If either Gary Bettman or his deputy, Bill Daly, is thinking about asking for a raise, now is the time to do it.
The NHL commissioner is the toast of not only the league's owners after U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum rejected Jim Balsillie's bid for the Phoenix Coyotes, but he's being hailed by other professional sports owners as well.
The NHL may be stuck with massive legal bills and the obligation to continue paying for the Coyotes' financial hemorrhaging, but Bettman's win - and this is very much considered a personal win for him and NHL deputy commissioner Daly - means a court affirmed the league's right to choose who owns its franchises and, most important, where they operate.
Bettman is taking shots from angry hockey fans in Canada, who blame him for blocking a second NHL team in Southern Ontario.
But as far as the owners are concerned, it is his biggest victory since the 2004-05 lockout, when he broke the players' union, which has since degenerated into a laughingstock.
"This was a terrific win for the league," Jim Devellano, the Detroit Red Wings' vice-president and alternate governor, said yesterday. "We should be able to pick our owners and we should be able to pick our locations."
Larry Quinn, the Buffalo Sabres' minority owner and league governor agreed, although he did not want to comment in detail because he has not studied the judge's decision closely.
"It's a significant ruling for sports, not just the NHL," he said.
The ruling had the most significance for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who no longer have to worry about Balsillie, the co-chief executive officer of Research In Motion Ltd., buying the Coyotes and moving them to Hamilton.
The bulk of Balsillie's legal argument was that the NHL rejected him as an owner not in good faith but as a pretext. The real reason, his lawyers said, was the league did not want to get into a legal war with the Leafs, who made it clear to the NHL they believe they have a veto against anyone wanting to move a team into their territory.
However, the Leafs are still not talking about the case. Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, has steadfastly declined to comment.
Other NHL governors also declined to speak, or rather gloat, publicly. But several had plenty to say anonymously.
"I don't care if our share is $5-million [for the legal costs and the Coyotes' losses this season]" one said. "I'll send a thank-you note along with the cheque."
Another owner said he "will gladly pay the bills," because "this could have set a very dangerous precedent for all sports franchises."
However, this does not mean the NHL is now immune from an anti-trust lawsuit from anyone who wants to buy and move a team or set up shot in someone's territory. But it does give the league, and all North American professional sports leagues, the right to say a court of law affirmed its rules and upheld its right to act as a monopoly in some instances, even though Baum avoided ruling on the legally treacherous aspects.
The judge's ruling said the NHL's rules on relocation have to be respected and Balsillie could not satisfy that right by moving the team. Baum did not venture into whether the NHL owners acted in bad faith and colluded to reject Balsillie as an owner.
What happens next is still up in the air.
Baum told the NHL he would accept its $140-million (U.S.) bid for ownership of the Coyotes franchise if it was rewritten to include Moyes and former head coach and minority owner Wayne Gretzky in the list of unsecured creditors. He did not ask the league to cough up more money.
Indications are the league will resubmit its bid and, if it is accepted, the NHL will likely begin looking for a new buyer almost immediately.
Daly, who is in Europe over the weekend with the NHL teams who are opening the 2009-10 season there, said: "We are still evaluating our options and probably won't make any decisions on what's next, until we are all back in New York next week."Report Typo/Error