Scott Bordow: Gary Bettman and the NHL won their court battle against the Coyotes, but there are still several potential pitfalls that could force the team out of Glendale.
Congratulations, Gary Bettman. You won.
Now let’s see who you have stashed behind door No. 1.
There’s no question Monday’s ruling by bankruptcy court judge Redfield T. Baum is a clear victory for Bettman, Coyotes fans and the city of Glendale. The Coyotes will play at Jobing.com Arena this season. Get your season tickets now.
But the end game of this courtroom drama still hasn’t been played out.
Bettman has maintained that four separate groups are interested in purchasing the Coyotes from owner Jerry Moyes and keeping them in Glendale long-term.
Baum was skeptical of that assertion, however, and the Toronto Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that only the group headed by Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has filed notice it will conduct due diligence on a bid.
Let’s assume the best, that Reinsdorf’s group believes the Coyotes can make a go of it in Glendale. They make an offer at the September auction, their bid is accepted, and the franchise moves forward. Finally.
But there are several potential pitfalls along the way:
1) After doing his homework, Reinsdorf might conclude the Coyotes are a money pit and back out. If the Globe and Mail is correct, there won’t be a second group to make an offer, and the NHL will have to hold an auction for buyers interested in relocating the team.
Which, of course, would bring Jim Balsillie back into the equation.
2) Reinsdorf buys the Coyotes with the intent of playing a couple of years in Glendale then moving the team to Las Vegas, as several newspaper reports have suggested.
3) Any owner wanting to play in Glendale will ask the city for up to $15 million in subsidies. But, the Goldwater Institute has threatened a lawsuit if Glendale decides to play ball. A prolonged court case could persuade a potential owner like Reinsdorf to back out.
Hopefully, for the sake of Coyotes’ fans and everyone affiliated with the organization, the team will stay put. But it’s not the slam dunk many are making the court ruling out to be.
Meanwhile, the hockey team is hardly operating in the best of circumstances.
The NHL is paying the bills until a new owner comes forward. With free agency looming July 1, will the league allow general manager Don Maloney to pursue a couple of much-needed veterans? How about re-signing some of their own free agents like Scottie Upshall or Keith Yandle?
Or will the NHL operate the Coyotes much like Major League Baseball did the Montreal Expos in 2002, when financial restrictions placed on the club were so severe the Expos couldn’t even afford the payment required to call up players from the minor leagues?
“It’s a little early right now to have an answer about our budget,” said Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, who currently reports to league officials and representatives of Jerry Moyes. “Once the dust settles, we’ll get some direction.”
The minimum payroll for NHL teams in 2008-2009 was $40.7 million. It’s hard to imagine the league allowing the Coyotes to exceed that figure in a meaningful way. Any potential buyer will want organizational costs to be as low as possible.
And if the Coyotes are operating on a shoestring budget, what are their chances of making the playoffs for the first time since 2002?
Finally, what of Wayne Gretzky? Will he still be the coach? Will the NHL demand that he take a pay cut from his current salary of $7 million to, say, $2 million?
“There’s more to Wayne’s salary than coaching,” Maloney said. “He has an equity partnership in the team. Then you have to consider who he is and what he’s meant to this franchise.”
That’s another column for another day.
For now, enjoy the fact there will be hockey in Glendale this fall.
Because we still don’t know if the Coyotes will be around at this time next year.