Prediction #1: Jim Balsillie will lose this fight. If not in Judge Baum's courtroom, in the next...or the next...or the next. Bettman will not accept the Research in Motion CEO into the coterie of NHL owners under any circumstance.
It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad. Balsillie was already approved by all 29 owners when he attempted to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins a few years ago. At the very last second, Bettman seemed to realize Balsillie's intention was to move the team to southern Ontario...and he slapped a clause into the deal prohibiting Balsillie from moving the team, no matter how much money it lost. Balsillie walked away from that deal (wouldn't you?)
Then he tried again with the Nashville Predators. Depending on whose side you're on, his tack of selling season's tickets to the "Hamilton Predators" showed either Balls or Sillieness. . It sure pissed off the Weasel-in-Chief. B..b..but he didn't even own the team! runs the little codicil every time Bettman mentions the matter. Responds Balsillie: I was merely showing there's great interest in the Hamilton market area...which, last I looked, was a condition for relocating a team there.
The Predators' actual owner, Craig Leipold, inexplicably accepted a comparatively piddling offer from someone else, shutting Balsillie out. A very short time later he found himself miraculously extricated from that money pit and owning a profitable franchise in Minnesota. Hmmm. How'd that happen?
Undaunted, Balsillie waited for the next franchise to fall. It just happened to be the Coyotes, coached by some guy named Wayne Gretzky--you might have heard of him--who's on record as saying a franchise in Hamilton would be "tremendously successful".
Just not his franchise, apparently. The Coyotes have lost well over $300 million over the years and ranked 28th (out of 30) teams in attendance last season, but there seems to be no shortage of people lining up to buy the team, keep it in Phoenix, and lose lots and lots of money. News of these
suckers prospective buyers only surfaced after Balsillie's bid went public. Hmmm. How'd that happen?
Then the nose-lengthening contest began.
"It's not personal": Bettman.
"It's not personal": Balsillie.
They kept repeating that over and over, those noses growing at a phenomenal rate until they met at center ice and commenced to bitch-slap each other. Judge Redfield T. Baum has done his utmost to ignore the bitch-slapping noses and concern himself with the matters at hand, to wit: (a) who actually owns the Coyotes and (b) who should.
You'd think (a) would be a simple thing to determine, but it isn't. The NHL has kept the Coyotes on life support for so long (while publicly denying it was doing any such thing, of course) that it argues it actually owns the team. Jerry Moyes, who has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the team and whose name still figures prominently on team letterhead under "Owner", begs to differ.
And (b) is a fiendishly difficult decision to make. Ostensibly, Baum's sole concern should be maximizing monies to secured and unsecured creditors. On that basis, Balsillie's offer meets every criterion you can name, and it should be a slam dunk case. However, Balsillie's offer is conditional on relocation--which Baum may well decide he has no authority either to force or deny.
In which case, he'd probably take the next best offer, shutting Balsillie out once again.
We know very little about the four other offers the NHL claims are on the table. One of them's from a current minority owner of the Coyotes. One of them is anonymous pending the NHL's due diligence. The other two are considerably more interesting.
Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, has an offer in. Speculation (and that's all it is) suggests it's in the $165 million range. He has said he wishes to keep the team in Phoenix. Fair enough, I suppose, since his White Sox train a mile away from the Coyotes' home rink. And hey, it's only money, right?
The other offer comes from Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, who currently own the (ahem) Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. They, too, claim they'll keep the team in Phoenix. My guess is they'll change their mind just as soon as they can get a new arena built in Toronto, but hey, what do I know? They've doubtless watched RIM's CEO trying to Jimmy the back door of the NHL ownership lodge (if not break a window) and they certainly won't make the same mistake.
Prediction #2: One of those final two offers will succeed where Balsillie fails. I wouldn't put it past Bettman to advance Reinsdorf enough money to put his bid over the top. I remain firmly convinced that Bettman has no interest in a team encroaching on Leafs Nation (to say nothing of the Buffalo Sabres!)...neither of those teams are anxious to see competition, let me tell you.
Which leads to prediction #3: Balsillie will withdraw, make a few more tens of millions of dollars, and then come back in a year when Atlanta, or Tampa, or the Islanders go belly-up. And then we'll go through this whole foofarow again. Because prediction #4: there will be a second team in southern Ontario within ten years. There has to be. The Leafs have been permitted to exploit the hockey community for far too long, and I say this as a lifelong Leaf fan.
Pity about poor rich Jim, though. He so badly wants a team and is so completely opposed to the notion of kissing ass to get one...