Gary, do the right thing

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

It is in Gary Bettman's job description to act in the best interest of the National Hockey League, its fans and the owners who employ him.

And it's time he cast aside his personal battles, his long-time biases, his own clamouring for power, his obvious dislike of BlackBerry king Jim Balsillie, and for once, just do the right thing.

For hockey. For the centre of the hockey universe. For southern Ontario.

It's time to make a deal. It's time for Balsillie to resurrect what is left of the Phoenix Coyotes and bring it to a place where hockey matters.

In the desert, this team will be left for dead.

Moving it, with strong and passionate, if not occasionally misguided, ownership, is the only real answer.

This isn't Ottawa or Buffalo or Pittsburgh, as Bettman likes to say. Those were hockey markets with a history that required his saving. This is Phoenix. This isn't hockey country. There is no saving this team in its current locale.

Today, in a bankruptcy court in Arizona, a judge will begin to entangle what is left of the Coyotes. The process, known as a 363 Motion, is certain to be confounding and confusing.

At one end is Balsillie, whose well-crafted and well-thought-out offer for the Coyotes covers just about every economic base possible. The financing is in place. The only condition on the sale is the ability to move the franchise to southern Ontario.

The cash to operate the franchise through this difficult time is also in place. The offer, in this dreadful economy, of more than $212 million US, borders on the crazy. It will be difficult for a judge to rule against his bid, although there are certain to be objections.

At the other end of the spectrum is Bettman, who was so against Balsillie's attempt to purchase the Nashville Predators and move them to Hamilton that he basically manipulated a deal that saw the Nashville owner end up with the Minnesota Wild while he failed to do proper due diligence on a cash-poor investor in Nashville who ended up bankrupt himself.

Here is the great dilemma for Bettman, both as commissioner and as a man answerable to the other 29 owners: The NHL is the second largest secured creditor in this action. It is owed $35 million US by the Coyotes.

If Balsillie's bid is accepted, the league will get its money back. If Balsillie's bid is rejected, the league will still be out $35 million. So how, if you're Bettman, do you explain to your fellow owners that you are acting in their best interest in turning down repayment of league money in an economy where that is next to impossible?

A high-end insolvency lawyer, who has been involved in other NHL transactions in the past, believes that Balsillie won't be turned down by the bankruptcy court. He believes that a great deal of work went into structuring the offer, making certain that few loopholes were left unexplored and that the first responsibility of the court is to look after the creditors and not worry about franchise movement in the NHL.

While Balsillie has been overt in his attempts to garner an NHL franchise in the past, the insolvency lawyer argues that in this case he has definitely done his homework.

No matter what happens here, time is of the essence. It is already May and there is little more than a one-month window to have this situation finalized. The lawyers involved in the transfer of the Ottawa Senators to Eugene Melnyk were concerned when their deal closed sometime in June. And that was an arrangement where the team wasn't moving cities.

WEBSITE PROVIDES LIST

This is again where Balsillie isn't leaving much to chance. The website launched Tuesday -- makeitseven.ca -- is asking for e-mail addresses when anyone signs on. This provides Balsillie with lists of potential ticket holders should the franchise quickly become his and at the same time it provides him a list for political clout, should he require it.

Certain to be heard from in court are lawyers representing the previous owner of the Coyotes, Jerry Moyes; the NHL; Balsillie; and, quite likely the City of Glendale, which has much to lose should the Coyotes leave. The NHL will likely challenge Moyes' ability to declare bankruptcy. The only lease-breaker in the arena deal is bankruptcy: Should that happen, there is nothing the city can do.

So, if you're Gary Bettman, you can fight this and lose in the long term and maybe in the short term.

But, really, what are you fighting for? It's over in Phoenix. It's time to start anew in southern Ontario.


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