Is the NHL/Glendale stalling?

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Jul 312009

Yesterday, both the NHL and the City of Glendale have filed motions to the court to delay the ‘Glendale only’ auction from August 5th to sometime in November.

From the NHL:

Based on the foregoing, the NHL moves the Court to extend the hearing date for the sale of substantially all of the assets of the Phoenix Coyotes to September 10, 2009.It is clear to the NHL that the Reinsdorf Group’s Bid presents a significant opportunity to sell the team to an owner thatis dedicated to keeping the team in the City of Glendale, thereby avoiding the massive damage to the City, which has been described to this Court, as well as providing for the Debtor’s secured creditors and a substantial percentage of Debtor’s unsecured creditors.The NHL also understands that the Reinsdorf Group is close to a deal with the City of Glendale, which representsits most significant outstanding contingency. The NHL believes that once the Reinsdorf Group reaches an agreement with the City of Glendale that the other deals they are attempting to work out with creditors will also fall into place.

From the City of Glendale:

In recognition of that fact, each of these two bidders has steadfastly worked over the three weeks permitted here to satisfy all such contingencies and to make the modifications necessary to make such bids fully compliant with what this Court and all creditors would expect as a final bid. Glendale is very pleased to report that it has conducted very extensive, constructive and good faith discussions with each bidder and as of this day, is very close to a definitive agreement with each of the Reinsdorf Group and Ice Edge that would allow the Team, under new ownership, to continue to play at the Arena in Glendale for the foreseeable future with strong economic essentials and support from all necessary constituencies.

Those statements from the NHL and from the City of Glendale are quite telling because they are essentially arguing that over the past three weeks they have worked their butts off to come to an agreement with Jerry Reinsdorf but have not quite been able to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s yet but given another few weeks they could accomplish just that. But what has me confused is the NHL’s assertions that Jerry Reinsdorf was set proceed with an intent to purchase agreement way back on May 5th only to be shunned by Moyes taking the team to bankruptcy only hours before a meeting with Moyes. If the City of Glendale, the NHL, Reinsdorf, and the creditors have only been working on an agreement for the past 3 weeks, what were they doing during May and June?

If the NHL/Glendale can get Judge Baum to postpone any relocation auction it will give the NHL/Glendale almost another full year to find a new owner for the franchise that will keep the team in Phoenix, even if both Jerry Reinsdorf and the Ice Edge groups drop out which if they can’t come to an agreement with the City of Glendale will certainly happen. The hope might be that a couple things happen: 1. The economy turns around and credit becomes more obtainable making the purchase of an NHL team more viable to more people. 2. The Coyotes young players really take a step forward this season and turn the Coyotes into a playoff team generating more fan interest and more revenue and thus making the Coyotes a more attractive team to buy and keep in Phoenix. Or, failing that, it will give the NHL more time to find an owner of their choosing (read: anybody but Balsillie) to relocate the team to a location of their choosing (read: Kansas City, Las Vegas, etc.).

As I wrote yesterday, I expect Judge Baum to view this as a delay tactic and choose not to delay the Glendale only auction and rather just state that these bidders can participate in the open auction already set for September 10th if they can’t participate in the August 5th auction. The question will be, will there be any bidders come next Wednesday’s auction? Presumably not since everyone is stating they need more time.

Jul 302009

There have been a lot of developments over the past couple days in the Phoenix Coyote situation and the next week will be an interesting one for sure.

Yesterday the NHL Board of Governors voted to approve Jerry Reinsdorf as a potential owner of the Phoenix Coyotes while voting against Jim Balsille and postponing any decision on the Ice Edge group do to an incomplete application. None of this is really surprising news but the vote against Balsillie is an interesting one as Judge Baum in an earlier ruling that barring material changes PSE (Balsillie’s company for purchasing an NHL team) should be an acceptable owner.

Absent some showing by the NHL that there have been material changes in PSE’s circumstances since 2006, it appears to the court that the NHL can not object or withhold its consent to PSE becoming the controlling owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. –Judge Baum

So if this was Judge Baum’s ruling, why would the NHL vote against Balsillie? The NHL was quick to point out that the vote was because of a clause in the NHL by-laws addressing ones character and integrity.

“The criteria set forth in the (NHL) constitution and bylaws relates to financial wherewithal, character, integrity and the view whether or not the other owners would deem you a good partner,” –Gary Bettman

Clearly financial wherewithal wasn’t the concern so it had to be in regards to character, integrity and whether Balsillie would be a good partner. It will be interesting to see the NHL defend their vote in the court of law should it get that far because they didn’t seem to have many problems with him when Balsillie was looking into buying the Penguins or Predators.

The other thing that the NHL was quick to point out was that this had nothing to do with relocation. To me, I believe that this had everything to do with relocation in that the last thing the NHL wants to do is consider relocation. By voting against Balsillie the person they don’t have to conduct a vote against relocation of the Coyotes to Hamilton because had they made that vote that would be all the ammunition that the Balsillie group would need to conduct an anti-trust case against the league. The main reason why on June 15th Judge Baum rejected the Balsillie bid was because he rejected Balsillie’s claim the NHL was violating anti-trust laws because the NHL had never voted against any team relocating and without such a dispute the judge felt no obligation to overrule the NHL constitution and by-laws. The NHL does not want to open themselves up to that so they are avoiding it by not addressing the relocation issue and clearly stating that the vote against Balsillie had nothing to do with relocation.

There have been more developments today as well that are quite interesting.

In a motion filed in bankruptcy court on Thursday, Moyes’ attorney said that Reinsdorf’s bid “cannot be approved as a matter of law” and that “there are no qualified bidders” based on terms set by the court.

We should find out tomorrow what the details of the argument against Reinsdorf and we’ll find out if the motion has substance or just more legal posturing.

Glendale said that it is “very close to a definitive agreement with each of the Reinsdorf group and Ice Edge that would allow the team, under new ownership, to continue to play at the Arena in Glendale for the foreseeable future with strong economic essentials and support from all necessary constituencies.”

The filings did not divulge what the “strong economic essentials” would be or provide details of the negotiations.

Glendale asked Judge Redfield T. Baum to postpone the sale to “early to mid-September.” The NHL, meanwhile, asked Baum to set a Sept. 10 deadline.

In my mind the agreement between the City of Glendale and the Reinsdorf and Ice Edge groups is a key to whether Balsillie has any chance of purchasing the team. If no agreement can be reached both the Reinsdorf and the Ice Edge offers to purchase the team go away and Judge Baum will have no choice but to open up bids to groups interested in relocating the team, and for that matter, the NHL will have no choice either.
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Jul 242009

Ok, I just read an article that Howard Berger wrote yesterday on how the Leafs must trade Tomas Kaberle. It was a pretty disturbing read actually because it showed the ignorance of just how good Tomas Kaberle has been and how ignorant Howard Berger is to what Brian Burke is trying to build in Toronto (not just a team of tough guys).

While he is unquestionably the Leafs’ best defenseman, Kaberle is not, nor has he ever been, in the upper echelon among NHL stars. He is an above-average performer some nights; middling and ineffective on many others, with an enviable ability to head-man the puck. His repertoire does not include even a shred of physical aptitude, which would seem to disqualify him as a Burke protégé.

I will accept that Kaberle has some flaws, mostly in the defensive end (be he is not really a liability either) but to call him middling and ineffective on many nights is short changing Kaberle a whole lot. In Kaberle we are talking about a defenseman who is among the top scoring defensemen post lockout. Here are a comparison of defensemen post lockout.

Niedermayer: 291games, 50g, 166a, 216pts, +4
Kaberle: 295games, 32g, 177a, 209pts, -14

Now when you take into account differences in the quality of each defenseman’s teammates and Kaberle’s numbers start to look very impressive. And as for Kasberle and his softness not being a Burke type player, well Burke has always said he tough guys on his squad to make room for skilled guys like Kaberle and the guy Berger is promoting Burke trade Kaberle for, Phil Kessel, is certainly not a physical presence either. Brian Burke was more than happy to make room for Markus Naslund in Vancouver and Teemu Selanne in Anaheim and it’s not like Scott Niedermayer is the most physical of defensemen either. Pair Kaberle with Beauchemin and you have a great mix of skill and physical play. Post lockout the Leafs have been in the top 12 in scoring every season and that isn’t because the Leafs have had an abundance of highly skilled forwards. It is because the Leafs have had skilled defensemen like Kaberle and to be so eager to trade him away is just plain silly. I am glad Brian Burke has more sense than that.

Though some may invoke Kaberle’s “many contributions to the Maple Leafs”, the club could just as easily have missed the playoffs the past four years without him. Fact is, Kaberle hasn’t appeared in a post-season game in more than half-a-decade, and we can easily count, on one hand, the number of playoff encounters he influenced prior to 2004.

The one thing that really bugs me about Howard Berger is that he often jumps to conclusions about players based on whether that player has made the playoffs yet. Just because Kaberle hasn’t been in the playoffs the past four seasons is not evidence that he is a bad player. It astonished me that for someone who watches as much hockey as Howard Berger does that he seems to forget that hockey is a team sport. There are reasons why the Leafs haven’t made the playoffs and Tomas Kaberle’s name should not come up anywhere on the list of reasons. Using that logic Roberto Luongo must be a bad goalie because he has only won 6 playoff games in his career spanning nine NHL seasons.

That’s why it is almost impossible to conceive that Burke will not be presented an adequate trade proposal before Aug. 15th. Though the GM contends he will only move Kaberle if his “socks” are blown off, he knows he isn’t bartering Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dion Phaneuf, Dan Boyle, or any front-of-the-pack NHL defenseman.

I’ll accept that Kaberle isn’t Chara who has such a unique set of attributes or Lidstrom who might be the best defensemen in the NHL ever and probably not Phaneuf who also adds a physical dimension to the game that Kaberle doesn’t bring, but I’d say Kaberle is definitely comparable to Boyle. In fact, Boyle might be Kaberle’s best comparison. Neither are big or play physical and statistically over the last four seasons they are fairly comparable with Boyle being a bit more of a goal scorer while Kaberle having more assists. Both are good skaters and very good puck handlers and both are very good anchoring the power play. Kaberle’s strengths and weaknesses compare very favourably to Boyles and at a $4.25 million salary Kaberle’s value is outstanding.
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Mid-summer hockey thoughts

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Jul 242009

We are approaching mid-summer, though the weather seems to indicate it is still late spring with below average temperatures and lots of rain. That said, the NHL draft is over as is the prime free agent season and while several teams have new looks and have pretty much set rosters, other teams still have moves to make. Here are a few mid-summer hockey thoughts.

Are the Philadelphia Flyers a better

The Philadelphia Flyers made one of the boldest moves of the summer trading away Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and a couple of first round picks for Chris Pronger. As good as Pronger is though, are the Flyers a better team? In addition to losing Lupul they have also lost Mike Knuble to the Capitals via free agency and between Lupul and Knuble that is a loss of 52 goals. That is a big hit to the Flyers offense that they will have to make up. A healthy Briere and the development of Claude Giroux or James Van Riemsdyk could offset some of that loss. On defence Pronger definitely makes the Flyers a better team. With Pronger, Timonen, Coburn, Jones, Carle and Parent they will have one of the better defences in the NHL but there isn’t a lot of depth beyond those top six so staying healthy will be important. But the real problem for the Flyers has been their problem for the past 15 odd years. Goaltending. Last year the Flyers had the 6th best team save percentage as Biron had a .912 save percentage and Niittymaki had a .912 save percentage but both goalies suffered from inconsistent play from time to time. While Biron and Niittymaki are far from elite level goalies, both played fairly well in goal last year but neither of them were welcomed back to the Flyers. Replacing them will be Ray Emery returning from the KHL and Brian Boucher who had a good year in San Jose last year but over his career he hasn’t proven to be anything more than a decent backup. It may not be a stretch to say that Ray Emery will be a key to how good the Flyers will be in 2009-10. Is Emery capable of playing 60 games of quality goaltending? It is certainly possible as he played 58 games for Ottawa in 2006-07 posting a 33-16-6 record with a .918 save percentage. Problem is, he followed that up with a dismal 2007-08 season going 12-13-4 with a very weak .890 save percentage. It seems he had a good year in the KHL last year so maybe his 2007-08 season was an off year but it seems clear to me that for the Flyers to be a better team Ray Emery has to be pretty solid in goal and that is a big question mark. Without decent to good goaltending the Flyers can’t be considered among the top Stanley Cup contenders.

Are the Calgary Flames better

The Flames made a similar move to the Flyers in acquiring Jay Bouwmeester but are they really a better team? To make room for Bouwmeester the Flames had to part with Jordan Leopold, Adrian Aucoin and most importantly Mike Cammalleri. Last season the Flames finished 8th in the NHL in goals but Cammalleri scored 39 goals for the Flames and was a big part of the Flames offense. A full season of Olli Jokinen will pick up some of the slack but the Flames offense will be centered around Jokinen and Iginla and not a lot more. Additionally Rene Bourque scored 21 goals (in just 58 games) last year which was a career high and it might be a stretch to expect him to repeat. It is difficult to imagine the Flames offense next year being as good as last years. The defense is in many way comparable to the Flyers with an excellent top four of Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr and Sarich and a couple of decent guys to fill out the depth charts but not much beyond that if there many significant long term injuries. But like the Flyers, the problem I see with the Flames is in goal. That may surprise some but Kiprusoff has been relatively average the past few seasons. His save percentage has dropped from .933 in 2003-04 to .923, .917, .906 and down to .903 last season. That is not a trend that a Flames fan would enjoy seeing continue but is there really any reason to believe it won’t? One of the problems has been that the Flames have never brought in a good enough backup to give Kiprusoff any rest time and another off season seems to be passing by where they have chosen not to address that issue. I don’t see the Flames being any better this upcoming season and may in fact take a step back.

Should the Leafs keep Kaberle

There have been a number of rumours this summer about the Leafs trading Tomas Kaberle. The biggest rumour was Kaberle to the Bruins for Phil Kessel but in recent weeks the rumours have died down and the other day Burke came out and stated that he believes that Kaberle will start the season with the Leafs. For Leaf fans, I think this is good news as I believe that keeping Kaberle is in the Leafs best interest. Going into next season the Leafs could have a top 4 defence grouping of Kaberle-Beauchemin-Schenn-Komisarek. That is a pretty good group with a nice mix of offense and defense and physical play and when you round it out with two of White, Van Ryn, Finger, Exelby, Frogren and Stralman and you have one of the better top 6 in the league.
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Jul 072009

There are several teams that are tight against the salary cap, such as the Flyers and Flames, but those teams look like they can manage without any major roster moves. The same can’t be said for the following three teams.

Ottawa Senators

With the Kovalev signing they are now over the cap for the 2009-10 season by close to $1.5 million and next season doesn’t get much better as they have about $46 million allocated to just 11 players and only 2 defensemen. That doesn’t include prospect defenseman Erik Karlsson who would earn $875,000 with bonuses that could take him to $1.3 million. Yes, they will trade Dany Heatley which might save some money but they will likely have to take significant money back as well. In the Edmonton deal they were set to take back Dustin Penner’s $4.25 million contract as well as potentially a couple million for Cogliano and Smid. Jason Smith and his $2.6 millio contract is a likely target to be dumped if necessary but that won’t help next years cap problems which could mean big problems if the cap drops any significant amount.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks currently have about $1.5 cap space next season but still need to add about 4 more forwards to fill out their roster and at a league minimum salary of $500K that won’t be possible. The Sharks are going to have to shed at least a small amount of salary. Prior to the sharks signing Ryan Clowe to a 4 year, $3.5 million per year contract there were a number of rumours that he could be traded and I suppose he still could in the right deal. More likely to be traded though are defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Christian Ehrhoff each of whom come with a $3.1 million cap hit or possibly cheaper defensemen Douglas Murray ($2.5 million) or Brad Lukowich ($1.566 million). Johnathan Cheechoo is a possibility too but with his poor play in recent years it might be difficult to find a taker for his $3 million cap hit over the next 2 seasons.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks don’t really have any problems this season as they have over $4 million to spend and really only Kris Versteeg to sign. That is unless the issue with the late qualifying offers results in Versteeg being made a UFA in which case he may find a lucrative offer elsewhere. In some respects though, that may be a blessing in disguise for the Blackhawks because next summer will be real tough for them as they have committed close to $40 million in cap space and will have to sign Kane, Toews and Keith, all of whom might command in the $5 million per year range and they will still need to find about 6-8 players to fill out the roster and I haven’t even considered what might happen with Versteeg. This might be the year for the Blackhawks to make a run at the Stanley Cup because next summer will see them trading away at least a couple of big salaries or at the very least dumping Huet and his inflated salary in the AHL and going the Red Wing route with cheap goalies.