Without a binding agreement between Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, talk of the team relocating to Canada is strictly premature.
That was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's stern message after a meeting of the league's board of governors Wednesday.
Leipold and Balsillie, the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, agreed to a term sheet for the transfer of ownership of the club, but that is non-binding. The delay in closing the deal prevented the sale from being up for vote by the league's 30 teams before the draft in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend.
Balsillie has already started a process to move the Predators to Hamilton, Ont., should a potential out in the team's lease with the arena in Nashville be exercised after the sale's completion. Leipold announced May 24 he was selling the team to Balsillie.
"Currently there isn't a fully completed application before the board of governors," Bettman said. "As a result, I think people are getting a little bit ahead of themselves on this entire issue.
"It isn't in any shape or form close to being ready for consideration as it relates to approval of an ownership change. I'm not exactly sure why people are focused on the Nashville Predators being anywhere other than in Nashville at this particular point in time."
The board isn't scheduled to meet again until the fall, so any deal likely won't be approved before next season. The agreement between Leipold and Balsillie carried a June 30 deadline for completion, but that could be extended.
Three weeks ago, Bettman said he specifically asked Balsillie if he had plans or intentions to move the team, and was told he didn't. But Balsillie already has gained the exclusive right to bring an NHL team to the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, and Ticketmaster began taking deposits last week for "Hamilton Predators" season tickets.
"When I made that statement, that's what he had told me," Bettman said. "I know people are focused on the fact of, 'Why did I say that?'
"At the time, I said it because that's what I was told."
Asked if Balsillie changed his position to him, Bettman said, "The facts speak for themselves. I wasn't completely shocked."
Balsillie's offer to Leipold falls somewhere in the $220 million to $238 million range, well above Forbes Magazine's estimated value of $134 million and significantly higher than his bid of $175 million for the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this year.
The Stanley Cup-champion Anaheim Ducks were sold for $70 million in 2005.
"There is entirely too much speculation about this whole thing," Bettman said. "It's clear that there has been way too much activity on something that isn't even quite in its embryonic stage."
In other matters:
- Next season's salary cap will rise from $44 million US to "somewhere between 48 and 50ish.In that range," Bettman said. That is subject to agreement with the players' association, which hasn't replaced fired executive director Ted Saskin.
- The board elected Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs as its new chairman, and Tom Hicks of the Dallas Stars to vice-chair. Jacobs replaces Calgary Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss, who held the position for 12 years
- A player may be awarded a penalty shot if he is fouled on a clear breakaway outside his defensive zone.
- Referees are now allowed to assess a major penalty and a game misconduct when an injury results from an interference infraction.