Is Jerry Reinsdorf the NHL's Pawn until Something Better Comes Along?

Joe M.Correspondent IIApril 6, 2010

CHICAGO - APRIL 01: Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman  of the Chicago White Sox, watches as his team takes batting practice before the Opening Day game against the Cleveland Indians April 2, 2007 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A pawn. A patsy. A placeholder. Bettman's b*tch.

Whatever you want to call him, its starting to appear that prospective Coyotes owner Jerry Reinsdorf may be acquiring the team as a courtesy to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and his clueless cronies as a pawn in the game they are playing.

It wouldn't surprise me.

After all, this is the same group that thought southern expansion would be a good idea.

Who did the feasibility studies on that one? Better yet, how much time and money was wasted along the way, and who chose to ignore those studies that almost assuredly had to come back in a negative light?

Feasibility Studies Analysis

The Carolina Hurricanes work, because of its large number of transplant fans.

"But Phoenix has a multitude of 'transplant fans' as you put it."

That may be true. Aside from the Canadians that I know to be there—I've seen them, read about them, and ultimately wrote about them in my past articles—what is going to happen to the Coyotes' playoff attendance in the second or third round, provided, but God forbid, they get there. The "transplant fans" (ie. snowbirds in Arizona's case) will fly home for the summer now that it appears that winter is over.

Carolina works, because the transplant fans live there in large part year-round, having actually relocated there permanently. They also come from specific hockey environments like Buffalo, where it's easy to make the transition and follow your new team, while still keeping an eye on your first love, the Sabres back home in the snowy upstate New York.

So why does Tampa work?

Tampa works, because it won the Cup back in 2003-04 right before the lockout. A fan base was created along the way, and it actually stuck.

This is my worst fear should the Coyotes actually have a long and legitimate run in the playoffs. If that happens, there may be no getting rid of this team and moving it back north where it belongs.

Florida and Nashville don't work. In Florida's case, the team is located in Cuban Florida, where the game literally doesn't translate to the base.

In Nashville's case, despite putting a decent-to-competitive product on the ice the majority of its short tenure in Tennessee, there is simply too much to do in cosmopolitan Nashville that is still centered around country music.

And country music, not hockey, is the city's first love.

This is precisely the situation in Atlanta, where the "fans" are often known as the most apathetic in all of sports.

Transplants by trade, brought to Georgia for business purposes, these literal "hired guns" come with loyalties already in tow from their previous location—often the state of their birth, wherever that is (in other words, the north).

Additionally, with over five million people in the metro area and a plethora of entertainment options within the city and region, hockey simply doesn't appeal to the average new Atlantan.

Winnipeggers, noted in my last column, Even With a Cup, Long Term Future Not Practical For NHL In Phoenix , are starting to feel used by the NHL as a bargaining chip as a possible destination for the Coyotes.

In reality, it's questionable at best that the league would ever even approve a move back there. In addition to the embarrassment it would create, the team clearly has no intention of really wanting to relocate there, or in Canada for that matter.

Reinsdorf's Role

If anyone should feel used, I'm starting to wonder if it shouldn't be Reinsdorf.

However, evidenced by his desire for an opt-out clause should he become majority owner, he appears willing to play the part of owner until a more favorable location for the league's ego opens up.

But why would he do this?  

Maybe he legitimately likes hockey, I don't know. More likely, he wants to re-establish himself and his name in the Phoenix, Arizona, area where he owns a lot of real estate, get in good with the league (upon approval), and when Bettman says jump, he can go wherever the NHL would rather see the franchise go.

Where might that be? As owner of the Chicago Bulls and the White Sox, logic would suggest the Windy City.

But could the Chicago Coyotes actually share the United Center with the more popular and more historic Blackhawks? The city already has two baseball teams, and had two football teams before the Chicago Cardinals relocated to St. Louis before ultimately settling in—as fate would have it—Arizona.

That first option clearly is bogus, like the Ice Edge bid! I believe that only exists to create the illusion of a competitive bidding process, so the NHL doesn't look like it's handing the franchise to Reinsdorf who likely doesn't even want it.

Remember, he dropped his original bid.

Other options would be the same old rumors. Kansas City has a beautiful venue in the Sprint Center that meets the NHL's standard 18,000-seat requirement. Las Vegas, Nevada, which no one is talking about, has no venue to offer, has no ownership group emerging, and sports leagues only seem to flirt with it because of the razzle-dazzle without the actual commitment.

Don't forget any combination of Seattle or Portland—take your pick.

You can be assured that Hartford, Quebec City, or Winnipeg are last on the list, for good reason. The stubborn NHL simply can't admit when it's wrong, nor when it made a mistake (as in all three cases).

So, Reinsdorf simply plays his role as the keeper of the team until up to five years from now. Then the economy recovers, and Reinsdorf suddenly finds it more profitable and practical to move the team—as in sell the team—to an owner in a climate more to the NHL's liking.

That way he looks like he did all he could in the desert, but as luck would have it, just couldn't make it work.

Better yet, the NHL comes off looking like it had no clue of the move, but wishes Jerry the best in his future endeavors.

After all, he's just being a good soldier, right?

The NHL has to solve the Coyotes dilemma first, before it can move on to the second problem child of immediate concern: the Thrashers.

I believe Atlanta would be second in line to move if only it had a suitable (read: American) suitor. The Coyotes sale is likely the first domino to fall, but Bettman would like to see them fall as far apart as possible, for obvious reasons.

It doesn't look good, and it raises a lot of questions about your league and how it's run.

"Wasn't that lockout supposed to solve everything?" curious onlookers would ask.

Reinsdorf could bide some time.

Bettman's Dilemma

Bettman's really got a big problem on his hands.

It doesn't just start and end with those dastardly Coyotes. The Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, and Dallas Stars are all having money problems, and all at the same time.

Additionally, the old Quebec Nordiques (the Colorado Avalanche) are somehow not drawing well, despite having a team on the cusp of making the playoffs.

Go figure. I honestly can't figure it out.

Next, the NHL's stupid television contract with Versus expires after next season.

But with nowhere else to go, he may be forced to go back to a channel that the fans don't like, largely because several cable providers, as well as DirecTV, don't offer it, blackening out entire populations of the country.

Additionally, without the help of ESPN to promote their games, many fans simply cannot find this channel in their cable lineups.

Finally, in its biggest flaw of all, the cable deal with Versus (and NBC) brings in a minuscule, a paltry, and equally embarrassing-to-that-of-Southern-expansion, $75 million a year for an entire league to divide.

Think about that.

Seventy-five million dollars among its 30 teams. "Thanks for our $2.5 million piece of the pie" say the Montreal Canadiens, as well as every other team in the league.

Not only that, but note that the $75 million annually comes from two television stations.


That's even more sad.

To give it some perspective, the NBA is in the first year of an eight year pact with the ESPN/ABC and Turner corporation conglomerate valued at $7.5 billion.


Under the NHL's expert negotiating ratio, that would be $75x8 years=$600 million.

I don't include the NFL. Its coverage is found on a variety of networks CBS, FOX, NFL Netowrk, ESPN, and DirecTV but this can also be confusing , even before you consider its ridiculous price of $20.4 billion total.

So in closing, Bettman's got a lot on his plate.

He really can't move forward until his most immediate need—the Coyotes ownership situation—is resolved. One that is currently losing money by the day.

The only question is if Reinsdorf wins the bid, does it come on or before June 30, 2010, aka Decision Day in the Desert, or does he hold onto the team a bit longer until a "real" market emerges from the ashes?

Statistics and information from the Sports Business, Sports Business Daily, as well as the Toronto Globe and Mail directly contributed to this article.


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