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Jim Balsillie has filed a formal application to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton. (CP File Photo)
Jim Balsillie has filed a formal application to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton. (CP File Photo)

Jeff Blair

Just sweeten the pot already Add to ...

Just cut the cheque, Jim.

Try to carve out $5-million here or there if you want, fudge some numbers, spread it out, give the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres television money in perpetuity - whatever. Just cut the cheque. Join the club, and let's get on with it.

Jim Balsillie's bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to a place where hockey matters is still tied up in litigation but it seems pretty clear that Arizona bankruptcy court Judge Redfield T. Baum has told the sides he wants them to carve out a relocation fee pronto (like, last week) so he can move on with the life of his court. Thank god. Bring on the off-season.

It's been easy throughout this whole thing to paint Balsillie as the good guy who wants to bring another NHL team to Southern Ontario and maybe help spur a downtown renaissance in Hamilton, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as the evil guy who likes hockey a little bit but really, really hates Canadians. Especially a Canadian named Jim Balsillie.

Balsillie already won the public relations war in part because the NHL never really responded. He and his Make It Seven group have had Twitterdom all to themselves. They've had people write songs, for god's sake. They've hooked up with Home Hardware for a seriously effective Home Team advertising campaign. They've had the field all to themselves, to the point where there are now suggestions that Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which is part owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, has been feeling heat from constituents because MLSE's silence - prudent legally - has been taken to mean MLSE is quietly working to scuttle the bid or at least threatening to mount a court challenge to defend turf into which it has never really bothered to venture.

But now it's time to hammer out some hard numbers. No more excuses. It was other people's fault that Balsillie failed to land the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators. Easy to buy that argument. But now it's come down to this.

Intentions and attention aside, how much does Balsillie really want this new NHL team? We'll forget that lawyer-speak from Richard Rodier, who sniffed and said he had an out-clause in the contract with Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes that allowed Balsillie to walk if he was asked for a relocation fee. That's just laying ground-work, right? That's just saying you're not going to simply write out a blank cheque to the NHL, right?

Balsillie declared victory yesterday on the Make It Seven website, saying: "However it works out, the issue of a relocation fee, while a new development, does bring us one step closer to bringing the Coyotes to Hamilton."

There was more blather about "fighting for Canadian hockey fans," yada-yada-yada but, well, that's just public relations B.S.

It seems as if the relocation fee ought to be something in the neighbourhood of $150-million to $200-million (all currency U.S.). Coupled with the $212.5-million you're going to have to pay for the Coyotes, that means it's going to be - what? - $425-million on the upside to put a team in the only available hockey market of consequence anywhere in the world. Know what?

Sounds about right to a lot of us. So would $450-million for that matter.

Whatever those of us who don't trust Bettman and his creative mathematics or definition of financial distress may feel about the guy, he has always seemed able to make peace with financial reality. It isn't always an A-B-C, 1-2-3 thing but he gets there, eventually.

And don't think for a minute that these two sides haven't had suits beavering away in the background for a while setting up their own parameters for a relocation fee because it's been apparent for some time that whatever it was going to be called Judge Baum was going to tell these two sides to shut up, grow up and get down to business.

Balsillie knew going into this that at some point he'd have to make peace with the other owners if he was serious about owning an NHL team and that the peace offering was going to be cash. When baseball moved a team into Washington, D.C., it used local TV revenue to keep the Baltimore Orioles happy. There's an out for Balsillie to consider. And he's already received what amounts to a pledge of support from the provincial government regarding refurbishing Copps Coliseum and my guess is that figure can be negotiated even more in his favour if he has an NHL team in hand.

But first, he has to cut the cheque and forget about letting a court decide it. It's time.

 

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