Hamilton Back in NHL Mix

Sportsnet.ca — The same company that twice tried to bring the NHL to Hamilton, Ont., is now preparing a bid for the Pittsburgh Penguins with the intention of relocating the team.

It is the same company that was behind previously failed bids to bring both the financially-troubled Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators to town. Those deals fell apart when backers were found to keep the teams in place.

Now sources tell Sportsnet the group is going to put an offer in to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins once offers to move the team are considered at the end of next month.

Councillor Terry Whitehead has been trying to land an NHL team in Hamilton for the past decade and has dealt with HHC Acquisition for the past three years. And though he knows who is behind the company, he’s not revealing any identities.

“Let’s put it this way, they’re keeping their cards very close to their chest,” Whitehead explained. “Negotiations are always tough and expectations are built and collapsed so I think they’re being wise in being confidential about their approach.”

The main sticking point in bringing any team to Hamilton has been the issue of territorial infringement and the amount of money that both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres would be entitled to if the team is moved to Southern Ontario. No one has said yet how that issue would be handled. In 2003, the lawyer for HHC simply said that he had “a strategy in place” but would not expand any further.

But Whitehead said in terms of viability, the Toronto-Buffalo corridor can definitely handle another pro hockey team.

“Hamilton is sports central. The reality is that it is an NHL city. It’s unfortunate or may be fortunate that we have Toronto and Buffalo on our doorstep, and I believe that a third NHL team can be sustained in this area.”

Ultimately a final decision is up to the league, and Hamilton has been passed over twice before — in 1990 when franchises were awarded to Ottawa and Tampa Bay, and when the league expanded again in 1997.

“Their interest was expanding to the American market and it has been for a number of years,” Whitehead said. “Now with the settlement, the CBA, it certainly makes it more viable for a small market to survive in the NHL, the very competitive NHL league but there hasn’t been any discussion going forward that the NHL would ever entertain any expansion.

“I believe the only option we have is to pursue a team (that is) in the league now.”

Question: Like Pittsburgh?

Answer: Like Pittsburgh.