01 October 2009

On the Phoenix Court Decision

Shortly after hearing that Judge Baum had rendered his verdict, I flocked to the Internet to read the court's statement. 31 pages isn't so bad, even if a good chunk of it was legalese jargon that I don't full understand. I'm not a lawyer but I'm still more or less intelligent, so I made my way through it.
The first striking item is the revelation of the Coyotes' losses while operating in the Desert. I can't even fathom having one hundred million dollars, let alone losing it in the course of one hockey season. That happened in 2007-08. Small wonder that Moyes filed for bankruptcy. That is catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination. The value of the team in Phoenix is about as much as that of Sergei Kostitsyn to the Montreal Canadiens right now; maybe somewhere else it could flourish, but not where it presently stands. There is no chance the team can be profitable in Glendale, so the only sensible economic solution is for the team to be relocated. The court acknowledged this as well in its citations of a number of expert opinions provided on the matter.
The problem all along that the NHL has had with Balsillie has been the way he's gone about his business. His "by any means necessary" approach has severely put off his potential colleagues on the NHL Board of Governors, who have a firmly established process that must be followed if one wishes to acquire team and possibly relocate it. Look how smoothly the transition has gone from George Gillett to the Molsons in Montreal. You play by the rules, you get to play with the big toys. I am not truly surprised by the fact that Judge Baum rejected Balsillie's bid with prejudice. Though it was far and away the best monetary offer, had Baum accepted Balsillie's bid it would have done major damage to the conduct of professional sports leagues. He recognized this, and though it hurts for all the nationalists in Canada that wanted a 7th team, it was the right thing to do.
The ruling on the NHL's bid is not a total win for the NHL, but it's a pass for a gimme goal. In essence, if the League tweaks its deal to pay Gretzky and Moyes the money they believe they're owed, the court will approve a modified bid and thus the NHL will take ownership of the Coyotes. Presumably they would flip the team as soon as possible to an approved owner, be it Reinsdorf or any other potential suitor that comes calling with a large amount of money. They may have to accept a season or two of financial hemhorraging in Glendale, but a relocation deal would likely be worked out to put the Coyotes in what would hopefully be a marketable region. It's anybody but Balsillie at this point as far as the NHL is concerned.

I'm glad that the saga appears to be coming to an end. All the Bettman haters out there will be displeased that he's essentially given himself another five-year lease as commissioner. Make no mistake: the other owners will be giving him hearty backslaps for keeping Balsillie out and ensuring that the old boys' club rules remain intact. For Balsillie it's strike three, and he's likely done as far as his ability to pursue his dream of owning and operating an NHL club. The BoG that was once favourable to him has been soured by the Nashville and Phoenix debacles he orchestrated, and without approval of his peers he simply has no avenues into the NHL. And Phoenix, poor, poor Phoenix. They'll continue to languish in the Desert, playing in a mostly empty arena and losing games on a regular basis. For now.

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