Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

In a nutshell: Coyotes broke, NHL intellectually bankrupt

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It seems like such a no-brainer on the surface.

A guy has sunk over $300 million of his personal fortune into a hockey team that is destined to lose millions more. He wants out. So he puts the team into bankruptcy.

On the upside, however, the beleaguered owner finds this billionaire who's willing to not only buy this clunker, but pay him about $100 million more than it's actually worth.

Move the team to southern Ontario, turn a desert dog into a cash cow, and -- voila! -- everybody's happy.

So it's easy to see why a judge in Phoenix -- or anyone else, for that matter -- might be perplexed as to why the NHL would not only want to prevent the sale, but actually pay out of pocket to keep a money pit called the Coyotes in Phoenix.

Actually, that's not a hard nut to crack, either. Sure, the NHL as a whole would be better off, in terms of revenue production, with a team in southern Ontario. And there would be one less welfare case to syphon money from profitable franchises.

But it's not like, say, the Calgary Flames or Philadelphia Flyers would benefit one iota financially. If Judge Redfield T. Baum ever decides the Coyotes can be relocated to Hamilton -- if he even wants to decide anything at all -- there would be only two major beneficiaries: Balsillie and Coyotes so-called owner Jerry Moyes.

Moyes would get at least some of the money he flushed down the toilet on the Yotes and Balsillie would strike oil, getting a team in the NHL's most lucrative market for only a fraction of the cost of an expansion fee.

In short, the NHL's current owners could command upwards of $400 million from any ownership group wanting to put, say, a second team in Toronto. But they'll get squat if Baum rules in favour of Balsillie.

And you wonder why the NHL had a team of lawyers, including commissioner Gary Bettman in court Tuesday, where Baum heard argument after argument for and against moving the Coyotes. It was as though the suits were literally taking shifts.

No wonder Baum is stalling. No matter what his ruling, it will be immediately challenged by at least one party, probably more. If he rules in Balsillie's favour, the city of Glendale, which built the Coyotes a $180-million arena, will want restitution for a broken lease agreement. And the Toronto Maple Leafs will unleash their legal hounds, claiming a team in Hamilton would infringe on their God-given right to print money.

If Baum rules in the NHL's favour, you can bet Balsillie will appeal. There's enough courts and lawyers in the United States of America to find one for the BlackBerry billionaire to plead his case.

Besides, Baum probably doesn't trust anything he's being told by Moyes' lawyers or the NHL attorneys. The judge probably feels like he's being swindled by both sides.

After all, any reasonable thinking individual would realize the Coyotes are a lost cause. So Baum has to question the NHL's motivation to keep the team in Phoenix -- at least, other than to screw Balsillie and keep southern Ontario for themselves.

Meanwhile, Baum must also be leery of Balsillie's sappy "I have a dream" of bringing another NHL team to Canada. That might be Balsillie's dream, but his intention is to get his mitts on a business that would immediately rank in the NHL's top three moneymakers.

In the end, it's all about money. It has nothing to do with the patriotic notion of another team in Canada. It's got even less to do with keeping hockey in Phoenix. It's about rich guys trying to get richer.

In fact, it might be one of the few bankruptcy proceedings where all parties involved leave in limos and charter jets.

But no matter what Baum decides -- and we're guessing he's praying this case gets settled out of court in the next few days -- there's one thing a judge can't do: make people in Phoenix care about hockey.

I mean, the franchise is hanging by a thread and there's one story buried on the Arizona Republic website yesterday. The feature story? A profile of a pitcher for the Arizona State University baseball team.

That is a dead team walking.

Yeah, moving the Coyotes seems like a no-brainer on the surface. But it's not; it's messy and pathetic and hopeless and complicated. Most of all, it's very, very costly to anyone who touches the thing.

So, really, the only time no brains were involved was then it came to moving the team to Phoenix, and stubbornly kept it there, in the first place.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2009 C3

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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