Monday, June 1, 2009

The Dance

Gary Bettman and Jim Balsillie continue to posture. The Hockey Court of public opinion is open for business and the two primary protagonists in this battle for control of the Phoenix Coyotes (and the future of hockey in the desert) are using all of their public relation skills to build support for their positions.

Bettman has the bully pulpit of the commissioner to make sure that emotion and showmanship don't obscure the facts as he sees them. "From my standpoint, it's not personal," said Bettman in his state of the league speech before Saturday's Stanley Cup opener. "It's about league rules and it's about doing the right thing in terms of the stability of this game and this league."

"This is not just an NHL issue. This is not a Canada versus U.S. issue. This is not a Phoenix versus Hamilton issue."

The commissioner kept repeating that he had no personal problem with Jim Balsillie. It almost sound like that if he says it enough, even he might start believing it.

"The team was never in jeopardy," said Bettman. "It was literally 20 minutes away from being fixed in a way that we thought was going to work quite well. It's my view that the Coyotes should not be in bankruptcy."

Meanwhile, Balsillie continues his Obamaesque campaign to win the war of words. He's literally wrapped himself up in the Canadian flag as he touts the virtue of moving the Coyotes to Hamilton. Each day he has a new angle for the press to keep his name prominent in the news. From revamping the arena in Hamilton to filing a formal application to move the team to feeding the press more news about the issues in Phoenix, it's an impressive public relations campaign.

While Rim Jim has whipped up a lot of emotion in Canada, it's important to remember that the next decision in this case will be decided by an American judge in an Arizona courtroom. If the purpose of the Balsillie campaign is to pressure the NHL and its' member teams to soften their opposition, he's wasting his money. He may eventually get in the NHL door, but it is highly unlikely to be this door. A win for Jerry Moyes and Balsillie next week in bankruptcy court would only open the door for additional litigation that will drag on for years and years.

I'd love to see all of the energy and skilled manipulation of the press put to work in building hockey in Phoenix. If the team receives a reprise, then it's time for the city to show up and support the team. More than anything else, except perhaps a right handed defenseman, this team needs a cohesive and intelligent marketing and public relations campaign. You can fix problems. You cannot fix forever. Watching this dance is fun but after a while, it's going to get pretty old unless things start to change.

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