May 232009
 

There seems to be some misinformation out there regarding territorial rights of the Sabres and Leafs. There is still a lot of speculation that either the Leafs or the Sabres will attempt to block the move of the Coyotes, or any team, to Hamilton.

NHL rules dictate the Sabres would need to approve a team moving within 50 miles of its home rink in downtown Buffalo. Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum is located about 45 miles from HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo and the Sabres would most likely block such a move. This means Balsille’s group would either need to build a new rink north of Hamilton or pay the Sabres an enormous indemnity fee.

This is absolutely not true and there is little dispute over this fact. The issue is fairly clear and in fact the NHL in their own filings to the court state just that.

To be clear, it remains the policy of the NHL that a proposed team relocation to Southern Ontario would be subject to a majority vote of the NHL Board of Governors and no individual team, wherever located, would have any veto right over any majority vote in favour of relocation.

Now, there are statements in the NHL by-laws that upon relocation fees for goodwill developed by the NHL or neighbouring franchises may be required to be paid but there are no specifics on what those fees will be.

As I wrote a couple of days ago I believe that barring a solid and credible offer to purchase the Coyotes from someone intent on keeping the team in Phoenix and will come close to paying off the creditors to the extent that Balsillie’s offer does, then I believe that the judge will conclude that the Coyote’s are a relocatable franchise when the NHL’s own guidelines are considered. Ultimately the NHL’s complete argument in this dispute pretty much comes down to the fact that franchise ownership and location changes are to be decided by a vote among the board of governors and not by any court. But, I believe that the bankruptcy judge may get around that not by claiming that the NHL doesn’t have that right, but by concluding that, according to the NHLs own guidelines, that the Coyotes are relocatable, and that Jim Balsillie is a suitable owner and he’ll probably conclude that Hamilton is a suitable location, especially if Balsillie and the City of Hamilton present a plan to upgrade Copps Coliseum as the age and condition of Copps Coliseum is one of the NHL’s arguments against Hamilton.

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