Sometime a casual observers' opinion helps shed light on utterly complex issues. Thus I weigh-in with detached observations on a topic which may animate many "hot stove" discussions over the coming long Canadian winter.
I am not a rabid N.H.L. fan...but to the degree that I am Canadian, hockey is integral to my birthright. The soon to be published biography, "I'd Trade Him Again", of then Edmonton based millionaire Peter Pocklington, specifically his description of Toronto "Maple Leaf" owner, Harold Ballard: "He was a crazy old bugger"...as well as several other "hockey" books set for publication this fall as the N.H.L. season gets underway in earnest have me crystal balling the future of our game.
In this first decade of the 21st Century it seems to me there has been no more intense rivalry in the game than the apparent dislike between hockey's Czar, the Commissioner Gary Bettman, and Ontario billionaire wannabee team owner, Jim Balsillie...and, I don't know why? I think though that the most recent confrontation between these two men over the sale of the crumpling Phoenix "Coyotes" has significantly increased the pressure on Mr. Bettman to (or, at least be seen to) be open to additional franchises on Canadian soil.
Although it was more about the November 1 re-election of outgoing Quebec City Mayor, Regis Labeaume, than hockey's Canadian future; Friday's meetings in New York involving the Mayor, Quebec millionaire, Marcel Aubut, and Bettman may have given the Commissioner some short term pressure relief. Unlike Mr. Balsillie's failed three previous bids for Hamilton's "Copps Coliseum", Aubut needs to build a new arena in "La vieille Capitale" before the N.H.L. will consider a serious bid for this 7th Canadian franchise.
Since he came on scene in 1993, Bettman has been consistently accused of having an anti-Canadian agenda evidenced by his unwavering efforts to "Americanize" our game. He's blamed for promoting the moves of the Winnipeg "Jets" to Phoenix; and the Quebec 'Nordiques" to Denver. And, for boosting the number of U.S. franchises by six additional teams.
Lest I digress...Mr. Bettman learned the business at the hugely successful National Basketball Association (N.B.A.) where he'd been Senior Vice-President and General Counsel. Ironically many argue that basketball too is a Canadian game invented by Almonte, Ontario born and McGill University educated, James Naismith in 1891, three years after the 6 team A.H.A. (the N.H.L. predecessor) was formed in Montreal.
With each of his successive failed confrontations with Bettman: Pittsburg (06), Nashville (07), Phoenix (09); Jim Balsillie has intensified the pressure from north of the American border for the Commisioner to either respond with an additional (or additional) Canadian franchise(s); or else explain why the country and fans that gave birth to both game and league should be ignored and excluded.
As a nation we are passionate about the game. I suspect one could even argue that the National Hockey League is an ever increasingly rare element which unites both of Canada's founding cultures. Except for an apparent conflict of personalities and vanity between Mr(s) Bettman and Balsillie it's difficult to rationalize why a Hamilton, Ontario based franchise would not be hugely successful. And - As is becoming obvious Quebec City and Winnipeg aren't far behind in demanding their own rightful seats at the N.H.L. Directors' table.
The 2009 N.H.L. season is just now underway. There 974 professional players in the league this year; 52.3% (509) are Canadian. No Canadian will ever insist on equal representation with the Americans. With little contrary evidence to disclose; it seems fair and just for the birthplace of the league and game to once again assume its more equitable, respectful and rightful place in the roaster of teams. It seems to me "that" face-off is near well into overtime and the puck is squarely aimed at Mr. Bettman's goal posts. Time to "shoot and score!"