Score One for Who?
According to the Globe and Mail headline, it was Bettman and the NHL who scored in the Phoenix courtroom.
I don’t think so. The judge did not make any ruling about anything but he did make it clear that he agreed with part of the NHL position. The league claimed the Balsillie offered to buy something that Moyes did not own and therefore did not have the right to sell. The market for NHL hockey in Hamiltion belonged to the league, not the Phoenix Coyotes.
Judge Baum seemed to accept that argument. However, instead of dismissing the Balsillie offer, Baum wants the league to put a price tag on the market for NHL hockey in Hamilton. He is implying that if Balsillie ponies up enough to compensate the league he can have the team and move it. The bankruptcy court may not be giving Balsillie the right to move his team to Hamilton, but the judge does seem inclined to force the NHL to sell that right.
The RIM billionaire may not be willing to pay a fair price – after all much of his profit in this venture in the difference between a fair price for the team in Phoenix and a fair price for the team in Hamilton. In that respect, the Globe is correct. Balsillie could balk and walk away from his offer to buy the Coyotes. In that case, Bettman would dodge a bullet and win.
On the other hand, the league does not want to sell – at almost any price – what the judge agrees they own. They do not want to put a price on the relocation themselves and they definitely don’t want the judge doing it for them. Either way, it gives Balsillie – not the league – the choice. If he is willing to pay the price, he gets the team in Ontario. If not, the team stays in Phoenix.
For the first time, I think there is a good chance Balsillie will be successful. The judge has put Bettman in a box. He’s going to have to attach a price to the legitimate NHL interest in the Ontario market. Instead of arguing about whether Balsillie has the right to buy and relocate the team, they will be arguing about how much Balsillie has to pay to acquire a right the NHL doesn’t want to sell.
It had to be a bad day in the courtroom for Gary Bettman.