The Phoenix Coyotes Saga Comes Down to Canada vs. Gary Bettman

Patrick Cwiklinski@@patcwiklinskiCorrespondent IMay 18, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 05:  Jim Balsillie Chairman and Co-CEO of Research In Motion and new owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins speaks in a press conference announcing the  purchase of the team after the first period at Mellon Arena on October 5, 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

As far as hockey in Canada goes, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is just about as close to the embodiment of pure evil as there can be.

And that’s putting it nicely.

On May 5, Phoenix Coyotes majority owner Jim Moyes filed for bankruptcy after yet another season of deteriorating arena attendance and overall mediocrity from the Arizona sports franchise that he’s owned since 2001.

That same day, Moyes announced that he had agreed in principle to sell the team to PSE Sports and Entertainment, headed by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, for $212.5 million and part of the deal would include having the Coyotes relocate to a new city in Southern Ontario, particularly Hamilton.

Not on Bettman’s watch.

The commissioner quickly jumped into the picture, stating that Moyes may not have even had the authority to file the bankruptcy petition and that the NHL was committed in maintaining the team in the Phoenix area. Soon enough, Moyes was stripped of virtually any authority he had as owner, thus leaving the Southern Ontario deal with Balsillie up in the air as the matter made its way to court.

After an unresolved hearing on May 7, bankruptcy court judge Redfield Baum scheduled a second hearing for May 19, to determine who is actually in control of the team.

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However, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated that regardless of how the judge rules, the league owners will get the final say in whether or not to approve the Coyotes move. Daly also added that Bettman doubts Balsillie’s bid for the team will be successful and even going so far as to say that Balsillie was “acting in total disregard” for NHL rules when he made the bid.

First, let me start by asking whose bright idea was it to move a hockey team to the middle of the desert in Arizona in the first place? But okay, I guess I can swallow that one, I mean if Anaheim and Tampa Bay can be successful and win Stanley Cups then maybe the desert isn’t such a bad place to have a hockey team after all, right?


The Coyotes have been a lackluster team throughout their entire 12-year existence, making the playoffs for a total five times and being knocked out of the first round each time.

But hey, I’m still willing to not give up on a team if they’re at least building somekind of fanbase and making money, but seeing as how the Coyotes have the third lowest average attendance in the entire league behind the New York Islanders and Atlanta Thrashers, it doesn’t look like they’re making much of anything these days.

Meanwhile, in Hamilton you have a city full of hockey-nuts that would easily fill the NHL-size Copps Coliseum’s capacity of roughly 19,000 on a nightly basis. Almost guaranteed.

But of course with Bettman in charge we might never see that become a reality. As he said himself, the only way he sees there being a team in Hamilton is if it was by expansion. He even said he would move the team back to Winnipeg before moving to Hamilton.


Now I’m not trying to come off as a Canadian hockey activist and I do feel for the fans that do support the Coyotes in Phoenix and don’t want to see them go. With that being said I also don’t feel as if the city is a large enough hockey hub to keep the franchise there in tact—if you’re going to relocate, why not move it to a to Hamilton where there’s sure to be a massive fanbase resulting in a lot of money.

Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, The NHL needs to take a long hard look at teams like Phoenix, Atlanta, and the Islanders and really ask themselves if it’s worth keeping these dying franchises on life-support or start moving them elsewhere.

That also doesn’t necessarily mean exclusively to Canada because there are also many passionate hockey cities in the United States as well, but since Balsillie obviously has the money and motive to bring the Coyotes to Hamilton, why not?


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