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Screen Shots: NHL ownership not all it's cracked up to be

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Jerry Reinsdorf has failed to emerge victorious in the continuing “So You Think You Can Own The Phoenix Coyotes” docudrama – and that has left the NHL no alternative but to wade into U.S. bankruptcy proceedings and attempt to buy back the franchise, then re-sell it to virtually any fabulously wealthy captain of industry not named Jim Balsillie.

My question is, after the way the league has hung current (and currently disputed) Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes out to dry, who in their right mind would want to be an NHL owner anymore?

Think of what the NHL has done to Moyes: they welcomed him into their oh-so-exclusive club eight years ago with neither qualm nor quarrel, sat back and allowed him to start his own “cash for clunkers” promotion, then proceeded to get all principled and sensitive when Moyes opted to stop the insanity and accept Balsillie’s $212.5 million offer.

Sounds like a hell of a club to me. Or a hell of a clubbing.

Thus, it isn’t surprising to see – contrary to previous suggestions made by NHL brass – a distinct paucity of people itching to get their mitts on this failing franchise.

Rather, it demonstrates clearly that, after years of making up the rules as they went along (e.g., deciding in 2004 that Balsillie was a perfectly reputable ownership candidate, only to pull a 180-degree turn once they realized he wouldn’t paste on puppet strings and be willfully led around by the checkbook), the league can no longer presume to be the prettiest girl at the pro sports prom.

(In fact, I’d say they’re at the Coyote Ugly stage of prom dates, but I’ve sworn off referencing abominable Piper Perabo films for the remainder of the year.)

Don’t take the above to mean a filthy-rich businessman wouldn’t sell his soul (and lease his wife’s soul) to be an NHL owner – in the right marketplace. Indeed, Captain Canada persona aside, that’s exactly who Balsillie is. And as we’ve seen already this off-season, there’s more than one prospective ownership group that would dearly appreciate the opportunity to set up a shingle beside the Maple Leafs in Southern Ontario.

No, the major problems the Coyotes’ situation has cast a spotlight on are (a) the NHL’s helter-skelter approach to owner relations that has familiarized hockey fans with the likes of ‘Boots’ Del Biaggio, John Spano and Sanjay Kumar, among many seedy others; and (b) the inability – even with the highly hyped, “idiot-proof” collective bargaining agreement – of the league’s secondary hockey markets to turn anywhere close to a profit.

Do you honestly believe there exists an abundance of upscale people in South Florida crying into their $80 South Beach margaritas because a dastardly devil snuck past them and somehow purchased the hapless Panthers before they could buy their own ticket to ride that money train?

Do you think some moonshine magnate in Georgia is quietly biding his time until the Thrashers’ ownership situation is settled in court so he can swoop in, purchase the franchise for a premium and wait for his coffers to begin bursting at the hinges?

Do you truly suspect Richard Branson, Warren Buffett and an expatriate Nigerian banker are currently locked in a Manhattan boardroom, fighting it out no-holds-barred style over who gets dibs on the New York Islanders?

If your answer to any of those three questions is ‘yes’ and you have $212,500,001 in spare change collecting dust between your couch cushions, I’m fairly certain I could arrange a meeting between you, your money and the NHL commissioner at your nearest convenience.

If you answered ‘no,’ please accept my gratitude that you continue to reside in the reality-based community.

Now can somebody please provide Bettman and his cohorts with a GPS system that’ll guide them here to join us?

Screen Shots will return Sept. 10.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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