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Leafs Commentators Kiss Up To Balls

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As if watching career knuckle-dragger Wade Belak score a goal as Toronto topped the Nashville Predators 3-1 Tuesday night wasn't bad enough, the intermission commentators on the Rogers SportsNet coverage of the game couldn't resist taking another round of shots against the hockey market in Nashville.

In the first intermission, Gord Stellick established his Bozo-like credentials while discussing the recent spate of suspensions for the Philadelphia Flyers with his astute observation that "at least they've got an identity, most teams don't." I'd sure like to see the Mission Statement in Philly that's led to all those head shots...

Anyways, in the second intermission the topic of ownership change in Nashville came up, and both Stellick and his comrade Bill Watters launched into a diatribe repeatedly calling Nashville a "false hockey market", and offering their sage prediction that in three years Boots Del Biaggio will move the squad to Kansas City. Of course they were probably just playing to the home television audience, but the utter lack of class towards the Nashville organization and its fanbase was insulting.

I've decried most of that business before about Nashville being written off as a hockey market, so I won't rehash it here. Suffice it to say that first of all, just because Craig Leipold couldn't make things work here doesn't mean another ownership team can't; business fortunes often turn around under new management, and this mostly local group is well positioned to build stronger support among the corporate community.

As to the judgement of whether Nashville is a "false hockey market", I think I'd trust the assessment of a group of successful businessmen from various backgrounds that has vetted the numbers, obtained bank financing, and is willing to put their own money on the line over a guy who was a GM for all of 16 months. Bill Watters then chimed in saying that in three years "you put the flowers, all that's necessary to say goodbye to them, treat them with dignity [gee, Bill, why start then?], they've given it all they can, but the market will not support it."

Jim Balsillie
Those Leafs Commenators Really Love Their Balls

Watters then went on to suggest that Craig Leipold will soon buy the Minnesota Wild, in a payback from Gary Bettman for holding off Jim Balsillie's rogue bid, while footage of the Wild rolled in the background. Afterwards, of course, he feined a backtrack, saying "I don't mean to suggest this is the case, but..." But what? Either you mean to suggest this conspiracy theory, or you don't; with the footage in the background it was clearly a planned piece of commentary, so it hardly counts as idle speculation.

Look, I can understand why they love Jim Balsillie up there; he's a titan of 21st century industry (and I dig my new BlackBerry 8830, by the way), and a celebrated philanthropist to boot. But his antics regarding the Predators deal clearly stepped outside the bounds of established NHL process. With Jerry Bruckheimer waiting in the wings and Boots Del Biaggio seeking majority ownership of a team at some point in the future, Balsillie needs the NHL much more than the NHL needs him. It's too bad that his boosters on Toronto television can't understand that point, and simply congratulate Nashville and the Freeman group on a job well done, and wish them good luck.