NHL Is the Loser in Phoenix Hearing

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NHL Is the Loser in Phoenix Hearing
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
It was looking as though a contemporary fable had begun to emerge in Phoenix, with the local NHL hockey team steeped in debt and a Canadian billionaire hoping to be the valiant saviour.

It was, after all, the third time Jim Balsillie, the RIM and Blackberry co-founder, attempted to uproot a franchise from its incumbent soil instead of tending to its needs and watering it on native ground.

It was beginning to look like vindication had allied with Balsillie, too, with Arizona Judge Redfield T. Baum acknowledging the lucrative and perhaps necessary offer submitted at $212.5 million, and a web campaign that enlisted the support of thousands of Canadians seemed to legitimize a claim for a seventh team in the Great White North.

It involved a cast between a legion of heroes on one side of the border and a horde of indiscreet villains on the other. Yes, it was either commissioner Gary Bettman and his goons or Balsillie and his knights. Take your pick and fill the ballot.

And now it may have ended, without the turtle finally cracking the finish line. No, the third effort did not bear any luck.

Baum exercised a plausible end to the debate about viable markets in southern Ontario and the instability of opposing grounds in Glendale, Ariz., upon the release of a 21-page ruling that ultimately rejected Balsillie’s bid. Baum cited that the deadline imposed by Balsillie was not sufficient in sorting out the complexities of the matter.

Subsequent statements released by the NHL had a particular air of victory.

"We're pleased the court recognized the validity of league rules and our ability to apply them in a reasonable fashion," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “We will turn our attention now toward helping to facilitate an orderly sales process that will produce a local buyer who is committed to making the Coyotes' franchise viable and successful in the Phoenix/Glendale area.”

Balsillie’s camp, however, believed there was still time to settle on a number for a mutually feasible relocation fee.

"The court still controls the sale process," said Bill Walker, the spokesperson for Balsillie. "We look forward to hearing from the NHL soon on its view of our relocation application and an appropriate relocation fee, so as to allow the court to determine if that fee is reasonable.

"We still think there is enough time for the NHL to approve Mr. Balsillie's application and move the team to Hamilton by September."

The possibility of that happening, though, is even slimmer than a sudden revival of Latin. And some will assign blame to Balsillie in that regard, as it was his decision to place a bona fide deadline on June 29 to see if his bid would be accepted.

The NHL is evidently gleeful about the prospect of entertaining offers from new investors, but there isn’t quite much that should cue a smile.

There is the difficult task of securing a financially-backed investor with the incentive to keep the Coyotes viable in Phoenix, in collaboration with funds provisioned by the NHL, while appeasing a list of creditors eager to recoup their losses.

Jerry Moyes, the owner who filed for bankruptcy, has lost $300 million and, to put into perspective, he would have only recovered a third of that investment if Balsillie’s offer had been permitted.

Despite the fact that some possible investors have "expressed interest" in purchasing the franchise—including Chicago sports magnate Jerry Reinsdorf and other individuals currently holding a stake in the Phoenix franchise—none has made it official.

So the NHL has nothing to boast. Staving off the bid from Balsillie was not scrupulous for the league nor is it a generally optimistic sign for Bettman and his responsibilities, which have just become denser. Without an owner of the franchise, Phoenix will stigmatize the NHL.

Bettman, perhaps to try and ease the media’s reception of the topic, has yet to fully acknowledge the detrimental effects of Phoenix’s debt, which has amounted to $74 million in the past two years, as he continues to defer any talk about its financial dismay.

And if a suitor was nowhere to be seen in the midst of Balsillie’s fray with the NHL, who is to say there will be a justifiable individual or group ready to table a deal even remotely close to a number that would mend all of the wounds inflicted upon the Coyotes’ financial foundation?

Balsillie was the threat, in the NHL’s eyes, and not one expresser of interest wanted to interject their voice.

The team will remain in Arizona for the next season and will participate in the upcoming draft; however, if the NHL cannot find a willing and adequate owner during the next season, Balsillie could resubmit an offer upon the Judge’s and NHL’s approval.

He could rear his head. Again. Like a fable of perseverance or any whack-a-mole machine, there’s always time to appear a second, third, or fourth instance.

That will depend on the diligence of the NHL and whether they can lure a credible owner with satisfying finances.

The scene is a bit more visible, but it’s still a sordid mess.

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