Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Knockout Punch

It's devastating when it happens in hockey. In 1997, I saw Nick Kypreos' career ended by one punch from Ryan Vandenbussche. A few years later, I watched Stu Grissom cold cock two St. Louis Blues in one night. And, on numerous occasions, I've watched Todd Fedoruk...well you know. In his career, Todd has beat up a lot of hands with his face.

And today in Judge Tom's court, the NHL goes for the knockout punch on Jim Balsillie. Officially, today's court date is intended to set the ground rules and schedules for the auction. But there will be much intrigue layered into the ground rule conversation.

There are pages and pages of motions that have been filed but one in particular stands out. The NHL wants to have Balsillie's quixotic bid terminated since he has been voted down as a potential NHL owner by the Board of Governors.

When it comes to Team Balsillie, The NHL has buzzard's luck. They can't kill it and it won't die.

Today they will show up in court with howitzers.

If the 26-0-3 vote from The Governors wasn't damning enough, the rhetoric that emerged from the owners meeting was certainly intense. Craig Leopold, the current Minnesota Wild and former Nashville Predator owner tried to sell the Nashville team to Balsillie. At the Governors meeting, he painted a damning picture of Jimberry's dealings with the Predators. Before Balsillie initiated contact with the Predators owner, he called the city of Nashville to question whether the Predators were in compliance with their lease. His strategy all along was to undercut the Predators ownership and move the team to Hamilton.

Leopold's speech at the Governors meeting was so moving that a transcript is part of the NHL motion to summarily dismiss Balsillie.

Canadians owner George Gillett, who is in the process of selling the team once was considered a potential Balsillie ally. That all ended when Balsillie breached an NDA and told the world that the Canadians were for sale. Gillett is immensely popular with other NHL owners and his opinion still carries great weight.

And the NHL will also tell the Judge that Balsillie was approved to buy the Penguins, but then ducked out at the last minute when he realized he could not easily move the team.

The league wants to accomplish two important things here. First of all, they want to remind Judge Tom that we're playing with their puck and their stick. The Judge previously said that he had no intention of wading into the NHL constitution and by-laws as part of this proceeding. The league voted Balsillie down. In the league's eyes, that should disqualify him from any further participation in the process. The conversation about league rules keeps coming up over and over for a reason. It is the basis for the existence of the league. It is why other sports leagues lined up in support of the NHL. It would also be the basis for an appeal if the NHL ever lost this case.

Secondly, they would like to put to rest any questions about where the team is playing this year. The league has gone so far as to file an emergency motion asking permission to contract with US Air for travel this year. Ticket sales need a kick in the pants. One can only imagine how bad things are for the guys trying to sell sponsorships. It's August 12th and training camps open in 4 weeks.

The NHL has previously said they would operate the team until local ownership is secured. Hopefully that will come on September 10th at the currently scheduled auction date.

The NHL is also joining with the City of Glendale in a motion to have Jerry Moyes removed from the process, largely because of the leak in a recent bankruptcy filing. The embarrassing and incomplete leak that exposed some of the negotiations (and sexy proposals) taking place between Glendale and the Reinsdorf-Kaites-Tavares-Reinsdorf Jr. group was a nightmare for those trying to keep the team in Glendale. The leak came from Moyes' legal team. Although Moyes was not personally responsible for the leak, he could be sanctioned as well as his attorneys.

At the end of the day, or shortly thereafter, we should have a schedule of the upcoming events as well as a lineup of participants. And once we have a scorecard we can get back to the ugly business of negotiating leases, capital agreements and trying to figure out how to make this team an ongoing concern.


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