So I sit down for dinner at around 6:30 last night and decide that it is a little quiet so I turn on the TV and watch CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada pre-game show. During the show they had a 15 minute interview with Jim Balsillie (click the link and then click on Inside Hockey: Jim Balsillie). Ron starts off asking the intro question asking Balsillie to tell everyone about what he is doing in putting in an offer for the Coyotes. What came next almost made my jaw drop. Ron MacLean then went on to quote from my article that I wrote a couple days ago. Very cool.
In the comments thread of the previous story I was asked what I thought was the likely outcome of this bankruptcy proceeding will be. The short answer is that I am not a lawyer and thus probably don’t have a clue. But that is dull so let me take a stab at outlining some of the issues that may arise.
I came across a copy of the actual bankruptcy filing which may give us some clues as to where this may lead. What we learn from the bankruptcy filing is that they have valued the teams assets as between $50 and $100 million with liabilities being between $100 million and $500 million. The filing goes on to list the top 40 creditors with secured loans/liabilities (they did not list unsecured loans) of which Jerry Moyes himself is at the top of the list with over $103.8 million being owed to him. The rest of the list doesn’t even total $5 million so by far, Jerry Moyes is the largest creditor. I can only assume that this is money he lent the organization over the past several years to keep it afloat. Other notable creditors are the City of Glendale being owed about $507K and the National Hockey league being owed $271,474.92.
The first defense the NHL is undertaking is that Jerry Moyes was no longer in control of the franchise and that the NHL had been operating it since November and thus Moyes did not have the authority to file the bankruptcy. It will be interesting to see what the NHL’s defense for this is because publicly they have stated on many occasions that they had not taken over the Coyotes, denying rumours that they had. Having no clue what actually happened behind the scenes it is really difficult to determine what the judge will decide here but this might be the league’s best option at stopping the Balsillie. But assuming the NHL can’t get the case tossed out on the grounds that the Moyes wasn’t in control things will get interesting.
In bankruptcy court, the judge’s mandate is to do what he deems in the best interest of the creditors (secured given priority over unsecured) and he has some authority to override existing contracts in order to do so. Moyes has submitted a plan that presumably will keep all of the creditors ‘whole’ meaning that they won’t have to take any cuts in the money that is owed them (i.e. they will be repaid in full). There is little doubt that this offer will be an enticing one for the judge to accept. The only issue is that the Balsillie offer is conditional on him being able to move the team to Southern Ontario. The NHL is going to argue that the Phoenix Coyotes don’t own the rights to an NHL franchise, but rather only own the rights to an NHL franchise in Phoenix and that it is non transferrable. They may have a case here too but it will all depend on the wording of the franchise agreement and what, if any, clauses are within that agreement. If the franchise agreement is explicit in that the franchise is for Phoenix and Phoenix only then they may have a claim, but as we know franchises have been sold and moved (the Coyotes were originally the Winnipeg Jets) so it will be a tough sell on the part of the NHL that the Phoenix Coyotes cannot be moved under any condition.
That might leave the NHL left in a position where the only option to stave off the Balsillie bid is to find another potential owner willing to buy the franchise for enough money to pay off the creditors and be willing to keep the franchise in Phoenix. If this happened then maybe the judge will deem this a better option, even if the offer was lower than Balsillie’s, because he would not have to break any contracts or agreements. But as we know, there is over $108 million in secured debt and who knows how much unsecured debt there is. On top of that Moyes has stated he has lost $73 million over the past three years. It is going to be a real tough task on the part of Bettman and the NHL to find such an owner because that person or entity might have to be willing to pay upwards of $150 million for a franchise that is likely to lose $50-75 million over the next few years. That won’t be an easy sell and presumably Jerry Moyes and the NHL has been looking for such a buyer for the past several months, if not longer, and has come up empty.
That makes the Coyote’s future in Phoenix unlikely at best if the NHL fails in getting the case tossed out of court on the grounds that Moyes was not in control of the franchise and not in authority to file bankruptcy. The only other possible outcome is someone outbids Balsillie be that another owner looking to move the team to Southern Ontario, or someone interested in moving them elsewhere, such as Kansas City. But is there anyone out there willing to pony up $215+ million dollars for a franchise to relocate them anywhere but southern Ontario? I am not sure. For that amount of money the most likely bidders are people looking to move the team to a proven hockey market like Southern Ontario. But you never know. I’ll certainly be interested in how all of this unfolds.
(if there are any lawyers or people knowledgeable on bankruptcy laws out there that have more insight into what may or may not happen I’d definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts)