Balsillie, Coyotes, Bettman, Hamilton, Phoenix-What’s Left? Buzzards

So here is my early take on the Balsillie Coyotes “thing”…. Balsillie blew it, yet again. I fail to understand why he went down the road that he did. As I have said before, he should have let the team go into bankruptcy, then make an UNCONDITIONAL offer to buy them and force the league to either reject him as an owner or try to impose restrictions/qualifications on his offer. The only thing he would have lost in that scenario is the ability to walk about scott free from the lease.

The judge in this case in essence punted. If you read his decision he says, 1. The NHL can’t simply reject Balsillie as an owner. 2. There is no antitrust issue in this case yet; the league hasn’t ruled on relocation yet, therefore the relocation/antitrust issue isn’t a dispute yet- in legalease- the judge is saying that the issue isn’t ripe yet. 3. There isn’t enough time to settle all the issues that would need to be settled before Balsillie’s self imposed June 29th deadline.

Now, what does that mean? Balsillie should go back in to court, and offer up his money UNCONDITIONALLY. He would then force the league to reject him as an owner (which the court has already said they can’t do) OR try to impose the Pittsburgh restrictions on him. When the league tried to impose those restrictions on him, and one would be that he can’t move the team, then the issue of relocation/anti-trust would be a dispute and the Judge would rule on them. Lastly, this whole shotgun approach, trying to shove things down people throats, rarely ever works. What did Balsillie really care if this happened in September or November for that matter? It’s only cash, and by his own admission, he has more of that than he knows what to do with – or was it that he can’t spend it fast enough???

For those following along at home to the judge’s ruling which can be found here here are some points to review:

The good stuff doesn’t start until page 7.

On Page 9, at the end of the first paragraph, the jude says that the NHL can’t simply reject Balsillie as an owner absent material changes to him since his approval in 2006.

You can skip all the legalease through to page 13.

“The fundamental problem with Balsillie’s assertions is that the NHL has never made any decision about the relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes to any site, be it Ontario, Canada or anywhere else,”

The Judge in essence punts on the whole Oakland Raider case that you heard so much about and instead takes the view that because the NHL hasn’t ruled on the issue of relocation yet, there is no dispute on that issue! Classic. The judge sites a case called Vortex for establishing the test as to whether there is an actual “dispute” necessary deciding. The judge relies on the Vortex case to say that the mere existence of potential litigation is NOT enough to make a dispute. In other words, there has to be an actual disagreement on the books in order for their to be an anti-trust case. You can’t ask a judge to settle something that hasn’t actually happened yet. It would be like asking a judge to answer who was at fault in accident that hasn’t yet occurred. The judge says, at the bottom of page 14 that the fundamental problem for Balsillie here is that there is no dispute on the relocation issue because…..drum roll please…..the league hasn’t said to anyone you can’t move this team! The issue isn’t ripe yet, therefore the judge won’t rule on it.

So what does the judge do? He says that you brought this action at the worst time for the league, the playoffs and finals and then you try to insist that the case be decided quickly by the end of the month. We can’t possible handle all these issues by then so therefore because we can’t easily say that Balsillie is right, we will rule in favour of the NHL. That last part can be found on the bottom of page 15 and the top of page 16.

There is no need to read the rest of the ruling.

So what happens now? Well, the team still sits in bankruptcy. The trustee does have an obligation to the creditors to get this asset sold as quickly as possible and for the highest amount possible. Also, Balsillie does have the ability to appeal the judge’s ruling. HOWEVER, the appeal has to be on the judge’s application of the law. You can’t appeal it simply because you don’t like the ruling. Balsillie’s lawyers will have to point to certain decisions and cases that the judge has based his decision on and argue that the Judge got it wrong.

Jim Balsillie issued the following statement after the news came from the court:

“Jim Balsillie’s bid to bring a seventh NHL team to Canada continues. We’re still here. The Phoenix court confirmed Mr. Balsillie was approved as an NHL owner in 2006 and remains so. We believe he has made the best offer and Hamilton remains the best location for this team. The court did not approve either our approach or the NHL’s. Judge Baum did state he does not have time to decide all the relocation issues. But the court still controls the sale process. As a result, we look forward to hearing from the NHL soon on its view of our relocation application and an appropriate relocation fee, so as to allow the court to determine if that fee is reasonable. We still think there is enough time for the NHL to approve Mr. Balsillie’s application and move the team to Hamilton by September. The court invited mediation on these issues and Mr. Balsillie is willing to participate in such mediation if the NHL is also willing to do so.”

The NHL: through Bill Daly issued the following statement after the news came from the court:

“We’re pleased the Court recognized the validity of League rules and our ability to apply them in a reasonable fashion. We will turn our attention now toward helping to facilitate an orderly sales process that will produce a local buyer who is committed to making the Coyotes’ franchise viable and successful in the Phoenix/Glendale area. We are confident that we will be able to find such a buyer for the Coyotes and that the claims of legitimate creditors will be addressed.”

Does this guarantee that the Coyotes will play in Phoenix next year? No. It is possible that the Coyotes could be folded. We will now see who really has interest in buying this team. We will also see how willing the other owners are to keeping the team afloat in this current economic condition. On the sidelines during all of this, of course the players and the fans.

Kudos to the folks in the newspaper industry in this town. Two enthusiastic thumbs down to the radio and tv folks in the sports industry. The coverage as this news broke was pitiful. How brutal that the CBC, which was in the middle of it’s newscast didn’t break in with the news! Anyone want evidence that the news is pre-recorded????? I present exhibit A. On 640 Toronto, a Toronto School Trustee was talking calls on the subject!!! On the Fan, Erik Thomas mentioned and went back to raceline radio! On the tv side – nadda until sportscenter time. This didn’t happen at 4am folks! I got the TSN alert on my mobile phone at 8:37pm. Shameful stuff in my opinion.

TSM

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