With the Miami Heat now done taking up big chunks of my time, I can now turn my complete attention to hockey (although I must admit I've enjoyed these NBA playoffs. Save for the Heat/Hawks series. That sucked.)
Big news in the league today is the impeding demise of what we've come to know and love as the Phoenix Coyotes.
Looks like they may be heading back to Canada.
As you may remember, the Winnipeg Jets were struggling financially in Canada and moved to Phoenix as part of commissioner Gary Bettman's grand plan to introduce the game to non traditional markets.
It's worked in some (Dallas, Anaheim, San Jose) and not so much in others. Phoenix is one of those places.
Poor product, a bad arena location and an owner's financial troubles have led the Coyotes to file for bankruptcy today. The league says they are removing owner Jerry Moyes from having anything to do with the team, so I guess we can assume the league will be running the Coyotes during this time (as the Arizona Republic reported they were doing anyway a few days ago).
A fresh story on today's Republic website says in the team's filing is a provision to sell the team to a group led by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, the owner of Research In Motion (home of the Blackberry). Moyes told the paper that he has an offer from Balsillie for over $200 million, with all the people owed money by the team getting paid (except, perhaps, for investors, although I seriously doubt that).
The team could be playing in Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, by fall.
Balsillie already has a website up and going where fans (assuming Canadian ones since he doesn't care about the ones in Arizona) can sign up to support the move and make the Coyotes the seventh NHL team to be based in Canada.
Log on to makeitseven.ca for more info...
Here's my take: Moyes got the offer from Balsillie but knows the league wouldn't let him sell to him knowing the team would be on the move. The league still wants to make Phoenix work; losing a U.S. television market is not something the NHL wants nor needs.
By going into bankruptcy court, the NHL loses a lot of its power. Moyes is not a very popular person with the league right now, but he's lost a ton of cash and may not care about the feelings of the league right now (although they did help him stay afloat financially).
The highest bidder for this team is going to get it. And no one is going to outbid Balsillie. No one who wants to keep the team in Glendale, Arizona, anyway. And Balsillie is prepared to loan the team $17 million so it can keep things running until the deal goes through -- and therefore also become a creditor, putting himself in the middle of the court hearings. Smart and nifty.
(Seventeen million? The season is over? What they got going on in Glendale during the offseason that they need $17 million smackers? Anyway...)
The NHL says Moyes is no longer in power of the franchise, and the league will be representing the team during court hearings (according to the paper, the league is owed $35 million for loan payments). But Moyes is listed as a creditor as well, saying he's owed over $100 million. So, I'm no lawyer, but I think he's going to have some say in court no matter what the league wants.
And by going to court, the lease with the city of Glendale can be negated. Which means the team can move somewhere else.
Again, I'm no lawyer, but I can predict this thing getting pretty messy as we go along.
It's a shame things didn't work out (I guess it still could) in Arizona. Great place to visit, pretty good fans there. But the on-ice product has been pretty crummy for years, and the arena is in the middle of nowhere. Which is fine if you are going to two Arizona Cardinals games a month. You'll make that drive to see the Dallas Cowboys. But for 41 hockey games? Not going to happen. Hasn't happened.
Jim Balsillie failed in his bid to move Nashville and the Penguins to Hamilton, but thanks to Jerry Moyes and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, he may just get him a team after all.
And according to Moyes' remarks in the Arizona Republic, a new owner could be in place by June. Meaning the Coyotes could be playing exhibition games in Canada by September. Someone call the Panthers. They'll come up for a game or two.
"The process assures that the identities of the new owner and the team's location will be known by June 30, 2009,'' Moyes told the Republic, ''thus enabling the NHL to include the team in its 2009-10 schedule."
A statement from Balsillie:
“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.
“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.”
Hard to believe, but the Coyotes may leave the desert without their fans ever getting to say their proper goodbyes. And that sucks.
-- And I am serious about the Panthers playing the Hamilton team come September. Have already been told that the team is probably going to western Canada at the start of training camp, then will work its way east and will probably stop in Montreal for a game or two.
Me thinks Hamilton will work its way onto the Florida schedule, especially since they will be flush in cash and able to write the check.
No six games in six nights like last year, but expect them to play four or five preseason games before heading home. And then to Europe. Air Panther strikes again.
-- Here's some more from the Arizona Republic:
* NHL denies that it's running the Coyotes (as reported by the paper thanks to a ticked-off sounding Glendale city official)