Thursday, August 27, 2009

The NHL moves the goalposts, and maybe a whole team it was sworn to defend

Honestly, this was just a joke!
"If you want a short and snappy answer about where the Phoenix Coyotes will play, just say Kansas City." — Aug. 6
Then it gets out that the NHL's Hail Mary play to buy the Phoenix Coyotes would only keep the team there for one season before they would try to move it. They have to protect those expansion fees, don't you know (and Eric Duhatschek's put-the-Coyotes-in-Toronto theory actually makes a lick of sense, keeping in mind this is coming from a newspaper which is part of the same corporate family as TSN):
"In an about-face, the league's bid to purchase the Coyotes out of bankruptcy court specifically mentions it is open to relocating the team.

" ... Since the NHL states in its bid that it 'does not anticipate there would be a net profit upon a resale of the team to a Glendale buyer,' its own interests, and those of the creditors, would likely be best served by relocating the team to a market where its value could be maximized beyond $140-million.

The league’s apparent openness to relocating the Coyotes flies in the face of its commitment to Glendale, dating back to when the team’s troubles surfaced last season and throughout the league’s four-month fight with Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie ..." —

"... the NHL’s plan (to buy the Phoenix Coyotes) is nothing but a stay of execution. In the short term, it will give Glendale one last chance to lure a local investor or bring (Jerry) Reinsdorf back into play. If it doesn’t work, the Coyotes will be off for greener pastures." Arizona Republic

In the words of a Kurt Vonnegut character, "I had to laugh like hell." Make It Eight, Eh dug out a great quote from NHL deputy commish Bill Daly from just last month.
"Daly stressed the new terms would not allow the Coyotes to break the lease in a year or two and move elsewhere.

"The NHL must fight for the bankrupt Coyotes to stay in Glendale long-term, he said, to send a message to other cities that have spent money attracting or retaining hockey teams.

" 'If we want communities to continue investing in our franchises, we need to work arm in arm to protect their investments,' Daly said."
Whoopsy-doodle. It turned out those "communities" are not actual communities where people live and pay taxes, but groups of really, really rich guys. There is, for instance, L.A. Kings owner Philip Anschutz, whose company owns an arena in Kansas City which needs a tenant from a big ball-and-stick league. (This just a personal opinion.)

Meantime, it's behind the times to portray this as Hamilton vs. Phoenix (Puck Daddy). Never was. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly know who they work for, and it's whoever needs a hockey team as a front for Hoovering back scads and scads of corporate welfare.

Plus, for the Bob Loblaw Law Blog devotees, there is the whole issue of the NHL violating an important legal principle. Sub judice restrictions don't apply in the U.S., let alone in civil court, but it still doesn't mean it's not jerkass arrogance:

"Confident that the fans and the sports media would back them up ... the NHL circled their wagons and put on a Balsillie Is Rotten campaign.

"The pinnacle of NHL hypocrisy came in remarks recently made by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. Melnyk is often deservedly ridiculed by the outside-of-Ottawa hockey press for his allegiance to a lame-duck general manager (Bryan Murray). Ottawa's recent run of personnel crises has been reflected in league and playoff results.

"Melnyk, as the sports press seems so quick to forget, was the subject of an Ontario securities commission inquiry which alleged misleading and untrue statements made in the financial statements of Melnyk’s company, Biovail Corporation. Melnyk, before the OSC chastised him, blamed his staff! He settled the charges in 2007, was fined $1 million and ordered to cease being director of his company, Biovail, for one year. The OSC record is no credit to Melnyk.

"What pricks the conscious of caring lawyers is the NHL pre-emptive strike against Balsillie even while the bankruptcy proceedings are sub judice in Phoenix. By sending out their general counsel Bill Day to media outlets to spin doctor the rejection of Balsillie by the NHL board based on, apparently, Balsillie’s lack of integrity and character, not only offends the rule of sub judice, but seems to be the epitome of hypocrisy.

"The media is lapping it up too. The venerable Sports Illustrated published an article which actually quoted Melnyk’s self-serving drivel.

Long story short, this is ugly. At least we now know where the NHL was coming from. It never really made sense why they were so gung-ho about Phoenix, other than Bettman's ego. As Make It Eight, Eh says:
"The NHL and the Reinsdorf group were looking to relocate this team either now, or within five years to another centre that fits the plan of the NHL.

" ... The NHL has shunned the fans of Canada, and is quickly shunning the fans of Phoenix.

"Jim Balsillie has a brighter future in the NHL than Gary Bettman, and let’s see who is around in 10 years.

"Jim Balsillie, despite being voted against, has been approached by other struggling franchises, and is the true white knight to help the destitute owners."
Who knows what will happen. There's a fatigue at this point. It is perfectly rational and understandable if you have shunned sports radio and probably will until it gets resolved, since the Howard Bergers of the world are way in over their heads with this story. It has been fun, though.


Jason Jaffray Fan said...

Seems awfully similar to the Expos situation with a couple of differences, mainly the NHL seems to be at least saying the Coyotes will remain in Phoenix. Too much damage done there already to keep them there.

The team will move and I think it will end up being to the MTS Centre and Winnipeg within 2 years.

sager said...

I salute your optimism. One is hopeful for Winnipeg, but Southern Ontario does deserve a second team. The two do not have to be in opposition to one another.

Dennis Prouse said...

It warms my heart to see the NHL coming out of this looking so bad. As Brunt pointed out this morning, all this could have been avoided had they been honest a year ago about the situation in Phoenix. They tried to cover it up, though, and in the process look like fools. Bill Daly in particular looks bad - in acting as Bettman's designated thug, he has said an awful lot of dumb things that really don't make him look like a terribly intelligent, forward thinking fellow. His reputation, which used to be a good one, has been tarnished along with Bettman's.

Dave said...

I don't see why anyone thinks Bettman is in trouble. He is functioning as all commissioner's do in this day and age, taking all the heat for the real decision makers. Does anyone think attendance will drop anywhere in protest? Tell me, is Selig still commissioner of MLB after Montreal, the "tie-game" (deliciously, in Milwaukee of all places) and that spectacularly bad hairpiece? And leagues are free to act like fools because a) nobody's perfect and b) people keep showing up anyway.

Nobody likes to be painted in a corner and embarrassed, and to some extent Balsillie did that, I don't think he's a bad guy, in fact I'm part of a minority that highly respects the accomplishments and drive of these "rich guys". I think he'd be a fine owner (just like I wanted Cuban to own my Cubs), it's just obvious the owners have their backs up now, and saving face is probably more on their minds than the expansion fees.....

Dennis Prouse said...

Dave makes a good point in that the owners value respect and deference more than cash. That's because for almost all of them, owning the hockey team is an indulgence, not their primary business. Indeed, almost all the owners would be better off cashing out and putting the money into blue chip stocks. Therefore, simply making money isn't the only factor for them. If it was, Balsillie would have been admitted a long time ago. They suspect, probably correctly, that he will upset the apple cart in all kinds of ways, just as Cuban has in the NBA. I don't they are going to have much choice, though - if the reports in the business section are to be believed, other franchises have quietly been contacting Balsillie themselves, despite their bravado in the NHL Boardroom.

Anonymous said...

What makes him look bad is for a couple years he has said all 30 teams are in good shape.Now we all know that is not true.I do think attendance will drap in phoenix how much it could be alot.

Dave said...

Unquestionably, all commish's "look bad" at various times. I'm just saying that's precisely their job, to look bad and be the hatchet man, make the excuses and paint things as rosy as they can to the fans. At that, Bettman is a fine commissioner. Better than Selig actually, he's a better speaker. The only way he loses his job is if the league is so embarrassed that he becomes a scapegoat. I don't think enough people in North America care about hockey enough that we'll ever approach that threshold. Remember, there have been some spectacularly bad commissioner's who never got ousted. Ford Frick was comes to mind. It's almost better if they are a little inept, it takes the focus away from the real power-brokers. Bettman is doing a great job - as defined in the job description.

Keith Borkowsky said...

There's an easy solution. Move the team to Winnipeg, where there's no territorial rights to negotiate. You have hockey fans there. RIM Jim has money burning a hole in his pocket and wants a team. Two birds, one stone. Coulda been great partners, but ... alas, neither wins. Moving the team to Winnipeg would ultimately be a cheaper option. Fewer renos to the arena, cheaper cost of living for employees. Having a team in Winnipeg doesn't have to mean local ownership. Did George Gillett live in Montreal full time? George Steinbrenner didn't live in New York at the end — he lived in Tampa. Balsille could haven made Winnipeg work, and would have built up a lot of good will doing it.

Until someone works out a deal with the Maple Leafs, or someone in the NHL tells them having a franchise in London or Hamilton doesn't damage their interests, as no one from those cities who don't already have Leafs tickets can get them, the stalemate exists.

I like having a an NHL team in Buffalo, but there's a reason Ralph Wilson moves some Bills games to Toronto. If Hamilton and Buffalo can't co-exist, then let the stronger business win.