Hamilton to Boycott Slugs, Freedom Fries

by Ryan

These days Sabres fans have their eyes on NBC for the Stanley Cup Finals. However, while bankruptcy hearings have continued Sabres fans have had an ear in Phoenix and Hamilton as well. What we are looking for is any indication of just what a potential move of the Coyotes would mean for the franchise, as well as what others think a relocation would mean for Buffalo.


One thing the Sabres have been sure to do is stay quiet, and today they’ve been called out on that. From Hamilton city councillor Sam Merulla:

“The Buffalo Sabres’ silence is deafening on the issue of Hamilton’s NHL bid,” Merulla said in a release. “If the Buffalo Sabres’ silence means that they are working against Hamilton’s bid, then Hamilton and the surrounding area residents should join in boycotting the Buffalo Sabres along with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now don’t get me wrong, boycotts are great. You get to make friends with fellow boycott enthusiasts and everyone loves a cause to rally around. Boycotts can be a lot of fun. For example, some NASCAR fans only buy products that their favorite driver is sponsored by. (If you ever wondered why Garnier had a car, there’s your sign answer.)

However, just because something’s a whole mess of fun doesn’t mean it’s not also insane. To be fair to Merulla I understand the politics attached to this move. He’s fighting for his district and putting forth the “hockey politician” angle, which is sure to be a successful move given the climate of opinions in Hamilton at the moment.

But when you look at it from the Sabres’ perspective, I can’t find much that they are doing wrong. Everyone knows that the Maple Leafs will be financially stable no matter what happens in Hamilton, but things aren’t so certain in the Queen City. So when reporters came asking questions, Buffalo offered no opinions on the matter.

housesAnd why would they? Who knows what the personal or business opinions are within the organization, but the team is in no position to make any enemies with either Balsillie, Gary Betman, or the NHL Board of Governers. Their stance, as has been the stance of many teams, is that this is between the NHL and current/former Coyotes ownership, and therefore no comment is necessary.

What they did give, though, was a number. Twenty percent. That’s the amount of revenue the Sabres generate from “Southern Ontario”, which has become the vague operating area that Balsillie wants to place his team in.

Clearly this is not a stance on the issue of a team in Southern Ontario, but it smartly stakes a claim to that region. What this means is that if/when Hamilton becomes a reality, the Sabres already have established claims on what their rights are and just how dangerous Balsillie’s new toy could be to their finances.

Simply put: the Sabres get paid without speaking their mind. It doesn’t matter if they are for or against a team, but only that if the team crosses the Rubicon a large indemnity fee is on the way. The Sabres don’t have to fight or support the “Make it Seven” campaign, but only lay the groundwork just in case. That’s all they’ve done, and frankly that’s all they’ve had to do.

Saying anything more than that would be a terrible public relations misstep, and the Sabres know it. I don’t think a Hamilton politician will get them to say anything more, no matter how potent a boycott could be. (My guess, not so potent.)

What interests me more than anything is this:

“Clearly, a Hamilton NHL team is long overdue, and Hamilton is extremely deserving of a NHL team, and with the support of the neighboring NHL communities it would facilitate this endeavor with less obstacles.”

One of the decisions Balsillie made with his Make it Seven campaign is to place this firmly within the realm of nationalism. This is not only about Hamilton getting an NHL team, but Canada getting one of its teams back.

Under this cover, much of the discussion surrounding the bankruptcy hearings has become an “us versus them” debate. It’s Canadian teams versus American teams, NBC ratings versus CBC ratings, and so on. To some the Coyotes leaving Phoenix would make up for Winnipeg or Quebec, even if those teams aren’t properly replaced.

What is interesting about Merulla’s comments is that initially he is stressing regionalism. The league’s “neighboring NHL communities” should support Hamilton simply because they play nearby. Of course, it will help create rivalries or stimulate the local economy or something of that nature. Buffalo should be a good sport and join the cause. Or else.

brokenbuildingIf Larry and Tom don’t throw out the welcome mat, all that friendly neighbor garbage goes out the window. Suddenly the Sabres are an American franchise, a “have” living just off the doorstep of a “have not.” The with us/against us aspect of this is a bit alarming, but it’s almost artful how well he’s balancing the regionalism/nationalism rallying cries.

The more you look at this the more it makes sense. Hamilton’s citizens and politicians have been promised the moon and the sky by a number of NHL teams over the years. Franchises in search of new buildings and new leases have paid many a compliment to the area, and after a few decades of empty promises of gilded arenas Hamilton has gone from a “hopeful” city to “deserving” one.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s the frame of mind many in Hamilton are operating under. This makes a lot of potential enemies in a fight that still has a lot of battle lines left to be drawn. I suppose that’s fair, but I find it hard to expect the Sabres to help them out with it.

I’m sure they have a map, but don’t expect it to ever see the light of day.


  1. NoUseForANickname

    I love Buffalo (well, kind of) and the Sabres, but I would go watch them in Hamilton. Crossing the border is a major pain in the ass.

  2. Bravo Ryan. THis is a great post and an honest look at both sides of the
    “Hamilton vs. Buffalo” thing. Before reading this post I hadn’t really thought much about how the Sabres are handling this so far, and my only reaction to Merulla was pretty much, “What a jackass.”