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Bettman v. Balsillie–The Day of Reckoning is Upon Us

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive.

The question though, of who indeed is taking a dalliance into the black art of deception will be determined tomorrow afternoon, as that is when after a couple of weeks of public posturing, the filing of briefs and counter briefs, various public campaigns and rallies, and no shortage of acrimony from both sides, the Honourable Judge Redfield T. Baum will decide the fate of the Phoenix Coyotes in terms of who is the actual owner of the franchise.

On one side you have the contention of Team Balsillie that Jerry Moyes is the rightful owner of the club, and is within his rights to take the franchise into bankruptcy protection, and once there, Balsillie made the most beneficial offer to satisfy the financial needs of Moyes in ensuring his creditors get paid. He feels that he should be granted the franchise.

On the other side, the NHL contends that since November when Jerry Moyes stopped paying the bills of the Phoenix Coyotes, the NHL became owner, and claim that Jerry Moyes signed documents giving the NHL a proxy authorization over the Coyotes and their operations. In court, Gary Bettman claimed that it was under this authority that Jeff Shumway was fired as team Chairman and CEO.

The acrimony in both sides is apparent, as both lawyers for the NHL and Moyes have characterized eachother’s statements of claim as false, and Moyes’ lawyer Earl Scudder has gone so far as to call the NHL filing “inaccurate and incomplete.” Interestingly enough, especially for fans pining for the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg, the only thing that both sides agree upon is that in early April, Gary Bettman told Jerry Moyes’ representatives that the only city the NHL will return to via relocation of a franchise is Winnipeg.

Interestingly enough, the white elephant not currently being discussed in regards to these proceedings, is the caveat and asterisk that Balsillie’s offer has attached to it. Not withstanding the ownership questions, what will happen if Judge Redfield approves Balsillie’s offer, but will decline to enforce or rule upon the issues regarding the relocation of a franchise? Even though I am not a lawyer (though I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night), I do believe that it is in his honour’s discretion not to rule about the relocation provisions currently in effect in the NHL by-laws. The legalities surrounding those provisions will, more than likely, wind up in another court room at another date and time. An interesting point that was unveiled in court documents filed earlier today is that the NFL, NBA, and MLB filed affadavits in support of the NHL and their right to control where their franchises ply their trade. Whether or not this will impact Judge Baum will be unknown until tomorrow afternoon.

To put it mildly, the drama unfolding in Phoenix is a tale that has had more twists, turns, curves, and angles than Lombard Street in San Francisco. (That’s the curviest street in the world for the uninformed). What will happen tomorrow in court? Great question, I am glad I asked it. Since I don’t know the answer, I will role play as Carnac the Magnificent, and predict that tomorrow in court, Judge Baum will find in favour of the NHL, rule that they were in legal control of the team, and accordingly rule that Jerry Moyes had no legal standing to place the Coyotes in bankruptcy court thus rendering Jim Balsillie’s latest efforts to acquire an NHL franchise null and void. After this decision, the future of the Phoenix Coyotes and the NHL in Phoenix, Hamilton, and Winnipeg is anyone’s guess. Time will tell, but one thing I can be assured of is that the battle of Balsille v. Bettman will continue unabated.

For Illegalcurve.com, I am Drew Mindell

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