x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Coyotes saga is running on and on

Chances are the only remaining fans of the Phoenix Coyotes are the suit-and-tie lawyers who are making the big bucks as the franchise's painfully slow bankruptcy court proceedings drag on. And on. And on.

Chances are the only remaining fans of the Phoenix Coyotes are the suit-and-tie lawyers who are making the big bucks as the franchise's painfully slow bankruptcy court proceedings drag on. And on. And on. If you're just tuning in - or if you tuned out long ago and, for some reason, decided to tune back in - here is the latest: The Coyotes don't have an owner. Or an arena lease. Or much in the way of local support, given their annual low attendance and reported losses above US$20 million (Dh73.4m) every year.

The Coyotes also have not made the play-offs since 2002, but the sad fact is their on-ice woes are the least of their myriad concerns. If they can ever figure the no-owner conundrum, the rest of the problems will be at least addressed, if not fixed. There will be some progress on this front today when a US bankruptcy court rules on a Jim Balsillie request to relocate the team to Hamilton, Ontario.

Balsillie, the Canadian Blackberry billionaire who has been previously thwarted twice by the NHL in his efforts to buy a team (the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins), was rejected as a potential owner by the league's board of governors in an early August vote by a resounding 26-0 margin. You don't have to read between the lines to see where the rest of the NHL's owners stand when it comes to welcoming Balsillie into the fold: No thanks, see you later.

So, if the judge rules in Balsillie's favour today, the NHL will immediately appeal the verdict and seek to halt the sale of the Coyotes. Meanwhile, a group headed up by Chicago sports magnate Jerry Reinsdorf - and favoured by the NHL to take ownership of the Coyotes - pulled out last week because it couldn't come to terms with the city of Glendale (suburban Phoenix) on a new lease agreement. That is not to say Reinsdorf's group is out of the running, but by stepping aside for the moment, the league was forced to ante in and make a bid on the team, too.

That's right - the NHL itself are now one of four groups vying to take over the team, along with Balsillie, Reinsdorf's bunch and Ice Edge Holdings, a group of Canadian and American investors and headed by chief executive Anthony LeBlanc, who just happened to be a top executive at Research in Motion, Balsillie's Blackberry company, for nearly a decade. But given the good things the NHL have had to say about Ice Edge, it appears the league are not holding LeBlanc's past relationship with Balsillie against him.

To recap: The league liked Reinsdorf and likes Ice Edge, but Balsillie? Not so much. Yet, the Blackberry boy wonder powers on, court proceeding after court proceeding, with an NHL franchise ownership his ultimate goal. He's tried going through the the back door, the side door and any legal loophole he can find, but to no avail thus far. The Coyotes franchise is scheduled to be sold in an auction on September 10, but if there is no arena lease in place, the Reinsdorf and LeBlanc groups might step aside and let the NHL and Balsillie duke it out for the rights for a money-losing team that barely registers in the local market and is a laughing stock around the league.

Even if the NHL end up as Phoenix's new owner (surely, there's a conflict of interest in there somewhere, no?), if the league is unable to quickly consummate a new arena deal with Glendale, the NHL have said it will be forced to relocate the franchise after one season. To do so, the league would try to sell the team to a new owner. As long as it isn't Balsillie. @Email:smccaig@thenational.ae