When we last left the state of hockey in Arizona, the Phoenix Coyotes franchise was wrapped in the financial tentacles of an unauthorized bankruptcy and being dragged into a pit of conspiracy theories and backdoor dealings by its owner and an ambitious Canadian billionaire bent on bringing a second NHL franchise to Ontario.
Things didn't get much better over the summer.
The billionaire in the mix is Jim Balsillie and the owner is Jerry Moyes. Last spring, Moyes surprised the NHL by filing bankruptcy on behalf of the team without approval in a covert attempt to allow Balsillie to buy the team at a bargain and move it to Hamilton, Ontario. However, Balsillie's attempts to add another team to Canada's roster had been rejected by the NHL twice before, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.
The NHL found their hero in bankruptcy judge Redfield Baum, who ruled against Balsillie's bid of $212 million and cited his deadlines were simply too ambitious relative to the litany of NHL rules he and Moyes "failed to address" during the process. At the very least, things needed to be sorted out before any sale could be approved. Believe it or not, things have become even uglier.
Not unlike a couple of thugs on skates trading shoulders along the boards on their way to what everyone in the stands knows will result in a center ice, gloves-off eye-blacker, the NHL Board of Governors delivered a heckuva shot to Balsillie by rejecting his bid and approving a much smaller, $148 million bid by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. In the postgame, the board stated that they rejected the higher bid because Balsillie, "... lacks the good character and integrity required of a new owner."
Judge Baum then jumped back into the brouhaha and ordered a September 10 auction of the team, despite the NHL board's encouragement that the team go to Reinsdorf. And, Baum said that the auction is open to all bidders, including Balsillie. The board is now doing all it can to remove his ability to own the team. Essentially, it's become personal. Just how hockey fans like it.
Beyond the politics and sandbox scuffles, hockey fans and others in the know are baffled at why the league wants the team in Phoenix. There is very little doubt that the experiment has failed. Canadian hockey fans are simply confused, especially because of how well hockey plays in their country.
It really comes down to the fact that the NHL wants a brand in a huge American market, regardless of the financial challenges. While Hamilton, Ontario is considerably smaller than Phoenix, it's fan base is focused on hockey. More over, being so close to Toronto and Buffalo could set up an outstanding three-way rivalry amongst the teams, which always leads to more dollars and of course, more heated exchanges at center ice.
At this point, it looks like September 10 will be the next great face-off in this latest sports debate. Who says this has been a boring off-season for hockey?