Gary Bettman says that the fact that he’s opposing Jim Balsillie’s attempt to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes is not in any way personal. Seeing as this is the third time that Balsillie has attempted to buy an NHL franchise and Bettman has prevented it every time, this is a little hard to believe. Jim Kelley wrote the other day about the number of NHL franchise owners that have been in prison over the last few years, including “Boots” Del Biaggio, who borrowed money from Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold to buy the Predators. Let me say that another way – Del Biaggio borrowed money from Leipold to buy a team owned by Leipold. Then it turned out that the remainder of the money Boots claimed to have didn’t exist. Even after Del Biaggio declared bankruptcy (and headed to prison for fraud), Bettman blocked Balsillie’s attempt to buy him out. And Bettman himself chose Del Biaggio over Balsillie. Balsillie has zillions of dollars, loves hockey, and most importantly he wants to be an NHL owner. Is he not the kind of guy that Bettman should be trying to get as an owner? Why is there even a question here?
Having said that, I do understand the NHL’s position on the movement thing. If an owner can up and move a franchise without the league’s permission, this sets a dangerous precedent for other leagues. What if Balsillie’s wife was from Timmins? What if Joe Zillionaire buys the Detroit Red Wings or the Dallas Cowboys and decides to move them to Butte, Montana? Or northern Saskatchewan? The league needs to have a say in where its teams are and if they can be moved.
Having said that, I don’t understand why Bettman refuses to take a team that has lost money every year for fourteen years (some say they’ve lost over $350 million in that time) and move it to a hotbed of hockey. He says it’s not a Canada vs. U.S. thing, but he certainly didn’t try this hard to keep a team in Winnipeg or Quebec City. Perhaps it could negatively impact the Buffalo Sabres, but anyone who thinks it would reduce the Leafs’ profits by one penny is delusional. To my knowledge, Bettman hasn’t even investigated the possibility to see how, or if, Buffalo would be impacted.
But here’s the question that I haven’t heard Bettman answer: even if Balsillie is wrong and the team doesn’t succeed in Hamilton, would the franchise lose any more money than it would by staying in Phoenix?