27 August 2009

NHL Close to the Win

If Balsillie didn't take himself out of the game with his latest absurd demand that the team be sold to him by Sept. 10 so that he can immediately relocate them or he's withdrawing his bid, I think that the NHL is mighty close to declaring "checkmate" against him after this bit of news. Not only is it far too late in the League's timetable to move a team based in Arizona to Ontario because of that small matter of the schedule, it's the type of bully tactic that has been employed one too many times by Balsillie. He was so far ahead in the publicity game in the early stages of this process, what with the Make It Seven promotion and the clever public statements, but he has squandered virtually all of the goodwill he had engendered by taking on the NHL by refusing to play by the rules. He wrapped himself in the Canadian flag, which always works well in conflicts with the League and the perception that Bettman is anti-Canada, but his actions have been decidedly un-Canadian and he's shown himself to be a cowboy that doesn't respect his potential colleagues on the Board of Governors.
It's a double-win for Bettman to make the bid and leave open the door of whether the team can be relocated in the future. By taking over the team itself while furnishing Moyes and his creditors with sufficient cash to satisfy the bankruptcy court, the NHL also has the advantage in being to then re-sell the team on their own terms. The Arizona court is first and foremost concerned with getting Moyes out of bankruptcy and ensuring that his creditors are paid; what happens with the Phoenix Coyotes franchise is a secondary concern for Judge Baum. We all know Balsillie's got money, but his actions in the process have not only concerned the NHL but also every other major professional sports league in North America - the idea that a team can be re-located via extra-constitutional means scares the hell out of them. So while the court's concern about the Coyotes is secondary to the concern about dollars, the NHL's bid can satisfy both conditions. If they should hold their own auction in a year or two years after a successful bid, you can rest assured that Balsillie will be completely excluded from the process. If the team is unsustainable, and the NHL must follow through with relocation, it will be done in the traditional constitutional fashion. Make no mistkae: the team will inevitably be moved; it is simply a matter of where, when, and with whom as the owner. But with the unfolding issues from this past week, it is looking more and more like Jim Balsillie will not be that owner. And truth be told, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

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