QUEBEC CITY — Jim Balsillie may be bruised from his efforts to buy an existing NHL team and bring it to Canada, but he hasn't abandoned the chase.
The billionaire co-chief executive officer of Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry mobile communication device, thinks Canada could use at least one more NHL team and he'd like nothing more than to be owner of a seventh Canadian NHL franchise.
"I think Canada is an under-serviced pro-hockey market. I never met a Canadian that disagreed," said Balsillie, who is in the provincial capital for the 2008 world hockey championship.
"Canada is the home of hockey, the birthplace of hockey and the soul of hockey and I think Canada should have another pro hockey team. Wherever, they should have one or two more," he said, noting there is interest and a "passionate fan base" in the country.
Balsillie has twice tried to buy an existing franchise and move a team to Hamilton, only to have the deal scuttled by the NHL.
He had an agreement in place to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins last year but it fell through when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped in and imposed 11th-hour restrictions on the relocation of the Penguins.
Then Balsillie had an agreement in place to purchase the money-losing Nashville Predators. He was in the midst of selling season ticket packages in Hamilton when the deal fell through.
Balsillie has been rumoured to be in the market to buy the Buffalo Sabres but he would not comment on rumours he met Buffalo owner Tom Golisano in December about purchasing the Sabres.
"I just do not comment on things like that because if you start to comment, it is just not appropriate," said Balsillie.
"I just can't comment and you do not comment on whether it is true or not. I am not going to comment on my pursuit but I think it would be good for Canada to get another team."
'I enjoy the pursuit'
There is no doubt about it, though: Balsillie wants to own an NHL team.
"I enjoy the pursuit. I do not get frustrated or discouraged. It would be a great thing to do and it may or may not happen. I think the most important thing is that Canada gets another pro hockey team, with or without me. I think the most important thing is to have one or two new markets in Canada.
"There are people who believe I am right and people who believe I am wrong. I have no doubt that Quebec could support a team and I have no doubt that Winnipeg could support a team."
Bettman was here last week and said it's obvious the Colisee doesn't meet the current standards for an NHL arena.
Balsillie was asked about whether he could afford building a new arena and either paying an expansion fee for a new team or relocating an existing team.
"Yes, I could afford to pay for it. Sure you can build a building. Canada is a prosperous country and Canadians love hockey and you could fill a building in a day."
Balsillie took part in a veterans game on Thursday that was part of the world championship celebrations.
The game was organized by Alexander Medvedev, the Russian billionaire who is restructuring the Russian League amid speculation that it will poach Russian talent from NHL rosters.
Asked whether he and Medvedev have talked about their common interests to become part of the hockey elite, Balsillie said "no comment."