Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can it get any weirder in Phoenix?


image cartoon by Kagan McLeod, National Post

Ok, so I’m not much of a fan of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, I’m sure many of you aren’t.

But when it comes to the current situation in Phoenix, Bettman is the smart one in the battle for control of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Just yesterday in the courtroom of Judge Redfield T. Baum, the Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie’s group of legal, yet logistically challenged, eagles threw another one out that makes you say, “WTF?".

During Wednesday’s proceedings, in an attempt to get the NHL’s  governors 26-0 vote to reject Balsillie as an owner, his attorney Jeff Kessler stated that if successful, they may have to move the team mid-season.

“We may have to move during the season,” Kessler said.


Pick up a fledgling franchise, then haul it, not to the nearest city or state, but halfway up the continent?

Way to earn points with the Judge and the NHL there, Mr. Kessler.

Move a team mid-season. That will fill the already near empty seats in Glendale won’t it? They’d have to put dummies wearing the unsold merchandise in the seats to keep the teams from thinking they’re in a scrimmage.

Then there’s the players and he NHLPA to get around. What a mess that would be for not one or two, but an entire roster to pack up their belongings and move part way into the season.

You also have the scheduling and travel for the other 29 NHL teams to contend with, which is likely already being or has been arranged.

Should we not also forget that City of Glendale also weighs in with it’s lease agreement or that the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton is also home to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs?

After Wednesday’s court proceedings, Bettman spoke to the media.

“I think the arguments by PSE (the company Balsillie formed to pursue the Coyotes) on moving the club treats rather frivolously the issues that all sports leagues have,” he said.

“I think it disrespects the game and it disrespects the players and what they have to go through night in and night out to do the great things they do on the ice.”

“Of all the things that were argued, and they were important, that one strikes a chord that showed a lack of respect for the game.”

Bettman defended the huge financial commitment the NHL is willing to make and vowed a court fight to the finish.

“There’s nothing more important to any sports league than who owns its franchises, where its franchises are located and the application and enforceability of its rules and procedures,” he said.

“If you’re in this business you’ve got to do whatever it takes to enforce your rules in that regard.”

Bettman is absolutely right.

“Whatever he rules, whenever he rules it I’m going to respect his ruling,” said Balsillie at the courtroom.

“That being said, obviously I still think that our bid is by far the best for creditors, for fans and for the long-term viability of the team. All I wanted from the beginning was a chance for a level playing field, a court-supervised auction where we can participate.”

This was the first time since Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy, that Balsillie was in the courtroom.

In light of the highest bid on the table to purchase the Coyotes, it’s clear that he just wants to get his franchise and move it.

He clearly he has no compassion for the concerns of the players and staff of the franchise and, in my opinion, no respect for the courts.

The entire process by Balsillie has been a tactically flawed mess from the get go.

First, he and Coyotes principal owner Jerry Moyes attempt a behind the back deal for the purchase of the team.

Then during the initial hearings, Judge Baum notes that up to that point, Balsillie hadn’t even filed a formal intent to purchase with the NHL. Basically saying that he was putting the cart before the horse.

Balsillie then puts in a formal offer and gets blanked by the governors.

He pulls his deal off the table, but then puts it back on but gives Judge Baum a deadline of September 14 to render a decision.

I’m no CNN Legal analyst, but is giving a deadline to a judge a smart thing?

Baum, who name is as common in this situation as Judge Ito’s was in the O.J. trial, summed it up by saying, “Either they (Balsillie’s team) have the ability to force themselves into the league, in a simple sense, or they don’t. “If they don’t, then game over.”

The judge also noted that a ruling Balsillie’s favor would be unprecedented.

Court was adjourned Wednesday afternoon, and there was no immediate word on when Judge Baum will make his ruling, or when the next step in the protracted battle between Balsillie and the NHL will occur prior to the scheduled auction date of September 10.

I hate to defend Gary Bettman, but it basically it comes down to this.

He was hired and given the task to grow the NHL in the United States. That was/is his job.

When you realize that only five NHL teams (the Canadiens have a pending sale to the Molson brothers) are not U.S. owned, along with the better populated markets, you could see why.

There has been hockey success in Phoenix, at other levels, and the NHL is determined to make it work.

It has nothing to do with Bettman being anti-Canadian or, for tat matter, the City of Hamilton. He’s doing what was asked of him.

One has to remember that it wasn’t long a go that a franchise in Pittsburgh was in a similar situation.

Amazing what a difference a few years makes.

1 comment:

Yves said...

It's been a pretty wild ride....

I like how the league set in motion to say that Balsilie's bid was no good because he was voted out..... but at the same time they themselves (the NHL) had a bid on the table.

Gary.... what are you thinkin' buddy?

Can't he see that conflict of interest??

The quicker the Coyotes situation is settled and someone (whoever ends up owning the team) can focus on selling tickets while making sure the players are focused on playing... the better.

This is just getting weird.