How much longer fans in Phoenix will have a team to cheer for is up for debate. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Can’t say I was much surprised by Monday’s ruling in a Phoenix courtroom – the most interesting hockey happening in the desert since Roadrunners forward Robbie Ftorek was named MVP of the World Association in 1977. Bankruptcy courtrooms are, more often than not, conservative in nature and Judge Redfield T. Baum decided to err on the side of caution.
Baum basically ruled against everything Jim Balsillie was hoping to do – slyly purchase the Coyotes out of bankruptcy, negotiate a relocation fee with the NHL and move the team to Hamilton, Ont. – and used the BlackBerry magnate’s own deadline of June 29 as the deciding factor.
"Simply put, the court does not think there is sufficient time (14 days) for all of these issues to be fairly presented to the court given that deadline," wrote Baum in his 21-page ruling.
Call it a RIM shot.
Balsillie’s rhetoric vehicle, makeitseven.ca, responded in part by saying “We still think there is enough time for the NHL to approve Mr. Balsillie's application and move the team to Hamilton by September.” Unfortunately for Balsillie and Hamiltonian hockey fans, neither the league nor the judge agrees.
Speaking of the Hammer, you’ve got to feel sorry for its denizens, who have been jerked around time and again by the NHL and various rich guys’ hopes to move a team to Copps Coliseum. This latest attempt was doomed from the beginning, because of Balsillie’s hope to get in through the out door.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Pro sports ownership in North America is a country club – you have to knock politely and be invited to join, you can’t kick the door down and demand membership. That’s what Balsillie tried to do with the Coyotes.
He feels slighted by past dalliances with the NHL in Pittsburgh (what a jackpot the Pens would have been) and Nashville. And he should. But when the big boys don’t want to play with you, you don’t ask the teacher to make them; that’s just going to set you back even further. Balsillie was approved as an NHL owner in 2006, but don’t look for that to happen again any time soon. Any owners who had moved to his side of the playground were surely upset by his actions since and are now back on the side of the cool kids.
As for the Coyotes franchise itself, now that all of this relocation business is over with the team can get down to business – sort of. Can’t see many season-ticket holders renewing their subscriptions or any newbies looking to join the party. There’s also the question of just who wants to own this team. Will anyone buy the Coyotes for a sum even close to Balsillie’s $212.5 million offer? Doubt it.
And now that the team’s financial dirty laundry has been aired and its current owner discredited by everyone, including the league, how will its on-ice performance be affected? Will other teams pounce on restricted free agents such as Scottie Upshall, Nigel Dawes and Keith Yandle, knowing the Coyotes will be reticent to match even reasonable offer sheets? And how can the team make any significant offers to unrestricted free agents?
There is every chance that Baum ruling in favor of the NHL will lead to an even more embarrassing mess for the league. The Coyotes are already a financial sinkhole that has cost the league money via operating funds advanced to the team and by dragging overall league revenues down.
No matter who purchases the team, those losses are not going to be stopped. The Coyotes will be relocated somewhere, but on the NHL’s terms. And when that happens, all of the league’s talk of remaining faithful to its markets will be out the window.
But if Balsillie had his way, the deficit problems would have been put to bed (not that Hamilton is exactly flourishing economically right now) by a billionaire’s deep pockets and the NHL would have escaped the desert experiment with an “It’s not our fault” explanation.
Instead, the league must continue in its efforts to paint everything as rosy, despite the obvious fact everything is far from it.
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