Jim Balsillie, icon of the Canadian corporate world and Lonestar to Gary Bettman's Dark Helmet, is making another aggressive bid to bring an NHL team to Southern Ontario and in so doing bring everlasting peace to the world. This time, the damsel in distress is the hapless Phoenix Coyotes, a team as likely to become economically viable as the Leafs are to cutting ticket prices in half and declaring the platinum lounge open to the average millionaires in the gold section.
Your first thought might be that Gary Bettman will certainly do everything in his power to prevent this from happening, thus preventing you from getting excited. After all, it was Bettman who convinced one time owner of the Nashville Predators Craig Leopold not to sell the storied Tennessee team to Jim Balsillie and instead accept a much lesser offer from someone else. But there are a few differences here. For one, there most certainly aren't going to be any other offers this time around. Secondly, Balsillie is offering $212.5 million. This is significantly more than the estimated market value of the team which Forbes recently pegged at a McDonald's cup of coffee and a smile. But even more significantly, not only did the current ownership seek out an offer from Balsillie, who is also offering about $17 million in bridge financing - you know, so the repo man doesn't show up and confiscate Wayne Gretzky's whistle - but according to Hockey Night in Canada, the Coyotes are filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to move this along as quickly as possible.
It is unclear to me whether this means the Coyotes will be playing out of Copps Coliseum this October, but what seems logical is that if this goes through, it should mean Gary Bettman is done as Supreme Overlord of the NHL. For if an NHL governor has indeed actively sought out the one man that so vexes Bettman, there can be no clearer sign to the rest of the NHL governors and to the public at large that the commish has lost control of the league; that he has let external economic pressure undermine the stability of the hockey markets that were established on his watch; and that his strategy of selling hockey in non-traditional markets has been an unremitted failure.
With such sad realities being made so starkly obvious, with everything that Bettman's critics have been saying coming to fruition, how can he possibly continue to run this league? Gary Bettman's bosses now have no choice but to ride this guy out of town on a rail and bring someone in who will make the changes that desperately need to be made. These changes include but are not limited to: rescuing teams from hopeless markets - which at best would entail contraction to no more than 24 teams, but would at the very least mean a mass migration north; ensuring that any new hockey markets, should they be absolutely necessary, are either in Canada or somewhere with a demonstrated ability to support professional hockey; and an explicit renouncement of the strategy of making the NHL more palatable or familiar to the American audience. The latter could include things like going back to having names for divisions and conferences, getting rid of three-point games, and perhaps even a return to the one-referee system. As a bonus, a new NHL bilaw should make use of the expressions "sell the game/sport" and "grow the game/sport" illegal and punishable by a year sharing a bachelor apartment with Pierre McGuire.
This could be an opportunity for the NHL to have real inspired leadership for the first time in decades, if not ever. I do not begrudge Bettman for having an ambitious vision for the NHL and agressively pursuing it, but Bettman's tragic flaws have been his inability to realize that his pursuit has for some time been doomed to failure, as well as his being too stubborn to adopt a new approach when one has been desperately needed. As a result, Bettman has, in the opinion of many hockey fans, all but ruined the league. If Balsillie succeeds, you've got to believe that the commish's fate is sealed, and once he's gone, hopefully we will be able to right this ship.