Canadian Hockey Vultures Forgot Their Pain

By Jason Menard

Canuck puck-heads need to take a deep breath. After all, circling like vultures isn’t an endearing character trait – especially when the prey is far from dead.

The announcement that Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has taken the first steps in purchasing the Nashville Predators has sent numerous Canadian hockey fans into apoplectic fits of joy. Already the debates have started: Hamilton or Kitchener/Waterloo? How soon? Where will they play? Copps Coliseum or a yet-to-be-build hockey palace in the K/W region?

The only problem with that scenario? The Predators are still in Nashville and could be for the foreseeable future.

There are a number of contractual obligations that can continue to bind the Preds to the city of Nashville. The much-ballyhooed out clause that could see the club pack up and move after next season can be negated by the current ownership executing a cure clause in the contract that would compel the city to ensure an average paid attendance of 14,000. That’s hardly an overwhelming burden for the city since the club averaged 13,815 spectators last season.

But therein lies the rub. The Predators have some of the lowest ticket prices in the league and had one of the best clubs during the regular season. With all those factors going for them they were only able to draw less than 14,000 fans. What’s to be expected from the fans who may, rightly or wrongly, feel that the club’s on its way out the door sooner or later? If fans won’t support a winner, how will they react to a franchise that is widely believed to be looking for greener pastures?

Or maybe, just maybe, Balsillie will play the role of responsible owner, cultivate a fan base, and invest in drawing local fans to the rink. After all, he’s a business man, and it’s only good business to see your investment pay off. With an established arena, a small-but-dedicated pocket of fans, and a general lack of competition on the professional sports landscape (the NFL’s Tennessee Titans the noted exception), Balsillie is further ahead than where he would be moving this franchise to Canada.

Unfortunately, Canadian hockey fans have infused their desires into their perceptions of Balsillie’s actions. Many Canadians want Balsillie to bring a franchise north of the border. Many Canadians want hockey to fail in the Sun Belt. And many Canadians want to hearken back to a better time.

Too many hockey fans are stuck in the past and are now engaging in a disgusting display ofschadenfreude. They want hockey to fail – no matter how that will impact fans south of the border.

They forget the pain they, themselves may have experienced. The anger over the loss of franchises in Winnipeg and Quebec City is still felt today and colours their perception of the league. Yet the contradiction here is that the very action that they despised over a decade ago – taking a franchise away from a small, but dedicated hockey fan base – is the very same strategy they’re firmly behind today.

Sure, Nashville may not have the tradition and societal attachment that cities north of the border may have for hockey, but that’s no reason to hope for something to fail. After all, this is our game and what greater pride can we have in it than to see it succeed in non-traditional markets?

We all would love to see NHL hockey returned to places like Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hamilton (interestingly enough the NHL’s Hamilton Tigers, which ceased to exist in 1925, came into existence as a transfer of the Quebec [City] Bulldogs), but we shouldn’t be frothing at the mouth to wrest the franchises away from areas that we deem unworthy. We Canadians love to get indignant when told that cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver are small markets unworthy of NFL, or in some cases NBA or MLB franchises, but we seemingly have no problem being supercilious and looking down at southern regions unworthy of our beloved sport.

Let’s hope that Balsillie makes a go of it in Nashville and the sport enjoys unprecedented success. Personally, I’d rather see my beloved sport recognized world-wide for its greatness – and that means seeing it succeed south of the 49 th, instead of jealously guarding my game in my own backyard.

If after a couple of years of solid effort, the fans and business interests in Nashville continue to reject the Predators, then by all means Balsillie should be free to move the club wherever he likes. But while Hamilton, Kitchener/Waterloo, Quebec City, and Winnipeg are all out there as options so too are Las Vegas, Portland, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Kansas City.

We all want more hockey back in Canada, but hovering over a franchise that’s not even in its death throes is a little unseemly. Maybe Canadians should remember the pain that losing their franchises caused before they’re so eager to inflict that same trauma on someone else, just because we deem them unworthy.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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