There's nothing hyperbolic about claiming that the next two days are the most important in the 16-year NHL commissionership of Gary Bettman.
He's trudged through labor stoppages and catastrophes large and small, but in every instance the NHL had some recourse to force a resolution or influence a decision. Yet at the core of the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy auction is whether the NHL controls its own properties and whether its bylaws can legally determine who can and can not own them.
In essence, Judge Redfield T. Baum is going to tell us if Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors must bow to a higher authority, now and going forward, regarding one of the one of the most seemingly inalienable rights of pro sports leagues.
Richard Powers, dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto, told Damien Cox that "the repercussions on professional sport could be monumental." But Stephen Ross, a law professor at Penn State University, told David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail (in a great column) that Jim Balsillie's bid for the Coyotes should win, and that the NHL should have its bid knocked out and no longer be a gatekeeper for franchise ownership.
Experts will testify today and tomorrow, with the delirious drama of Bettman and Balsillie on the stand set for Friday. This auction arrives just as we've reached the tipping point in ridiculous rancor over this case.
Toronto-based writers are comparing Bettman to O.J. Simpson, Coyote loyalists are using President Obama as an argument for staying in Phoenix and a bizarre endorsement of Balsillie from the LA Times writes that the notion a Hamilton team would "hurt the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings" is "absurd." And 50-percent of it is.
One lingering question as ownership is decided in the next several days, pending appeal: What happens to Coach/Part-Owner/Potential Creditor Wayne Gretzky?
(Ed. Note: We'll point you to some of the Twitter feeds and news sources for today's court hearing after the jump.)
Gretzky endorsed the now-defunct Ice Edge bid because they endorsed him. The NHL isn't keen on keeping The Great One's salary on the budget. Balsillie has, in the past, contemplated keeping Gretz around; but his bid left the coach on the outside and he's already putting together his own hockey ops crew.
Journalist Brahm Resnik in Arizona, a great source on the Phoenix mess, tweeted last night that Gretzky's participation in training camp is "to be determined," per the Coyotes.
If this is the end for Coach Gretzky, the timing stinks; ask the Lightning about abrupt coaching changes close to the season. (Although might this lead to the reign of ULF?) Yet it's also a chance for the Coyotes to succeed on the ice without someone who, as hockey-savvy as he is, may not have the chops to be an NHL coach. From Steven Ovadia:
There has been a lot written about how great players don't always make great coaches because people with tremendous talent see the game in a way that's very different from "normal" players. I wouldn't be surprised to learn Gretzky never even noticed opposing teams' systems because of his vision and sophistication. He saw where the play was moving and stayed a move (or two) ahead of everyone. When you're doing that, the lack or presence of a system isn't a big deal. But if you're coaching players who aren't Wayne Gretzky, the lack of a system becomes kind of a big deal.
We'll update this post later with some of the Twitter feeds covering today's legal drama, either in a Puck Daddy Chatter Box or with links. We can tell you that Sportsnet is live-blogging the goodies. On Twitter, check out Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, The Yotes Diva, Larry Halliday, Brahm Resnik, CBC's Jeff Marek and Canadian Press's Chris Johnston.
We haven't been this excited about a court case since the end of "Patch Adams"; will the Coyotes fans flood the courtroom wearing clown noses, too?