Hockey in Phoenix has failed. It has failed so spectacularly that sports historians will speak of the experiment for decades to come as one of the worst franchising decisions of all time. The Coyotes aren’t the only NHL team in bad financial shape, but they’re the only team in bankruptcy court. Either they get bought out before next season or they contract. It’s that simple.
Fortunately, the co-CEO of the creators of Blackberry, Jim Balsillie, has stepped forward to help save the franchise. The Canadian billionaire has put forward a $212 million proposal to buy out the franchise, which you’d think the NHL would jump at. But then you realize Gary Bettman still runs the league and you just sit and wait for the monumental stupidity to wash your optimism away.
And here it comes. Balsillie wants to move the team to hockey-hungry Hamilton, Canada. Bettman and the NHL, unwilling to go along with the move, are expected to charge a relocation fee of $100 million:
Balsillie’s lawyer Susan Freeman says that’s how much she expects an NHL-imposed relocation fee to be, though the amount was blacked out in court documents.
Bankruptcy judge Redfield T. Baum agrees that the NHL is entitled to a fee and says that figure is crucial to his decision on the fate of the insolvent Coyotes.
Look, it’s fine that the NHL doesn’t want to give up on a market the size of Phoenix. But Phoenix doesn’t care about hockey. They just don’t, not to the extent they would need to in order for the Coyotes to field a financially stable, competitive team. The NHL seems to be more concerned about what should work than what does work.
The NHL doesn’t actually need $100 million if a franchise moves to Canada, of course. The league’s fine to want a relocation fee of some kind, of course; it’s their league, after all. But arbitarily putting the fee at nine digits is a tactic the NHL is using to effectively price Balsillie out of ownership contention.
The relocation fee would take away money available to pay off creditors and Baum said that if that left them worse off, he would reject Balsillie’s bid.
At some point, you have to stand back and admire the pure balls behind the NHL’s decision to pull this stunt in bankruptcy court for its worst-performing franchise. There’s little else admirable, of course, and it’s sad to see Bettman and the league in such deep denial about the endgame, which is undoubtedly no more hockey in Phoenix. But wow, yes, the balls. They are dinosaur-sized. Too bad that doesn’t count for much in the end.