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(Christian Petersen/2009 Getty Images)
(Christian Petersen/2009 Getty Images)

Stephen Brunt

The NHL's dirty laundry Add to ...

Just in case you'd forgotten what it smelled like, let's pull the lid off that can of worms again.

It has been months since anyone gave much of a thought to the off-ice struggles of the Phoenix Coyotes.

The happy hangover from that remarkable Olympic tournament still lingers in the air, the 'Yotes progress toward the playoffs is one of the happier stories in the NHL this season, and the sport's most famous aggrieved unsecured creditor was last seen lighting the cauldron in Vancouver as ecstatic crowds chanted his name.

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A year ago, every schoolchild in Canada could pick Jim Balsillie, Jerry Moyes, Bill Daly and Redfield T. Baum out of a crowd, was arguing with his pals over whether an American bankruptcy judge really ought to wade into the murky waters of anti-trust law.

But all of that faded away with the court's decision, with Balsillie's retreat, with the quiet dissolution of the Make It Seven campaign, and life went on, which given the massive loss-of-face caused by the whole episode, the unflinching look at the inner workings of a failing franchise and at the failing strategy that created it, was a good thing for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman et al.

The league, though, is apparently unwilling to settle for its Pyrrhic victory and let bygones be bygones. It is now suing Moyes for allegedly breaking side deals in which he pledged not to take the team into bankruptcy, and not to relocate it or sell it to anyone who would.

Whether or not the NHL has a case is pretty much beside the point (though it's at least interesting to consider whether the owner of a business can ever really surrender the right to take it into bankruptcy, or whether a handshake agreement could indeed supersede the NHL's own bylaws on franchise relocation). The lawsuit will go on, probably with a Moyes countersuit added to the mix. Eventually, someone will tire of paying the lawyers, and a settlement will be reached.

Probably the league will get back a tiny fraction of the dough it has frittered away buying the team out of bankruptcy and operating it at a considerable loss this season. Perhaps the NHL will even pass on a little of that windfall to former Coyotes minority owner/head coach Wayne Gretzky - though you'd think that it might have simply found a way to discreetly take care of its most famous son before his estrangement from the NHL hierarchy became so obvious.

But in the process, the spotlight will once again be turned on the smoking crater that is hockey in Phoenix, and by extension on the other struggling remnants of the U.S. Sunbelt strategy. Everyone will be reminded once again that while Moyes was not the shrewdest operator in the world, he did blow a considerable amount of his personal fortune on a hopeless cause and was about to be thrown under the bus by his partners before fleeing for the sanctuary of the courts.

The disclosure required during the bankruptcy proceeding went a long way toward undermining Bettman's assertions that all was well. Now, get ready for more dirty laundry.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit might jog memories, causing some to wonder whatever happened to those Ice Edge guys who wanted to play games in Saskatoon. Weren't they going to buy the team? Wasn't that a done deal? Apparently, not quite. Sources in the financial world suggest the Ice Edge lads are (not all that shockingly) struggling to find investors, which means this season could end exactly where it began, with the NHL owning the Coyotes, and no buyer in sight willing to keep them in the Valley of the Sun.

A veritable smorgasbord of embarrassment, that, just in time for the playoffs.

The NHL will no doubt get its pound of flesh - or at least a gram or two. A message will be sent to other floundering franchises that they'd best not even flirt with the idea of double-crossing the commissioner.

Still, it's hard to imagine how it can possibly be worth it.

 

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