Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Sigh of Relief

The news today is good. Judge Redfield “Tom” Baum ruled against the Moyes/Balsillie motion that would have forced the bankrupt team to auction next Monday. The team will remain in Phoenix for the near term and under the agreement between Moyes and the NHL, it will likely be auctioned sometime in September. An auction that the NHL hopes will bring new local ownership that will stabilize the franchise for years to come.

The ruling is a big win for the NHL and Phoenix hockey fans. The league argued that the bid was an attempt to circumvent the league rules on where teams play and franchise ownership. The court clearly sided with the NHL on franchise relocation. “Simply put, the court disagrees with the assertions by the Debtors and PSE that the relocation requirement can be excised from the contract”, said the Judge. It did not address the franchise ownership issue directly but implied that the league has the right to approve ownership groups.

So for now, Mr. Balsillie can consider the side door closed. Slammed in his face might be a better description.

And pardon us if we enjoy a laugh at some of the self serving spin coming out of Canada today. “A setback, not a defeat” according to Team Balsillie. As Shane Doan might say (in those annoying Desert School commercials) “Really”?

The entire decision goes into much richer detail. And it refutes the Moyes/Balsillie contentions at most every point. You can read it here...


Judge Tom did throw Jim Balsillie a bone by saying that since he was already approved by the league as an owner in 2007 (and unless things had dramatically changed) it would be no less than good faith to assume that he would be approved today. “Absent… material changes in PSE’s conditions since 2006, it appears to the court that the NHL cannot object or withhold its’ consent to PSE becoming the controlling owner of the Phoenix Coyotes.”, he said. I wonder if challenging the league in court and trying to circumvent league rules might constitute a change in circumstances.

Woven through Judge Tom’s bankruptcy decision was plenty of homespun advice to all parties.

For Jerry Moyes, there was a very pointed message. You signed up to be a member of the NHL. You agreed to play by these rules. And your filings were late, in some cases incomplete and did not comply with league rules.

For the NHL, it was a message that while today’s ruling pretty much guaranteed that the Coyotes will stay this season in Phoenix, the future of the franchise is still murky. The team will be auctioned off in the future. And the Judge also made it clear that moving a franchise has not “wreaked havoc” on professional sports leagues. That argument won’t work here.

And Glendale, the big winner in yesterday’s ruling can take some solace in the judges’ words. “It is proper for the court to refuse to authorize rejection of an executor contract where the party whose contract is to be rejected would be damaged disproportionately to any benefit to be derived by the general creditors.” The judge, however, went on to chastise Glendale for a less than complete accounting of the general creditors. Nevertheless, he made his point loud and clear. Breaking this contract will take a lot. That’s probably the best news for the long term prospects of the franchise.

So today, the Coyotes live. It’s hardly a clean bill of health but for it sure beats the alternatives. Like most big wins in the hockey, the franchise needs to build on this win. Simply getting a stay of execution is not enough. The organization needs to make big changes in the on-ice product, off-ice marketing and slash organizational expenses to make certain that hockey grows its’ appeal in Phoenix. It’s good to get one win under your belt. Now the organization and the NHL need to think about closing out the series.

Always keeping in mind that the last win of any series is always the hardest.

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