Court battle likely over Preds’ future

    Canadian hockey fans who are hoping to see the Nashville Predators in Hamilton should be prepared to first see them in court.
    There’s a number of reasons why the situation may get litigious, but the number one is that the threat of legal action historically has been a very successful method to ensure an expansion team.
    Witness 1977. The American League expanded by two teams—the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners—simply out of the threat of legal action.
    The powers that be in Seattle were upset with the departure of the Seattle Pilots, relocating to Milwaukee to become the new Brewers in 1970, just a year after they joined the league.
    In Toronto’s case, it was a failed relocation. The San Francisco Giants were bought and sold to a group intent on bringing major-league baseball to Ontario’s capital in the mid-1970s, but the move ultimately was killed when a local owner emerged from the Bay area.
    The Toronto group was quick to take issue with then commissioner Bowie Kuhn, but Major League Baseball decided bringing Toronto into the American League—and settling unresolved issues in Seattle with a team—was better than going to court.
    Why fight a market that wants your product?
    It wasn’t even unheard of at that time. After the Washington Senators left to Minneapolis to become the Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball hurried expansion back to the District of Columbia—partially out of fear of the league losing its anti-trust exemption.
    The new Senators didn’t fare much better, moving to Texas in the ’70s, but baseball dodged a date in court.
    That’s not even to consider the current anti-trust battle the NHL may soon face in court.
    It’s widely speculated the main reason the NHL hasn’t encouraged the Predators’ purchase to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie—and subsequent relocation to Hamilton—is due to pressure from the Toronto Maple Leafs just down the highway, and to a lesser extent the Buffalo Sabres just across the border.
    Previous offenders to the NHL’s personal boundaries, such as the N.Y. Islanders encroaching on the Rangers’ territory and the Anaheim Ducks moving next door to the L.A. Kings, involved simple payoffs.
    The New Jersey Devils relocation in 1982 required compensation to three teams—the Rangers, Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers.
    What separates those situations was that the teams would rather take cash and split their market than file a grievance with the league.
    How far any such complaints could go is untested so far, and whether the league’s own statutes could stop it is unclear. Whether any court of law would disallow a team’s movement to a willing market is even murkier.
    There’s still a lot to be sorted in out the case of the Nashville Predators’ future and any expansion or relocation to come in the NHL, but know this—the important people involved all have their lawyers.

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