(UPDATE: Report: NHL will ask that Coyotes' bankruptcy filing be dismissed - 4:59 p.m. EST, Wed.)
Needless to say, it's been an eventful few hours for the Phoenix Coyotes, their fans and their future.
The Coyotes announced this evening that they have filed for "Chapter 11 reorganization to implement a court-approved sale of the team under the federal bankruptcy code," according to Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic.
The filing included a proposed sale of the team to "PSE Sports & Entertainment, LP, a Delaware limited partnership ("PSE"), which would move the franchise to southern Ontario, Canada." (UPDATE: Via Eric McErlain, the Coyotes' bankruptcy filing on Scribd. Coach Wayne Gretzky holds 1.4925 percent of the equity securities.)
PSE would be Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of the Blackberry producing Research In Motion, who made a $212.5 million offer (U.S.) for the bankrupted team contingent on moving them to Southern Ontario. Balsillie previously made a failed attempt to relocate the Nashville Predators to Hamilton, even going as far as to sell season tickets for the team before ever earning approval to move it.
Balsillie said in a statement that Phoenix ownership asked for an offer, and "significant discussions resulted in an offer that is in the best interests of the franchise, the NHL, and the great hockey fans of Canada and Southern Ontario."
Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes said in a statement that efforts had been made to find ownership for the franchise to no avail. The Coyotes were rumored to have potentially lost upwards of $45 million this season. From the Canadian Press:
Moyes also said the court process will assure that the new owner and team's location will be known by June 30, though it was unclear if the NHL would still need to approve new ownership or relocation after that date. At the request of the Coyotes owner, Balsillie said he has also agreed to provide US$17 million in bridge financing to allow the franchise to keep going in advance of the sale.
National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly issued the following tonight about the Coyotes' situation:
"We have just become aware of today's Bankruptcy Court filing purportedly made on behalf of the Phoenix Coyotes. We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the petition, including the propriety of its filing. We have removed Jerry Moyes from all positions of authority to act for or on behalf of the Club. The League will appear and proceed before the Bankruptcy Court in the best interests of all of the Club's constituencies, including its fans in Arizona and the League's 29 other Member Clubs."
In other words: This was a tad unexpected. Considering Gary Bettman vowed that the League would "fix" the Coyotes.
Kelly McParland of The National Post writes that Balsillie as the lone option for the bankrupt Coyotes is Commissioner Gary Bettman's worst nightmare:
So what's Bettman to do? He doesn't like Balsillie because he's too brash, and didn't play by league rules in his earlier attempts to buy an NHL team. He also doesn't want the team to leave Phoenix, not because there's a snowball's chance of it succeeding there, but because Bettman has spent his career as commissioner trying to turn hockey into a U.S. sport, and shifting a team back to Canada makes him look foolish. (It doesn't really, but Bettman seems to think it does.)
Balsillie probably wants to avoid antagonizing league poobahs this time around, but he can't seem to help himself. He's already started a web site - makeitseven.ca - inviting Canadians to "add their voices" (i.e. put pressure on Bettman) "to the call for an NHL team in Southern Ontario."
I bet Bettman's head explodes when he sees that, but how's he going to get out of it? If no U.S. buyers turn up, he's got a rich Canadian offering a princely amount for an unprincely team, and a ready-made market of seven million eager hockey fans who could make the team a financial winner on Day One. Bettman's going to say no? He's going to keep carrying the team on the NHL's nickel, just because Balsillie bugs him?
Coyotes fans are already begging for a savior to come in and keep the franchise in the desert.
Oddly, this news breaks on the same day that the Arizona Republic reported that Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf may have interest in owning the Coyotes. Then again, he's made his disinterest known in the past.
So the franchise that relocated from Winnipeg in 1996 appears on the brink of moving back to Canada. The near-fanatic obsession of the Canadian media with the failure of this franchise -- fueled by a desire to "get one back" from the States, or to see Wayne Gretzky coaching a Canadian team, or both -- appears to have been warranted.
Would things have worked out differently if the Coyotes had made the playoffs since 2001-02? Would Chapter 11 ever have happened if the franchise never moved to Glendale? Did the NHL actually take over the team before this season's trade deadline?
These are the postmortem questions asked as the U-Hauls are being backed up to the arena. And you get the feeling we'll be asking them, and many more, about what used to be the Phoenix Coyotes.