Vernon Irwin is so miffed about the battle for control of the Phoenix Coyotes he wants to send a bill to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Irwin and his wife run East Side Sports, a small company in Lockport, Man., that provides skate-sharpening equipment to eight NHL teams including the Coyotes. The company is owed $1,438 (U.S.) by the Coyotes and Irwin isn't sure he'll get paid now that the future of the Coyotes is being fought out in an Arizona bankruptcy court.
"Maybe I just need to send my bill to Mr. Bettman because he seems to want to have control of it," Irwin said yesterday. "I'm just a little guy north of Winnipeg here … $1,400 is a blow no matter what. It hurts me more than anyone else."
The Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 protection last month, sparking a debate between majority owner Jerry Moyes and the NHL over who controls the club and whether Moyes can sell the team to Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie.
Last night, Balsillie filed a formal application to the NHL to move the Coyotes to Hamilton.
In his application, Balsillie outlined the club's dismal financial performance since it transferred to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996, noting it has lost nearly $400-million. He added that ticket sales and attendance are far below NHL team averages and said the club isn't viable. Hamilton has a large fan base, he said, and will soon have a renovated Copps Coliseum.
The Coyotes recently outlined the extent of their financial troubles in a series of court filings. The documents showed the club has $67.1-million in assets and more than $224-million in liabilities.
The club also filed a long list of creditors that includes hundreds of companies, charities and hockey fans across the United States and Canada. The creditors range from Irwin's skate-sharpening business to Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky, former team general manager Mike Barnett and the Boy Scouts of America. Even the club's radio host, Luke Lapinski, is owed nearly $5,000.
Gretzky, who is also a co-owner, is among the largest creditors. He is owed $9.3-million and the Coyotes owe $428,391 in contributions to his pension plan. The club also owes $1,155 to Gretzky's company, WG Authentic.
Barnett was fired as GM in 2008, but he is owed $2.5-million, filings show. One former player, Dave Scatchard, is more than $1-million. He left the team two years ago, when the Coyotes bought out his contract.
It's not clear why the club owes money to the Boy Scouts, although it is just $130. A spokesman for the organization was unavailable.
But the group wasn't the only charity listed among the creditors. The Coyotes also owe $114 to the American Cancer Society, $100 to the Arizona Softball Association and $375 to the National Audubon Society. It also owes $63,975 to its own charity, the Coyotes Charities.
Irwin's company also wasn't the only Canadian-based enterprise looking to be paid. Eagle Hockey of London, Ont., which makes hockey gloves, is owed $126.82.
"We're working on it," a company official said when asked about the bill.
Balsillie's bid to buy the club for $212.5-million could also help eliminate a debt the Coyotes owe to the technology company Balsillie co-manages - Research In Motion. According to the filings, the club owes RIM $3,314.
The NHL is also a major creditor. Along with $26-million in secured loans, the league is also listed as an unsecured creditor for several other outstanding amounts. They include $1.3-million for "05-06 playoff shortfall," $9,366 for an NHL health fund and around $24,000 in other pension contributions.
Most of the creditors are fans of the team who have already paid for tickets for the coming season. They include Don Nicks, who lives in Red Deer, Alta., but spends winters in Phoenix.
Nicks and his son, Wade, recently bought two season's tickets for $1,345 in total. He hopes the team will be around to watch come October, and he isn't a fan of Balsillie's bid to move the club to Hamilton.
"I can't go to Hamilton," Nicks said.
He also doesn't support Balsillie's push to have a seventh NHL team in Canada, especially another one based in Ontario.
"As far as I am concerned, Canada ends at the Alberta border on the east," he said with a laugh. "There is no Eastern Canada to me."