Saturday, May 16, 2009

Balsillie vs. Bettman

Time for me to sound off with my thoughts on this whole kerfuffle regarding Jim Balsillie's bid to purchase the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes and bring them to Canada. I'll start right out by admitting that I'm Canadian, and I live in Balsillie's neck of the woods, so my opinion will obviously be biased in his favour (note the Canadian spelling of "favoUr", eh?) I'll also state, for the record, that I'm not heavily into professional sports of any kind, hockey being the only one in which I have even a mild interest. Even so, I hardly ever watch the games and I only follow the season by way of news reports and hearsay. As a sports fan (or non-fan), I really couldn't care less what happens to the Coyotes. As a Canadian, I care a great deal.

Now that that's out of the way, I can state, with a clear conscience, my opinion that Gary Bettman is a pompous, manipulative hosehead with a greatly over-exaggerated sense of self-importance.

Why in the name of Gordie Howe would the NHL Commissioner object to saving a bankrupt franchise by moving it from a place where no market exists for it (which is why the team is now bankrupt ... Duh!) to a place where there is a strong, thriving market for it? Because the strong, thriving market is in Canada, that's why. Bettman strikes me as just another arrogant Yank who can't stand the idea of America's northern neighbour doing anything better than the good old U.S. of A.

Bettman's main argument against Balsillie's acquisition of the team is that he (Balsillie) is trying to circumvent the NHL's rules in moving the Coyotes to Canada. Well, when the rules are designed to put you at a disadvantage, you sometimes have no alternative but to skirt them, if not break them outright. Seems odd that neither Bettman himself nor his vaunted rules had any objection to moving the Quebec Nordique to Colorado back in '95. Ah, but that involved moving a Canadian franchise to the U.S., and that changes the whole picture, doesn't it?

Bettman cited a concern that the NHL's Board of Governors might not approve Balsillie as a suitable franchise owner. "I don't know whether or not he could get approved," Bettman said. "That's, as I said, something I don't get a vote on. If in fact it becomes an issue for board consideration, the board of governors of the league will make that decision."

Sounds like passing the puck ... er, I mean, the buck ... to me. I'm not the obstacle here. It's that darned Board of Governors. Well, has anybody asked them? And who's on the Board of Governors, anyway? More U.S. fat cats? Hardly sounds either fair or objective to me.

It seems to me that hockey has become more about money and politics than about the game, which probably explains why people like myself, who admire the game, can't be bothered the follow the professional league.

I'm struck by the curious similarities between the Balsillie/Bettman feud and the movie, Bon Cop Bad Cop. For those not familiar with the movie, it's about a pair of detectives; Martin Ward, from Ontario, and David Bouchard, from Quebec, who become reluctant partners when they are assigned to investigate the murder of a hockey tycoon who had been instrumental in moving a Canadian team to the United States. More murders of hockey officials ensue and it soon becomes clear that the detectives are on the trail of a serial killer bent on punishing league officials guilty of moving Canadian hockey teams south of the border.

The killer's ultimate target turns out to be the league commissioner himself, one "Harry Buttman", who is on the verge of committing the ultimate sin, moving the Montreal team to the States. Although he is a target, Buttman is portrayed in the movie as arrogant, deceptive and altogether unlikeable. I found it particularly amusing that Buttman is played by Richard Howland, a midget, which I interpret as the director portraying the Hockey Commissioner as, quite literally, a small man. Ward and Bouchard end up tying him up, stuffing him into a body bag and locking him in the trunk of a car, "for his own protection", but can't help enjoying the activity. Maybe that's the kind of therapy that Mr. Bettman needs.

Before I get back on topic, I'll digress just a little further by highly recommending Bon Cop Bad Cop to those who haven't yet seen it. It's one of the most enjoyable Canadian made movies I've ever seen. It captures, better than any other movie I've seen, Canada's Anglophone/Francophone split personality, and the ever-present tension between the two cultures. It's a riveting drama liberally imbued with dashes of uniquely Canadian humour. It should be required viewing for any Americans who still picture Canadians as beer-swilling, French-speaking lumberjacks whose cops all ride around on horseback. (Well, okay, everybody in this movie happens to be fluent in French, including the English-speaking detective from Ontario, so I guess the movie doesn't do much to dispel that particular Canadian stereotype).

Getting back to reality, Jim Balsillie argues that his bid to acquire the Coyotes is about "The passion that Canadians feel for the game of hockey." Quite right. Hockey is Canada's game, much moreso than America's. Everybody knows that. It's a part of the Canadian identity. America took the Nordique from us and they took Gretzky. This is us, taking our national identity back. Don't stand in our way, Bettman. We may not stuff you in any car trunks, Canadians are much too polite for that, but some of us would be more than happy to come down there and demonstrate a proper "jersey pull" for you.


Martin said...

To some extent, I can understand the league's reluctance to move the Coyotes. Fans have become jaded with the NHL and the way that highly paid players move from team to team with little allegiance to anything but the dollar, and the way that teams have packed up and left cities when they begin to struggle financially. The Capitals and the Penguins struggled only a very short time ago, and the league resisted efforts to move these teams. Now the Caps and the Pens are thriving. However, the Coyotes seem to be a special case. They have been suffering financially for many years. But what makes it worse is the realization where that team came from - Winnipeg. Due to mounting financial difficulties, the league allowed the Winnipeg Jets to pack up and move to Phoenix in 1996. If the league was not willing to subsidize this team in its Canadian location, why subsidize it now? As I recall, there were a lot of people heartbroken by the team's move to Phoenix. I don't believe a move back north of the border would result in such heartbreak the second time around.

Martin said...

As a postscript, I'm not sure how many people know that there has been a grassroots movement in Winnipeg for some time now to bring an NHL team back to that city. The MTS Center is a ready made facility that could host games. I agree with Andy, and Bettman should allow the Coyotes to move. If Balsillie can bring them to Hamilton, good for him. But I wish he'd consider the team's original home instead.

Tubes said...

Wait a minute Martin..... what is closer to where you live, Hamilton or Manitoba?


Martin said...

Ha ha! I'm actually a Blackhawks fan. To throw fuel on the fire, I was quite happy to see them beat Vancouver and Calgary.