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Tiger-Cats 'shocked' about opening doors to Katz

Copps Coliseum as seen in this May 21, 2008 aerial picture, in Hamilton, Ont.

Kaz Novak/The Canadian Press

Darryl Katz's interest in assuming the lease on an NHL-sized venue in this city is an implied threat for supporters of the Edmonton Oilers - but something much more significant for Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young.

Tuesday's memorandum of understanding between Katz and his partners AEG and the City of Hamilton to operate Copps Coliseum and the yet-to-be-built 2015 Pan American Games stadium, will by virtue of optics alone ratchet up the tension surrounding the battle for public funding of a new arena for the Oilers.

But for Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, how the arrangement - which was not made public until Tuesday - plays in Edmonton is not much a concern.

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This neither moves Hamilton's chances of getting an NHL team forward or back ("It's not about the Oilers," Eisenberger told Hamilton radio station Talk 820) beyond meaning that somebody whose worth is said to equal Jim Balsillie's but doesn't have Balsillie's baggage and who is already an NHL owner effectively calls the tune for hockey in the marketplace. And AEG is a monster partner: a wholly owned subsidiary of the powerful Anschutz Company, a major player in sports ownership and facilities operations.

Oilers president Pat LaForge, who was in Hamilton on Tuesday, made all very airy-fairy, blue-sky noises about possibly building a new arena in Hamilton some day, and mumbled stuff about it's efficacy as an NHL market but that won't enrage league commissioner Gary Bettman because for him this is all about getting a new arena for the Oilers - not a new postal code.

(The guess here is that whatever is said publicly, Bettman knew about this before almost anyone else.)

"We've not had discussions with Hamilton. We never brought it up. Ever. This is not about the Oilers. And in Hamilton, it's not about the Oilers," LaForge told The Canadian Press, saying it was a business decision related to other interests of Katz.

"I agree this is confusing to some … but it is purely a business strategy."

The play is clear for Eisenberger.

True, he would like an NHL team to be part of whatever legacy he leaves, but that won't happen on his watch.

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His interest in the arrangement with Katz is to increase the pressure on Young to give in and drop his opposition to building the Pan Am Games stadium in an area known as Hamilton's West Harbour.

Ten days before a July 8 deadline for provincial conciliator Michael Fenn to break an impasse between the Tiger-Cats and the city over the site of a facility that was to replace aging Ivor Wynne Stadium as the CFL team's home, Eisenberger has introduced a whole new dynamic.

Nice arrangement: Katz can use Eisenberger if he wants; Eisenberger can use Katz immediately to get his way with Young, who has said Eisenberger's preferred location has issues with access and exposure that will make it less profitable for the football team. Yet now Eisenberger can say: Wait a minute. I have a guy, here (Katz) who says it will work.

And he's a billionaire.

"We've worked extremely hard the past two years to come up with a solution and we will continue to do that - but we're shocked to find out that this has obviously been going on for a long period," Tiger-Cats president Scott Mitchell said. "We wouldn't be having this discussion if it wasn't for Bob Young keeping the team in Hamilton. Now, they're taking the most valuable asset and offering it to other individuals."

Eisenberger said Katz's interest was operating the facilities, and Katz "understands he would have to accommodate the Tiger-Cats."

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Nice words but, frankly, on the eve of the 2010 CFL season, it seems like dropping a flaming bag of dog excrement on Young's doorstep, ringing the doorbell and then running away. There are those in Hamilton who believe Eisenberger's end game is testing Young's patience and having him sell the team.

Hamilton is to the NHL what St. Petersburg, Fla., was to baseball for so many years: the potential destination for any team or owner with a stadium issue.

Newsflash: There will be another team in Southern Ontario eventually, but it won't be in Hamilton. This is in fact more about the CFL and civic biceps flexing in two Canadian cities. It's not the Phoenix Coyotes redux, so we'll have the get our summer NHL conspiracy fix some place else.

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