bid, and if that proposal fell through, he vowed to work diligently on a so-called “Plan B,” which would include an undetermined blend of private, government and out-of-pocket funding. As for what transpired during the rest of the meeting, it depends on which side you believe.

At the heart of the now-disputed storylines is the league’s so-called “seven-year” clause, a standard rule that prohibits a new owner from immediately relocating his team. Balsillie, concerned that the stipulation would handcuff him during arena negotiations, says he was under the impression that Bettman agreed to waive the requirement. Bettman says no such discussions ever occurred.

Amid those mixed signals, negotiations picked up steam. By Oct. 4—the day before the season began—Balsillie and the Lemieux group had reached a tentative agreement worth US$175 million. All that was left was a rubber stamp from the NHL’s other 29 owners. “I was thrilled and excited about the prospect of owning the Penguins,” Balsillie testified in August, noting that his private jet could whisk him to a game in 45 minutes flat. “Of all the ironies, I could get to Pittsburgh faster than I could get to downtown Toronto for a Leafs game from my home in Waterloo.”

To prove his commitment to the team, Balsillie even ordered HHC to cancel its lease option with Copps Coliseum.

But then came Dec. 4, 2006—the day of Balsillie’s face-to-face interview with the executive committee of the NHL board of governors. As Balsillie recalled in his deposition, he considered it more of a meet-and-greet than anything else. “I thought they were just trying to size me up, really,” he testified. “My sense of it is these people were just trying to get a sense of who I am, how I think, who they are dealing with, what kind of person I am.” After the meeting, Balsillie shook some hands and boarded a plane for China. “I walked out and thought: ‘What a nice bunch of people. I am excited. We are going to get this done. We are going to win a Cup.’ ”

It turns out that the executive committee had a much different recollection. According to numerous statements filed in court, Balsillie promised during the interview to agree to a long list of provisions, including a promise to allow Bettman to take charge of negotiations with local politicians if arena talks stalled. Balsillie, the owners say, also agreed to give the league the option to buy the Penguins back if he ever threatened to relocate. The kicker? When the NHL subsequently forwarded Balsillie’s lawyers a draft of the consent agreement, it also included the infamous seven-year clause.

Balsillie now says he agreed to none of those clauses. “Shock and surprise is an understatement,” he later testified. “I pride myself in being a clear communicator and a consistent person in my business dealings, and I just can’t see how I gave people representations that I was going to materially change my deal at the 11th hour for unnecessary reasons.”

The league offered a compromise: it agreed to cut and paste the contentious clauses into a confidential side letter—and not the publicly available agreement—ensuring that Balsillie would maintain his negotiating leverage for a new arena. During an emergency conference call on Dec. 11, Bettman also asked an aggravated Balsillie to wait until the state ruled on the slots licence. (Remember, if the Isle of Capri came out on top, the arena problem would be solved and the legal wrangling over relocation clauses would be moot.)

But a few days after that phone call, Balsillie lost his patience. Convinced that the owners had tried to sneak in a slew of last-minute conditions, he pulled his offer for the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I deal with leaders of companies around the world,” he would later testify. “And I have never in my business career had any experience remotely close to this where I had such a misunderstanding.” In the words of one of his lawyers, the side letter was “insulting and unnecessary.”

Mario Lemieux was equally appalled—“shocked and offended that Mr. Balsillie would back out of such an important deal.” His fellow owners were just as livid, furious that he refused to put his promises to paper.

One person, though, was anything but shocked: Gary Bettman. “The fact that he wouldn’t [sign on] to the various things he had agreed to with the executive committee told me two things,” the commissioner testified this summer. “One: our suspicions that he had no intention of trying to keep the team in Pittsburgh had foundation to them. And two: once again he was saying things that were untrue. He wasn’t standing behind his word.”

Anyone who figured the Pittsburgh experience had crushed Balsillie’s NHL dreams—and plenty of informed observers did—underestimated how long the RIM boss had been casing the league’s lame-duck franchises. Or the lengths he was willing to go to get one. In March 2005, more than a year before he made his offer for the Penguins, city finance officials in Nashville had received a mysterious call from a man identifying himself as Balsillie’s lawyer and making inquiries about the team’s arena lease. The caller’s name was Richard Rodier, and he said he wanted to know whether the Predators were in breach of an obscure clause in the deal requiring the team to maintain a net worth of more than $30 million—an amount intended to cover the city for money it had contributed for the Predators’ NHL expansion fees, and for improvements to the Sommet Center.

David Manning, then the finance director for the city, says he didn’t think much of Rodier’s calls at the time. “It’s my recollection that we were already aware of the net worth and lease issues,” he told Maclean’s in an email. Yet within weeks of the inquiries, the city embarked on a costly two-year legal battle against Leipold over the net worth issue, which saw the municipality withhold thousands of dollars that the club desperately needed. By early 2007, Leipold had lost $70 million operating the team, and was looking to sell. To the surprise of many, Jim Balsillie was on hand with a very generous offer.

Leipold knew nothing of the 2005 calls at the time. But he did know the Canadian billionaire would be a tough sell to Bettman and the rest of the NHL owners, with Pittsburgh so fresh in their memories. He also understood that Balsillie wanted to put a team in Hamilton. The Canadian’s opening offer in February 2007 put everything on the table. It not only required the Predators to relocate to southern Ontario the following season, but for Leipold to get NHL consent for them to do so. It was, in short, a non-starter: Nashville’s arena lease had a default provision allowing the city one season to try to boost average ticket sales back up to 14,000, which would keep the team in place. Any agreement to move the club before then would expose the league to severe criticism and probably legal action.

Yet there was too much money on the table for Leipold to walk away. “This $220-million offer is $50m MORE in cash at closing than Boots’ offer,” he wrote to Bettman in a late-night email, referring to a competing bid from Silicon Valley financier William “Boots” Del Biaggio. “I think it’s something I need to pursue for that kind of valuation.”

So Leipold set about trying to make both the offer and Balsillie acceptable to the NHL—if Balsillie was able to relocate the team after the deal closed, so much the better. For a while, Leipold seemed to be succeeding. By May 1, he says in documents filed in the Phoenix court, he’d persuaded Rodier to drop the demand to have relocation as part of the deal before closing; 11 days later, the Balsillie camp agreed to a new term sheet requiring them to sign the league’s dreaded seven-year non-relocation clause and to put $10 million in escrow as a non-refundable deposit.

Then, without warning, Balsillie changed his mind, and Leipold is still not entirely clear why. Balsillie has since said he feared what would happen if the city failed to reach the 14,000-ticket mark and the team found itself without an arena lease. “Before I wrote this $220-million cheque—and that’s a big cheque—I needed to know,” he said in his deposition. He also deemed the new terms to be last-minute changes all too reminiscent of his experience in Pittsburgh, according to Leipold, and was especially offended by the escrow demand (a spokesman for Balsillie said he was unavailable for comment).

The better question, however, is why the RIM CEO agreed to the terms to begin with. Because at this point Balsillie seemed to snap, turning to tactics that were clearly designed to inflict maximum embarrassment on the NHL. On May 24, he left Leipold sitting alone at a press conference in Nashville to announce the sale of the Predators, while Balsillie’s legal team set about rewriting the agreement on their own. The next day, Leipold received a revised purchase agreement from Balsillie’s lawyers transferring all financial risk back to the American businessman if the team wasn’t allowed to relocate. And that was just the beginning. One week later, at a meeting in Waterloo that Balsillie attended, Rodier began issuing veiled threats, Leipold alleges, suggesting the Predators’ owner would soon find himself answering to the Canadian Competition Bureau should he refuse to close the deal on Balsillie’s terms.

At the same meeting, Leipold testified, Rodier suggested that Leipold should sue the City of Nashville for bad-faith negotiating over their lease. Under the cover of this litigation, said Leipold, the Balsillie team could “bring in trucks in the dead of night and move [the Predators] out of town.” (Reached by phone this week, Rodier refused to comment on Leipold’s allegations, saying only that he addressed the claims in his own deposition; however, that portion of his testimony is not available in the public court file.) The competition bureau did open an investigation that fall, calling Leipold to testify before concluding the league had not engaged in anti-competitive activity.

The Balsillie camp’s most provocative move was yet to come. On June 14, the team began selling reservations for season tickets to fans in Hamilton, surpassing the Predators’ 9,000-subscriber base in Nashville within 12 hours. Balsillie has said he did so to demonstrate support for the team. It now seems more an attempt to inflict damage on the Predators. Leipold revealed in his deposition that he had personally called Balsillie four days earlier to tell him the deal was off. So why sell the tickets if not to scare off fans in Nashville? “He didn’t have an application pending to relocate,” Bettman fumed during his own deposition in August. “He didn’t even have a valid contract to buy the franchise. What he did here was completely out of line.”

Against this backdrop, it is hard to view Balsillie’s recent attempt to gain control of the Phoenix Coyotes as anything less than a frontal attack—an opportunity to put the NHL on the public hot seat for a change. But the process has laid bare the worst of Balsillie’s machinations, too. In Pittsburgh, he refused to put his signature where his mouth was. In Nashville, he used methods that seemed at best irrational, at worst underhanded. By the winter of 2009, when Balsillie first set his sights on the cash-starved Coyotes, even he realized there was only one real option left: getting a court to do what the NHL won’t. “I spent five years looking for a front door,” he told reporters in May. “I found a side door.”

Or is he hell-bent on blowing up the entire building? In April, Balsillie struck a secret deal with Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, who agreed to file for bankruptcy and then sell the team to Balsillie for US$212.5 million—on the sole condition that the club be moved to Hamilton. As part of the pact, Moyes launched an anti-trust lawsuit against the league, claiming the NHL was an “illegal cartel” and that the Toronto Maple Leafs have conspired to preserve “market power” in the GTA. If the other owners didn’t despise Balsillie already, they certainly do now. “You’re trying to join a group, and you don’t join that group by making their life miserable,” says Gabe Feldman, a sports law professor at Tulane University. “Balsillie has more than shot himself in the foot. He shot his entire leg off.”

At least his intentions are clear this time around: Balsillie will buy the team only if he can move it north of the border. But after all he’s said and done, transparency may not be enough. Redfield T. Baum, the judge overseeing the Coyotes bankruptcy, has repeatedly voiced reluctance to force a new partner on an unwilling sports league—much less the relocation of one of its franchises. Meantime, the owners have every reason to doubt Balsillie. Why did he lead the owners in Pittsburgh and Nashville to think he was willing to purchase and try operating their teams where they were? Why did he turn to bully tactics against Leipold when he didn’t get his way? For NHL owners, it all comes down to the issue of trust. “We have just a tremendous amount of experience with Mr. Balsillie, and it hasn’t been good,” said Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, testifying at his own deposition this summer. “His memory was very selective in how he construed things. He just wasn’t somebody that we felt was really truthful and acceptable as a future partner.”

A written declaration filed last month by the league is even more blunt: “There is something sad about Mr. Balsillie’s inability to grasp the plain fact that it is his conduct, insensitivity, perceived lack of trustworthiness and unwillingness to accept responsibility for his own actions over several years that has caused the NHL Board of Governors to wish to not be associated with him in the business of professional hockey.”

Such harsh words likely won’t be enough to scare away Jim Balsillie. He is committed to his dream, and consumed by the desire to best the NHL once and for all. So consumed, in fact, that he’s blinded to a paradox the rest of the world can see: the greater the lengths he goes to reach his prize, the further away it gets.




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Why Balsillie went ballistic

  1. There was deviousness on both sides, I think. Balsillie wants a professional hockey team. If he can't have an NHL team he might start another league. Yes, he's obsessed but there's fault of both sides. Bettman is not a white hat either. Balsillie is connected to a lot of very powerful people. Bettman should think about that.

  2. There is enough blame to go around. I don't think it's fair to place all the blame on Balsillie. It is really the NHL's reluctance to place a franchise in Southern Ontario, or Canada at all, that is the root cause of all the troubles.

    I don't believe that Balsillie's intentions have every been misrepresented.

  3. I am personally digusted in your story on Jim Balsillie. As a Canadian hailing from S Ontario – a much more interesting article would have been on the hidden "veto" issue and why the NHL would fight so hard to keep a team from a self proclaimed lucrative market and a billionaire hockey fan in favour of hockey in the desert and no owner whatsoever. Where is the story about the lack of fight by Bettman in Winnipeg or Quebec City? I hope you get a lot of subscriptions from south of the border because you just lost mine.

  4. The switcheroo that Gary Bettman tried in the Pittsburgh deal is in keeping with his own "poor character". Once po'ed at Bettman, Balsillie may have decided to take matters into his own hands, but I say so what? The NHL is now getting what is long overdue. The MLSE is getting the same. The CCB (competition bureau) is ready to pounce the moment Balsillie gets teh team against the monopoly of MLSE. Baby, you aint seen nothing yet. The comeuppance has started for the sly of heart at the NHL, and Jim Balsillie is the man to fix the issue! See our site for plenty of coverage.

  5. I think your website should be http://www.macleans.us not .ca
    This article is so anti-Canadian you should be linched and fired. In any order.
    You don't think Bettman is sneaky, or has never lied or made backdoor deals. You think all the NHL owners are squeeky clean? Please. Give your head a shake.
    Balsillie has no choice but to push their buttons. He will never get a team in Hamilton as long as Toronto is around. Now try some real reporting and investigating and see what you can dig up there. Until then please do not attemp to write on this subject anymore. What an embarrassment.

  6. Jim Balsillie has accomplished more for hockey and Canada then you'll ever know. The REAL question you should ask is why is the NHL allowing teams to lose money while ignoring the 5th largest hockey market and a billionaire owner with money to spare? But maybe provocative is a better magazine seller than REAL reporting, keep it up and you'll become obsolete.

  7. Wow, all that dirt digging and you missed the point of this whole thing. It's amazing how a talented writer can twist the truth to their own means. Let me, a common hockey fan, dumb the facts down for you. You've been convinced by the NHL that Jim has been crazy and underhanded. The fact is the NHL is being crazy and underhanded, Jim has merely shown the fortitude to face them. Never has an owner been blocked trying to move a team. The NHL has now done this 3 times, why?, you know, I know, the world knows even the CCB (oh yeah I've talked directly) knows, it's to protect MLSEs monopoly. So before you write an scathing anti-Canadian article you should research the other side. Maybe visit http://www.makeiteighteh.com it's funny bloggers seem to have more insight and integrity than you.

  8. When the billionaires locked out the millionaires who swore they were on strike I quit caring and watching.
    I applaud the amazing work by so many volunteers and parents in minor hockey, but unless they are dellusional they are doing it for love… both for their kids and the game they play and the lessons they learn playing it (hard work pays off, practise practise, dont let down your team mates by slacking etc.).

    I think the NHL could do itself a favor by looking at an organization like the Saskatchewan Roughriders and how they have become a member of the community, not just carpet baggers with a cash vacuum who parachute in and put on a show.

  9. No wonder I'm not a subscriber to Macleans' magazine, reading this article, I'd say they are on the NHL payroll. Absolutely horrendous that this Canadian Magazine would publish such filth…I'm really appalled I see now where your morals lie.

    Shameful!

  10. I just followed a link from Google to this article and unless I had read the comments I would have no idea this was supposed to be a Maclean's article. This is one of the most biased, disgusting pieces of 'journalism' (and I use that word extremely lightly) I have read on this subject to date. I have read less biased articles coming from people who support the NHL in this struggle. To sum up everything: Charlie Gillis and Michael Friscolanti, you're both assholes! I've got hard evidence to support this but, similar to your article, I just cannot give any. There, now that's journalism.

  11. I just wanted to say that I haven't read a macleans article in 4 years, and then I read this one. I can tell you it will be another 4 years ….at least before, I read another. Did Gary Bettman pay for this article, I mean ADspace. Weak, wEAK!!! That's not jouralism, tabloid material i'd say, completely one sided, I consider it an insult, how stupid do you think we are? again did Bettmann pay for that? where is the impartiality? the full story? I can only hope the rest of your magazine isn't like that trash but I wouldn't know I didn't give it the chance this was the headlining story. And the cover is ad, WTF? This is not news but purely entertainment for the sake of commercialism and I'm not buying.

  12. I see the Balsillie cool aid drinkers are out in full force. I commend Charlie Gillis and Michael Friscolanti for writing an article they knew would be an unpopular. The truth is not always popular and 'Jim Rim' has done a great job wrapping himself in the Canadian flag, giving false hope to hockey fans in Southern Ontario.

    The goal does not justify all means. Balsillie and Rodier have employed highly questionable strategies and the fact that most of us feel that another NHL franchise in Canada would be positive does not mean that anything goes. I hope that the NHL prevails in Phoenix and that Balsillie finally gives up on his NHL ownership dream. I don't think a guy like him would make a good owner for the league or for hockey. Blatant disregard for rules, regulation, bylaws and established procedure does not look intriguing to me nor should it to the league and its owners.

  13. “When there is someone that you have dealt with and that has lied to you continually, that has deceived you—knowing that he was going to deceive you at the end—that is a pretty good reason to dislike him. Yes, it is true. I do dislike the man.”

    Hmmm…. Seems like my feelings toward Bettman. Lied to Hockey fans continually, deceived us knowing full well he was going to deceive us in the end. I do dislike the man.

  14. Balsillie is a Canadian hero, who will not BEND to American power.
    Even when the U.S team is losing $30 million a year, they want to keep it in Glendale
    or move it Vegas? Buy American.

  15. Finally an article that goes in-depth with respect to Balsillie and the NHL. I have read hundreds of "Jim good, Bettman bad" articles since 2003.

  16. I've followed the case quite closely. I reviewed most of the 1000+ filings in the court docket and the media coverage including correspondence, emails, deposition testimony, declarations, documents and the many legal arguments, etc presented in this case. I also followed the hearings on Twitter. As a Canadian, I came into the case with a positive opinion of Mr Balsillie with his success at RIM and a preference that Hamilton should get a NHL team some way. I leave this case with an opinion that this was not the way Hamilton should get a team though I continue to hope one day they will get one. In my opinion, Balsillie's conduct in this matter since 2003 is at the least very questionable, sleazy, vindictive, shameful and unethical. I'm also left with no respect for Jerry Moyes due to his conduct in this matter. I found your article to be largely accurate. I wouldn't buy a glass of lemonade from Jim Balsillie.

  17. I'm embarrassed in general when I see an international media outlet quote this rag as a voice of Canadians. Your coverage of this NHL saga is over the top. I'm ashamed to have once had a subsciption.

  18. So he cant have one.Big deal.He cant have one, until Toronto has one.!! :-) He acts like a spoiled child.Get over it Jimmy.

  19. So he cant have one.Big deal.He cant have one, until Toronto has one.!! :-) He acts like spoiled child.Get over it Jimmy.

  20. Regardless of whether Balsillie is a dirty business man or Bettman is the head of a very lucrative old boys club does not change this of piece less than acceptable journalism. “I spent five years looking for a front door,” he told reporters in May. “I found a side door.” then the author through this genius piece of literature into it "Or is he hell-bent on blowing up the entire building? I'm sorry what? blow up the whole building. Jesus Do you work for Gary Bettman. Thats completely out of left field, just what is it your trying to infer here? what social myths are you using to vilify Mr. Balsillie, VERY VERY WEAK, i will not even read this at the doctors office anymore.

  21. You throw old " Boots" name around. Isn't he the former NHL owner now doing time for fraud. And you expect me to believe anything the NHL owners have to say. Is Mclean's connected to the Ontario teacher's pension fund?

  22. Balsillie may use dirty tactics, but that is hardly something new in the cold-blooded business of professional sports. When the Vancouver Grizzlies were in a ownership limbo in 2000-01, businessmen Michael Heisley wrapped himself in the Canadian flag to convince fans that he insisted on keeping the Grizzlies in town. Less than a year later, Heisley cited large financial losses for his reason to move the team to Memphis (even when its now known that he spurred efforts by local sponsors to help the team). In Seattle, a similar situation occured where the new owner proposed an outrageous arena plan that required extensive funding from state legislature in order to keep the Seattle Sonics "viable", when in the meantime he was busy texting locals in Oklahoma city that he will be moving them there soon. Difference between Balsillie and these con artists? Balsillie made no secret about his desire to move any team he purchases to Hamilton. I think that it is actually the more honorable strategy, but a poor strategy. At least the fanbase in Phoenix, PIttsburgh, and Nashville knew his intentions from the start, and didn't have their hearts broken when it is found out that the team's new "saviour" was actually a wolf in red hood. I applaud your efforts Jim.

  23. The difference between Jim Balsillie and "those other con artists" is that they acquired ownership of their teams years before moving them. If Balsillie had bought the Pens in 2006, he'd have already completed three years of the required seven-year no-movement period. He could have planned quietly, driven off the Pittsburgh fan base over the next four years, and debuted the Hamilton Penguins in 2013. Or he could have bought the team, torn up the agreements, and fought the league in court over the narrow issue of relocation rights. But Balsillie has not shown the fortitude and determination necessary to lay long-term plans; and as long as his goal is to move a team immediately on purchase, he'll continue to fail. Gary Bettman isn't Jim Balsillie's biggest enemy; Balsillie's biggest enemy is his own impatience.

    • I don't think it's impatience that makes him drop the deals. I think it's a business strategy.
      He gets everyone settled with the sale then pulls out at the last minute. The sellers are supposed to scramble to make concessions to keep their new buyer in the deal. It isn't working though.

  24. One thing people should consider is this. The NHL Board of Governors voted unanimously to not allow Balsillie ownership of the Coyotes. At least consider the fact that Balsillie may be poor ownership material. I certainly agree that a team should be in Hamilton but maybe this guy is not the right owner to get the job done. I've read dozens of articles that paints an ugly picture of Bettman and the NHL as the villain. I find it sad to see that people would react so negatively to an opposing point of view. I for one like to hear both sides as much as possible.

  25. I agree that Balsillie was impatient, but 3-7 years is too much even for anybody. The other scenarios all transpired within 1-2 years after ownership exchange. I doubt any of them would have been patient enough to own the team for 3-7 years, especially in scenarios where they would be orchestrating financial losses rather than improving on them. Plus, during this period another struggling team would have proped up that might be more easily manuveured.

  26. Should Balsillie be able to decide where an NHL team should be? No
    Would the team be better off in Hamilton? Yes

  27. Charlie – thank you for having the courage to lay out the facts – in chronological order, to the Canadian public. Being wrapped in the Flag is like being wrapped in a blanket. Sure, you feel warm and safe and cozy but, the outside world is all just muffled annoyance. Thanks for bringing some facts and reality to the discussion. Would you have written the same article is Jim would have won?

  28. Great article. Very in-depth, and very well sourced. Good to see some real reporting done on this story.

  29. Agree with repoman, it's about time someone told the truth about Balsillie, though it's obvious his kool-aid drinking minions don't want to hear it.

  30. Im out! keep pandering to the states and this mag will have a new flag on it.

  31. In my mind, Jim Balsillie deserves a hockey team. I have just started a petition requesting that the NHL show him the front door at http://welovejim.ca

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