Oct 292009
 

Back in the summer the NHL presented the names of Toronto Argonaut co-owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon as an interested group in purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes. Later it was rumoured that these two potentially joined up with the Ice Edge Holdings Inc. group which would purchase the Coyotes. Today we hear that the two Argonaut owners have decided to go on their own again and have broken away from the Ice Edge group.

Sokolowski and Cynamon had been linked to Ice Edge Holdings, a group of eight Canadian and U.S. businessmen who have made a pitch for the club. But their involvement with Ice Edge ended several weeks ago, according to sources familiar with the bidding.

Just to give a little background on Sokolowski and Cynamon, these two purchased the Toronto Argonauts when the Argos were in financial/bankruptcy trouble of their own. They had some early success on the field which turned the franchise around financially but the past couple seasons have been a disaster on the field and attendance and the image of the team within Toronto has been hurt because of it. But overall the franchise is doing OK, but we have recently heard that they may be looking to sell the team and get involved in the NHL.

We also heard this summer that when Sokolowski and Cynamon purchased the team for a mere $2 million, the owner of the BC Lions put up half of the franchise fee and has continued to lend money to the franchise since the purchase in 2003. None of these transactions were approved by the CFL nor did the CFL even have knowledge of these transactions. The CFL has issued a statement that the transactions that took place only took place because of the love of the game by the people involved and that there is no evidence that the integrity of the league has been affected in any way. That is all fine and dandy, but that raises several questions with respect to the suitability of these two as owners of an NHL franchise.

1. Can Sokolowski and Cynamon actually afford an NHL franchise? If they only put up half of a $2 million fee and then required additional loans to fund ongoing operating losses, can they really afford a $140 million price tag on the Coyotes along with whatever losses the franchise will suffer over the next few seasons?

2. If the NHL rejected Jim Balsillie for his questionable negotiation tactics during the negotiations to purchase the Penguins and Predators, can they just brush aside the fact that they, without CFL permission and presumable against CFL regulations, accepted funding from a fellow CFL owner?

As for question 1, I honestly don’t know how wealthy Sokolowski and Cynamon are or what kind of investors that they may have backing them but based on the CFL example I have my doubts that they themselves have the financial ability to put up $140 million and then fund the teams losses for the next several years. But of course, not having financial wherewithal has never stopped the NHL from approving an owner. See Len Barrie and the Tampa Bay Lightning as a prime example.

As for question 2, the answer should be no, the NHL should not just ignore that fact and it should be held against them just as Balsillie’s negotiation tactics were held against him. Nothing Balsillie did could have harmed the integrity of the on ice product, which in my opinion is the most important thing to preserve, while having an owner having a financial interest in two franchises at least opens the door to possibility of integrity issues, or at least the appearance of a possibility of integrity issues. I consider the Cynamon/Sokolowski team funding issues to be of greater significance than the Balsillie negotiation tactics issues but of course the NHL does not agree as evidenced by the fact that there was no backlash against current Minnesota Wild owner Craig Liepold for lending money to Boots Del Biagio (who we now know had no money) to allow him to become a minority owner of a group purchasing the Nashville Predators from then owner of the Predators, Craig Liepold.

It seems to me that all you really need to be an NHL owner is Gary Bettman’s blessing and play by Gary Bettman’s rules. In that regard, Sokolowski and Cynamon may be perfectly qualified to be NHL owners. But of course, I don’t believe that anyone purchasing the Coyotes really believes the Coyotes have a future in Phoenix but rather they just see it as a cheap way to get into the NHL and eventually move the team to a location where they want. With that in mind, I expect Sokolowski and Cynamon, and their financial backers, are really a group that wants to put a second team in the Toronto area and so long as they don’t tell Gary Bettman that or make it publicly known, it may work out for them.

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