A Bit of Hammer History

by Ryan

Die by the Blade had a good link this weekend. Jeff Z. Klein at the New York Times’ Slap Shot blog put together a nice post about what a team in Hamilton could do to the Sabres.


Now we’ve been pretty laid back about this whole thing, but Klein is much more concerned about the Sabres if Balsillie gets what he wants. In fact, he thinks a team in Hamilton just might spell the end of days for the Sabres here in Buffalo. Here’s a taste of that post:

What would the N.H.L., and hockey in general, lose if a Hamilton team were to cause the Sabres to fold, as owner Golisano has warned? Beyond a historic club with an outlandishly loyal following — what other U.S. city could have hosted the N.H.L.’s first New Year’s Day outdoor game so successfully? — it would lose plenty.

Buffalo is by far the N.H.L.’s strongest TV market in the U.S., despite its small size. For the Sabres-Rangers series in 2007, more people in Buffalo tuned in than in New York. The Sabres also are often the No. 1 American team in sweater sales.

The number of hockey people who live or have lived in the Buffalo area is astounding, even those who never played for or worked for the club, like Marcel Dionne and Darryl Sittler. And due partly to the presence of the Sabres, the city has produced a rising number of N.H.L.’ers, like overall No. 1 draft pick Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks or Cup winners Todd Marchant and Kevyn Adams.

All that is at risk if Balsillie’s plan, as presently conceived, goes through. No hockey fan wants to see Hamilton, or southern Ontario, denied a team, and the vast majority probably would not be too unhappy to see the Coyotes leave Phoenix. But to gain a true hockey city in a way that would cause the destruction of another true hockey city … is that what fans, Canadian fans, really want?

That’s a really interesting way of looking at things from a macro perspective. Over the last few years the Sabres franchise has become quite valuable to the NHL, and much like Pittsburgh and other successful markets the league needs to protect them at all costs. If Hamilton could “destroy” the Sabres, it simply won’t happen.

If “Southern Ontario” is good for 15-20% of the Sabres’ annual revenue, Buffalo is due a relatively massive indemnity payment if/when Hamilton becomes a reality. If “Southern Ontario” becomes the new home of the Coyotes or any other NHL franchise, the best possible scenario for Buffalo actually becomes a move to Hamilton. That way the franchise remains within the Sabres’ sphere of influence, guaranteeing some form of compensation.

Five more miles away and it’s technically no longer Buffalo’s problem, although we all know that’s far from the truth. It’s an odd way of looking it the situation, but if Balsillie is going to “Make it Seven” in our backyard, the least we can get is a huge chunk of money. Considering the payments the league has seen before, Golisano could be seeing a huge check to offset 1/5th of lost revenues. However, whether that’s enough is anyone’s guess.

The post also linked to a Hamilton Spectator article that describes just how important landing an NHL franchise is to the city. It’s a bit touching to hear about the city’s inferiority complex given the similar state of Western New York; but it’s hard to have much sympathy for them when you consider their potential threat.

Still, what that article’s time line shows is a systematic denial of Hamilton’s potential as an NHL franchise. The reasons may be different every time, but whether for the sake of Buffalo, Toronto, or any other city that has seen relocation or expansion; Hamilton has always been left out in the cold.

The difference this time is that it is not in the league’s hands. This won’t be a matter of indemnity or expansion fees or League BoG votes; this is a bankruptcy hearing and lawyers taking part in what might be an extremely important court case for both the league and the Sabres.

Sometime tomorrow we will know much more, but it’s worth taking a look at Hamilton’s history and ponder just how important the Sabres are in all of this.


  1. I’m a little confused about the indemnity payment and…who gets it. I know it sounds weird, but is it just profit for the Sabres? Would Tom Golisano get to keep it? Does that money have to be used to spruce up the Sabres? Does it go into a special account? Do the Sabres just sign the check from Basillie directly over to Thomas Vanek?

    I don’t really feel super good about the Sabres getting a one-time multi-million dollar settlement for some reason. Just sounds like motivation for Golisano to let a team move to Hamilton and then sell the team to me.

  2. I realize that Balsille is determined to land a team in Hamilton, but if it were just southern Ontario, why not Windsor? The effect on Detroit would be similar.

    The indemnity payment would never be enough. Whether WNY wants to accept it or not, the Sabres fanbase consists of a lot of Canadians. I also think that they kept their season tickets when the locals were staying home.

  3. I think with another three sabres home games a year being against teams from canada, Buffalo would just end up with more canadians visting the arena.

    Currently I would have to guess that 15% of fans are mostly coming to the toronto and montreal games…