Phoenix Back To Ashes

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By now, you’ve heard the news that the Phoenix Coyotes filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Never a completely stable financial franchise, even back to the days when they were the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL has been assisting the Yotes for months dollars-wise. The team has never progressed further than Round One of the playoffs, they’re nine miles away from the city that bears their name, and not even the Great One as coach has been able to right the ship. Signs are certain that it is a question of when, not if, the Coyotes are moving.

Enter Jim Balsillie, Canadian billionaire and wannabe NHL franchise owner. Twice already, Balsillie has been thwarted in his attempts to own a team. First, there was his attempt to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though he had the blessing of league commissioner and legal weasel Gary Bettman, Balsillie never unconditionally guaranteed that he would keep the team in Pittsburgh. When Bettman decided to make that part of the deal, Billion Bucks Balsillie walked away.

Then there was the fiasco that was the Nashville Predators affair. Although a very good Hockey team, the Predators never did pull in the punters. With team owner Craig Leopold, Balsillie made a deal to buy the team for higher than market value. With a sale assured, Balsillie began taking season ticket deposits in Hamilton, Ontario, collecting 12,000 deposits — far more than Nashville’s ticket base. Yet, in walks Weasellman convincing Leopold to sell the Preds to another group of owners for a smaller price. Balsillie is rejected, Bettman wins, and Leopold disappears into the Wild.

By that, I mean that Bettman secured Leopold to own the Minnesota Wild.

So for round three, Balsillie is again working with a struggling team, the Glendale Phoenix Coyotes. And yet again, Bettman is interferring with Balsillie’s attempts. Y’see, when the Yotes filed Chapter 11 and set the deal to sell the team to Balsillie in motion, no one alerted the NHL. With the Weasel’s previous actions, who could really blame Balsillie? Bettman has since stripped owner Jerry Moyes of all authority and is taking the whole shebang to court.

Who knew during a time of great playoff drama on the ice, the most intriguing one would be off it?

It’s admirable that Bettman wants to save the Coyotes, what with the $30-million the league has sunk into the franchise. But Bettman’s actions are shortsighted, megalomanical, and dickish. Indeed, it was the league’s actions in locking out the players four years ago that definitively put the Coyotes in the hole. The move to Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, AZ, didn’t help either. Realistically, the NFL Cardinals and the NBA Suns are the sweethearts of the city. The Coyotes are the redheaded stepchild of Maricopa County as well as the National Hockey League.

This drama isn’t over yet.

And is it really all worth it? Say Balsillie is successful and gets the Coyotes only after a protracted sturm und drang legal battle. Does support in southern Ontario wilt? With the closeness of Detroit, Buffalo, and Toronto NHL teams (not to mention AHL teams), would there be enough fan support to carry the Canadiyotes? And what of Balsillie’s financial cache should the legalties draw on? History could repeat itself a third time and the franchise’s fortunes could swirl the drain.

Bettman’s stubbornness in denying Balsillie what he will eventually get is going to hurt the league. There are 29 other teams out there. Should a franchise in, say, Florida falter, how quick will Bettman come to their rescue? Is the league able to operate more than one or two franchises? Surely, losing an American team to Canada (when that team should have never left Canada to begin with) beats a losing an NHL team outright.

The league has done a yeoman’s job in trying to keep the Coyotes above water. But Bettman’s actions are a bandage when what’s really needed is an amputation.

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