NHL Semifinals: Balsillie and the Tigers Versus Bettman and the Coyotes

Martin AverySenior Writer IMay 18, 2009

16 Jun 1998: NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman talks and points to the Stanley Cup Trophy during the Stanley Cup Finals game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Capitals at the MCI Center in Washington, D. C.. The Red Wings defeated the Capitals 4-1.

As the Stanley Cup semifinals get under way—with Chicago and Detroit in an Original Six matchup and the Hurricanes taking on the Penguins—all eyes are on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Phoenix Coyotes versus Jim Balsillie and the Hamilton Tigers.

Or is it the Hamilton BlackBerries and the Winnipeg Jets?

It's business, but it appears to be personal, too. This confrontation promises to have some of the nastiness hockey fans like to see on the ice during the playoffs.

In a nutshell, this is what the Phoenix-Hamilton series is all about: The NHL is trying to block the sale of the Coyotes to Balsillie while Balsillie is trying to strike down the NHL's franchise relocation rules so he can move the Coyotes to Hamilton.

Balsillie may also be trying to make the move without paying the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs for placing a team in their territory.

The headline in the National Postsaid "NHL resistance may be personal, Balsillie says."

Sean Fitzgerald of the Postreported that Balsillie has fired back at the National Hockey League, alleging that, should his latest attempt at ownership be denied, it will be from "an effort to block competition in the Toronto area or a dislike of Mr. Balsillie personally."

Bettman uses his radio show to make his case, according to Bruce Dowbiggin of the Globe and Mail.

Every Thursday, Bettman hosts his own show called The NHL Hour on Sirius XM Radio. He's using it as a bully pulpit, Dowbiggin says, claiming that "with Jim Balsillie at the door, Bettman has used the unfettered radio access to talk over the heads of conventional media to fans."

The headline in the Winnipeg Free Press said, "Here's hoping Bettman truly is a spiteful little man." The sub-head read, "It could be Winnipeg's best chance for return to NHL."

Balsillie's core argument appears to be that, since he already had NHL approval for an earlier attempt to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins, his run at the Coyotes should be approved quickly and the NHL should also move quickly to process the application to move the Coyotes to Hamilton.

Bettman's team said they would rather see a team in Winnipeg—the former home of the Phoenix franchise—than in Hamilton with Balsillie.

Balsillie hit back, according to Fitzgerald, in the National Post.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

He quoted documents filed with the bankruptcy court saying, "Instead of selling the Nashville Predators to [Balsillie], the team was sold to William (Boots) Del Biaggio and other local owners at a considerably lower price, apparently because the then-owner believed the NHL would not approve Mr. Balsillie as the new owner of the Nashville team, presumably based upon discussions with the NHL Commissioner."

The filings also allege that "Mr. Del Biaggio was recently charged with fraud in acquiring the Nashville Predators with Ponzi-scheme money, which a thorough due diligence inquiry like the one previously conducted on Mr. Balsillie likely would have exposed."

The score is Balsillie three and Bettman two, but Bettman has home ice advantage.

If only Balsillie had a Sean Avery on his team...

It would be great if the NHL won this series.

Prediction: Detroit and the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. Bettman and Balsillie in seven.