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Never in Hamilton Add to ...

1. Maple Leafs play the corporate left-wing lock

Front of the line in opposing an NHL team in Hamilton would be the biggest, richest NHL franchise of them all - the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"We believe there is a process where we could prevent a team coming into our market," said a source close to the board of the franchise's owner, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. "Just like teams in New York could prevent a fourth team coming there, and we would pursue that process to the fullest extent possible. The reasons are obvious. If you owned Tim Hortons and someone wanted to open a doughnut shop across the street, you would do what you could to oppose it. It's just smart business."

However, the NHL constitution is a tricky document when it comes to franchise relocation, especially when it pertains to movement into the territory of an existing club.

Do clubs have the right to veto a move into their territory?

Section 4.3 of the constitution states, among other things, "No franchise shall be granted for a home territory within the home territory of a member without the written consent of that member."

But the league has a different interpretation.

"There is no single-vote veto to a relocation," NHL vice-president Bill Daly said, citing the league's Bylaw 36 which states that on advice of counsel the NHL uses a simple majority to approve or turn down franchise relocation, above and beyond provisions in its constitution that might indicate teams have veto power.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has applied the majority vote for all relocations during his tenure and is on record as saying a majority vote would be applied to any relocation to Southern Ontario.

But either way, the league may have considerable incentive to not have that matter tested.

"It may be better for the league to prevent [a move into Hamilton]in a way that did not come to a vote," a legal source familiar with the situation said. "The NHL doesn't know how challenges to the territorial situation and vote would go. You can look at former cases, but you really never know, and I don't think Bettman wants to find out."

2. The Nashville Predators' Lease

Disputes regarding the Nashville Predators' lease may yet become problematic for anyone wishing to buy and relocate the team.

But the NHL insists it alone precluded approving relocation as part of a binding agreement between Balsillie and Predators owner Craig Leipold. The NHL believes providing consent to relocate while the lease in Nashville was still in existence constitutes "tortuous interference with contractual relations," thus opening it up to legal action.

Only with a lease that was expiring or could be broken unilaterally would the NHL consider approving relocation as part of a sale.

"Arguably, it could be considered in that context, but that's not the Nashville lease," Daly said.

Balsillie's side sees the NHL position as a way to prevent his bid from going forward to the board of governors.

Especially since owner Craig Leipold triggered an exit to the lease last month by announcing the team would relocate after 2007-08 unless it averages 14,000 fans a game.

"To suggest that the league is at risk by granting a consent to relocation that is conditional on the occurrence of an event that is specifically contemplated under the terms of the lease, and has been triggered unilaterally by the owner of the team, is not credible," Balsillie's lawyer, Richard Rodier, said.

"This is merely a tactic for the league to avoid dealing with the issue as they promised to do."

3. No go for hat trick of teams

The NHL is well aware Southern Ontario represents the biggest, richest hockey market in the world. And so if it was interested in having three teams within 150 kilometres of each other, wouldn't it have led that process?

On the contrary. The league seems as if it couldn't be less interested in a second team for Southern Ontario and is presumably much more willing to explore the next "new" hockey market than to go where the game has proved its appeal over and over again.

They also may be leery of what a Hamilton team would do to the Buffalo Sabres."We don't have [a policy on a second team in Southern Ontario]and we've never really been asked to study the issue and we've never done any amount of work on it," Daly said. "So we don't have an official position."

Balsillie's group maintains that only about 10 per cent of the Sabres' support comes from Canada. Its ability to exceed 14,000 deposits for season tickets would suggest a Hamilton team would be well-supported.

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