Thought 3: The Hamilton Coyotes
I would love for the Phoenix Coyotes to move to Hamilton. It seems clear to me at this point that Gary Bettman has a personal vendetta against Jim Balsillie. I wonder if it’s just Bettman who has the dream of southern hockey, or if many other NHL executives share this vision. It really doesn’t seem like it’ll work…
One of the main reasons the newspapers touted at first for this resistance was that if the NHL expands, the new team has to pay a few dozen million dollars directly to the other owners. If the Phoenix franchise were to fold, rather than relocate, the league would have an open spot for expansion, and create that revenue for owners.
Another reason suggested was the territorial claims of the Leafs (and maybe to a lesser extent, the Sabres). If the teams have veto power, then the anti-trust argument should stand up in court. The Leafs even admitted believing they have such a power. I wonder how the NHL will get around that.
Something the media hasn’t mentioned is the salary cap rules. Many teams are already struggling to meet the minimum salary range, which is tied to overall league revenue. If granted, a Hamilton franchise would probably find itself in the top 25% of revenues, up from the bottom 25%. This would mean a significant increase in both the salary cap and the floor, and the already-struggling teams (in the south, of course) would be pressed even harder. It’s possible as much as one-third of the owners would veto a move to Hamilton, based solely on their own teams’ finances.
Interestingly enough, the Toronto Maple Leafs might in fact benefit from a Hamilton team, because of the competition it would create. The front office has been able to sit back on a low-talent team for years, because they have no shortage of die-hard fans. They sell out every single game at extortionate prices. But this means the desire to assemble a winning team is secondary. However, with a Hamilton franchise, the threat of Leafs fans embracing (and paying for) the new team would make the Leafs front office work much harder for a Stanley Cup. The Air Canada Centre would almost certainly remain packed night after night. And it would be a blessing for Leafs fans and Leaf haters alike in this hockey-starved market.