In November of 1917 the National Hockey League was founded in Montreal by four of the five National Hockey Association member teams.
Eddie Livingstone, owner of the NHA’s Toronto franchise, was not invited to join the new NHL. Toronto was awarded a franchise in the new league under different ownership.
Quebec, Montreal (both the Canadiens and the Wanderers) and Ottawa couldn’t kick Livingstone out of the NHA so they did the next best thing: They started a new league without him.
Ninety-two years ago the National Hockey League was born of back-room dealing, mistrust and trickery. Today those founding tenants remain alive and well in the NHL.
Lawyers for the league have asked a bankruptcy judge to ignore Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie’s bid for ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes, claiming their unanimous rejection of him as an owner trumps the need for the team’s creditors to be paid.
Balsillie had previously been allowed as a bidder on the Coyotes by Judge Redfield T. Baum, having accepted Balsillie’s argument that the NHL had approved of him as an owner during his attempt to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006.
The league used that failed purchase attempt – as well as Balsillie’s attempt to buy the Nashville Predators in 2007 – as reasoning for rejecting him on July 29th.
“We voted to deny approval to Mr. Balsillie because we concluded he lacks the good character and integrity required of a new owner” required under NHL bylaws, said Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the league’s board of governors.
Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold, who was the owner of the Predators when Balsillie attempted to buy them, also spoke against him.
“Based on my owner experiences with Mr. Balsillie, I have formed a highly unfavourable opinion regarding him, including his suitability as an NHL owner,” Leipold said in his declaration.
Balsillie has long contended that the league has a personal grudge against him. He claimed the 2006 deal fell through when the NHL attempted to require him to keep the team in Pittsburgh even if a new arena wasn’t built.
When Leipold declined to sell him the Predators, Balsillie said that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman agreed to ease Leipold’s purchase of the Wild should he sell the Predators to a different buyer. Leipold sold his Nashville interests for roughly $50 million less than Balsillie was offering. Less than a year later he became the majority owner of the Wild, with no hints that it would happen other than Balsillie’s claim months before.
The NHL also wants to hold rumors about the Montreal Canadiens against Balsillie. In November 2008 he made statements about the Canadiens being up for sale, which the team immediately denied. Seven months later, the Canadiens were sold.
Balsillie has seemingly been correct every time he’s attempted to put the NHL’s shadowy deals into the daylight but the league wants the courts to believe he’s the one in the wrong.
Judge Baum’s focus should not be on the politics of a corrupt league but on satisfying the creditors of the bankrupt Coyotes. As such, Balsillie and his $212.5 million bid should be allowed and accepted as it greatly outweighs the NHL-approved $148 million offer by Jerry Reinsdorf.
Assuming that purchase survives the legal battle sure to ensue, the league will have only a handful of options.
They can swallow their pride and accept Balsillie as an owner.
They can let Balsillie have the team but refuse to allow him to sit at their table, giving him no voice in league matters but giving him control of the day-to-day operations of the team.
Or they can take the franchise back, giving it to their preferred owner.
That last one sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? The more things change, the more they stay the same.