Last Friday, the peculiar news broke in Hamilton that Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz was seeking the "NHL rights" to Copps Coliseum, and that if there isn't an NHL team in Hamilton in the next four years he'll pay the city $1 million.
From the Hamilton Spectator, which discussed the Katz Group "bringing" an NHL team to the city:
Though no elements of the current proposal are final, Katz's group has dangled several possibilities that could come with the deal, including the development of an entertainment district around the stadium in partnership with entertainment giant AEG and the potential of a new, NHL-calibre arena to replace Copps.
Few details of the confidential memorandum of understanding are available, but insiders say the document has two main parts: the first dealing with Copps Coliseum and the second with the Pan Am stadium. The first clause gives Katz's group exclusive rights to host an NHL team for the next four years, similar to the deal penned with RIM billionaire Jim Balsillie last year.
The difference between Balsillie and Katz, of course, is that Katz was allowed in the club to which Balsillie wasn't allowed entrance: NHL ownership.
The notion that a current NHL owner would actively work on behalf of another city to secure a franchise isn't outlandish but also isn't commonplace. It's so unusual, in fact, that the NHL was asked if there was any conflict of interest in Katz buying the NHL rights to Copps and seeking an occupant.
A National Hockey League official says Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz does not have a financial interest in a Hamilton NHL team and the league isn't concerned he will run afoul of conflict of interest rules.
"At this point, based on what we know about the nature of the arrangement and relationship, we are not concerned about a conflict of interest," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail Monday. "We also understand that reports of Mr. Katz having a financial interest in an NHL team in Hamilton are not accurate."
Of course, this entire proposal from the Katz Group for Hamilton is playing out while its own grand designs for Edmonton's arena district are going to be debated later this month. Coincidence?
[City councillor Kim] Krushell said the timing of the new proposal is curious, as Oilers president Patrick LaForge pointed out after news of the possible deal broke on Tuesday.
In February, the Katz Group unveiled its plans for a $1.5-billion project in Edmonton that included a new arena, hotels, offices and restaurants to be built on land currently occupied by the Baccarat Casino.
The group wanted the city to borrow $400 million to pay for the arena then recoup its costs through tax revenues from surrounding developments. Katz also promised to put $100 million towards the development.
A public hearing into the group's zoning application was supposed to go ahead June 28, but was postponed until July 21 after "distracting" questions about financing marred the first hearing, the group said.
Sensing that this story was spinning a bit out of control, LaForge told the Vancouver Sun on Tuesday that (a) no memorandum to the city of Hamilton exists yet and (b) this is not, in any way, about the Katz Group using Hamilton as leverage:
Oilers president Patrick LaForge reiterated Monday the Katz Group's interest in Hamilton's hockey business has no bearing on the company's operations in Edmonton.
"It's not about the Oilers, it's not about Edmonton, it's not about Katz Group's owning even the tiniest part of another NHL team," he said. "We don't have a deal with Hamilton. There is no proposition. We haven't even had the first meeting yet."
Our general distrust of ownership aside, what the Katz Group is doing here doesn't sound all that different than, say, the Anschutz Entertainment Group nudging the NHL towards its arena in Kansas City.
It's just that the details of the Katz Group's involvement and its arrangement was made public; and yes, at a time when its revelation could have an affect on the Oilers' negotiations with Edmonton.
Are the good people of Hamilton being played? Well, considering they've been used by current and prospective NHL owners more than a hand-dryer in a men's room during the past several years ... we're sure they'll get over it.