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Prospective Predators owner meeting with Canadian city over relocation plans

NHL.com @NHL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Representatives for Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie are meeting with Hamilton, Ontario, city officials over an exclusive agreement to move the Nashville Predators there as a contingency plan.

Balsillie has agreed to purchase the Predators, pending NHL approval, but the team's lease in Nashville may be in jeopardy over poor attendance.

Balsillie's attorney, Richard Rodier, said Wednesday the deal with Hamilton, a city of more than 500,000 people about 70 miles northwest of Buffalo, N.Y., would be a contingency plan in the event that the team's lease with Nashville was terminated.

"There has been no request, nor will there be, to relocate the team while that lease with the team is in good standing," Rodier said.

Current Predators owner Craig Leipold announced in May that he signed a letter of intent to sell his franchise to Balsillie, co-CEO of Blackberry makers Research in Motion Ltd., for $220 million after losing $70 million in 10 years of ownership.

Leipold has until June 19 to exercise a clause in the team's arena lease that would force the city of Nashville to buy tickets and ensure attendance averages 14,000 next season.

Balsillie would have to sign a consent agreement with the NHL, including a clause that prevents a new owner from relocating the team for seven years. But an arena lease would have to be in effect to force the new owner to follow that league requirement. Averaging 14,000 paid attendance in 2007-08 would keep the lease in effect.

The terms of the sale, which must be approved by the NHL's Board of Governors, call for the deal to be completed by June 30.

Balsillie withdrew a $175 million offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in December because the league did not want him to relocate.

However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said that even if the sale of the Predators goes through, the franchise "is not going anywhere."

Bettman said he met with Balsillie in May and asked whether he had intentions to relocate the franchise.

"He told me that he did not," Bettman said before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals between Ottawa and Anaheim.

An NHL spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.

The Predators finished third in the league standings this season with a franchise-record 110 points but averaged 13,815 in paid attendance.

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