The Phoenix Coyotes May Be Moving to Hamilton—But Will the NHL Allow It?

Keith SheltonAnalyst IMay 6, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11:  (L-R) Scottie Upshall #8 and Steve Reinprecht #28 of the Phoenix Coyotes celebrate after Reinprecht scored a second period power play goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on April 11, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.   The Coyotes defeated the Ducks in 5-4 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Coyotes declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy yesterday.

A somewhat shocking move—but even more shocking was what happened next.

Mere hours after Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes filed, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly removed Moyes' authority to run daily operations of the team.

Moyes will also not be allowed to represent the team in bankruptcy court. The team will now be represented by the NHL's board of governors.

The question is why the NHL would step in and remove Moyes in the first place. It has a lot to do with the Canadian owner of Research In Motion, Jim Balsillie.

If Balsillie's name sounds familiar to you, it's because last offseason he made a well-publicized bid to purchase the financially struggling Nashville Predators in an attempt to move them to Hamilton, Ontario.

With the help of the NHL, Balsillie's bid was squashed.

Previously, Balsillie made a bid to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins as well. This guy really wants to own an NHL team.

When the Coyotes' Jerry Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy yesterday, it was a move to position the team to be sold—likely to Jim Balsillie.

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He would then move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, ON—but not if the NHL has anything to say about it.

It's not really a secret that the NHL's board of governors doesn't want a return to seven Canadian teams.

In all the talk of further expansion that occurs yearly, the most frequent locales that come up are Las Vegas, Portland, and Kansas City.

Never mind that the Phoenix Coyotes were originally the Winnipeg Jets just 12 years ago. Never mind that many hockey purists mourned the day that a Canadian team moved to the desert.

Balsillie wants to return them to the Great North and has made a $212.5M offer to purchase the Coyotes.

“The current team ownership asked that I table an offer to purchase the Coyotes and significant discussions resulted in an offer that is in the best interests of the franchise, the NHL, and the great hockey fans of Canada and Southern Ontario,” Balsillie said in a statement.

“I am excited to move closer to bringing an NHL franchise to what I believe is one of the best unserved hockey markets in the world—Southern Ontario. A market with devoted hockey fans, a rich hockey history, a growing and diversified economy, and a population of more than seven million people,” he said.

Moyes was prepared to sell to Balsillie. It is unclear if the NHL will be willing to table his offer.

The Coyotes are a team that has enjoyed a fair amount of success. Most of this came in their earlier years though, shortly after the move from Winnipeg. Under Gretzky, the team was beginning to climb back to respectability and narrowly missed the playoffs this season.

However, this recent news should re-raise the question: Can a hockey team survive long-term in the south—particularly in the desert?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman believes so. Furthermore, he wants to add a second team in the desert with a possible Las Vegas expansion in the future.

Maybe it's just me, but employing a common sense approach, hockey is a cold weather sport. Hockey is generally most successful in areas where kids can grow up around the sport. You just don't see kids playing pond hockey in Phoenix; it isn't possible. No offense to the devoted Coyote fans out there. 

My point? Phoenix obviously cannot support a hockey team. They are declaring bankruptcy. Why even consider adding another team in the same general climate?

As for realignment issues that may arise, the answer is slightly more complicated. Hamilton is further east than Detroit and Columbus, and slightly southwest of Toronto.

Detroit and Columbus are currently the two easternmost teams in the Western Conference. If Phoenix moves to the Eastern Conference presumably, an Eastern team would have to the Western Conference.

Would it be Toronto? Likely, yes.

Or Hamilton would have to stay in the Western Conference and have the severest of travel fatigue on Western Conference road trips.

Details aside though, this is the right move to make. The NHL may very well try to deny Balsillie for the third time, but realistically, who is going to purchase the Coyotes and keep them in the desert?

The NHL may try to move them to Las Vegas, but I believe that would also be the wrong move. If the NHL wants a team in Vegas, fine, but make it an expansion please.

Let Balsillie purchase his team. Let him move the Coyotes to Hamilton.