Scott Bordow: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is far less interested in keeping the Coyotes in Glendale than he is keeping Jim Balsillie out of the NHL.
After seven hours, 11 attorneys and countless quips from bankruptcy court judge Redfield Baum, here's the latest on the Phoenix Coyotes:
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is far less interested in keeping the Coyotes in Glendale than he is keeping Jim Balsillie out of the NHL.
How do we know this? Simple.
The NHL's lead attorney said so.
About two hours into Tuesday's proceedings, league counsel Tony Clark said that if the NHL can't find a suitable buyer to keep the team in the Valley, it would entertain bids to move the club following the 2009-2010 season.
So much for Bettman's undying commitment to hockey in Arizona.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was asked about this seeming contradiction after the proceedings. His response: "We're very confident we can find a buyer who wants to keep the team in (Glendale)."
That's what we've been hearing all along, right? The day Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy, Bettman supposedly had a deal worked out with a group fronted by Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
On Monday, Bettman said four groups are interested in purchasing the Coyotes and keeping them in Glendale.
OK. Then why, given the NHL's dramatic statements that a forced relocation of the Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario would "wreak havoc" to professional sports leagues, hasn't the league presented a formal bid as an alternative to Balsillie's? Wouldn't such an offer make it far easier for Baum to reject the Balsillie offer?
The NHL's attorneys trotted out some mumbo-jumbo Tuesday about not having access to data or not knowing exactly what's for sale, but Baum saw through the charade, saying that, "expressions of interests in the eyes of an old bankruptcy judge aren't helpful. You either make an offer or you don't."
Here's the real truth: The NHL knows that hockey in the Valley is a losing proposition. As Baum said, even if the city of Glendale offers a prospective owner $15 million a year in concessions, the team will still lose $15 million a year.
This is a control issue for Bettman, though. He doesn't want teams to be able to circumvent league relocation rules simply by filing for bankruptcy, so he'll fight Moyes and Balsillie in court, all the time professing his support for the Coyotes.
But it's a charade. At least the part about the Coyotes.
The group fronted by Reinsdorf eventually wants to move the team to Las Vegas, a market the NHL covets. The purported offer by the owners of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts is so laughable it's impossible to take seriously. Two men who have lobbied the NHL for years to put a second team in Toronto suddenly want to own a black hole of a franchise in Glendale?
No, it seems clear that this case is heading down one of two tracks: Either Balsillie wins and immediately relocates the team to Canada or the Coyotes play out the 2009-2010 season and possibly the following year in Jobing.com Arena before moving to Las Vegas, Toronto or whatever other municipality that has a deep-pocketed owner willing to play by the league's rules.
Is it possible an angel appears, envisions a wondrous future for the Coyotes in Glendale and plops down $150 million or so to buy the club? Perhaps. But so far, all we have is Bettman's word that those prospective owners are out there.
Given this is the same man who told reporters they were practicing "irresponsible journalism" when writing about the Coyotes' financial woes, do you believe him?