Publish date:

Gary Bettman's in for a crazy day

At the league level, off-ice happenings must have Commissioner Gary Bettman wondering how he can be in two places at once. On Tuesday, there is the matter of that bankruptcy ruling in Phoenix -- which will dictate whether the Coyotes remain in the desert and possibly touch off relocation issues in four major pro sports as well as a round of lawsuits, as my colleague Jim Kelleyhas pointed out.

Meanwhile, the commissioner's day also features Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final. The defending champion Detroit Red Wings are on the precipice of repeating and his presence is required for the ceremonial presentation of the silverware should it be necessary.

Talk about disparate definitions of the concept of "closeout."

As if that unfortunate scheduling snafu alone isn't enough to drive a commissioner to distraction, Mr. Bettman must also allocate some of his attention to the goings-on in Florida. There, the Panthers are reportedly part of a sale to a group that is interested in South Florida land development. The rumblings revolve around the area adjacent to the Panthers' BankAtlantic Center home in Sunrise, with the team as part of the transaction. Funny thing about teams tied to speculative land development: if the building prospects lag, interest in the NHL franchise often sags.

For recent examples, please refer to the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders and, yes, the Phoenix Coyotes.

Part of the reason the late William Davidson ventured into Tampa was the prospect of developing the waterfront area in and around the home of the Lightning. The amphitheater envisioned never came about, so despite solid attendance and a Stanley Cup in 2004, the Davidson family funded a sale to the Oren Koules-Len Barrie ownership group. That duo has experienced, uh, growing pains in their first year and have recently spent as much time denying rumors of poor financial health and fractured feelings as they did in signing every borderline free agent available last summer.

SI Recommends

On Long Island, owner Charles Wang has expressed regret about his purchase of the New York Islanders in 2000. Wang has spent a reported $208 million just to keep the struggling franchise afloat while he awaits approval of the proposed $3.7 billion Lighthouse Project, which includes a new arena, sports complex, hotel, stores and more, on the site of the current Nassau Coliseum. Former owners Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern had similar hopes but sold the team to Wang, after only two years at the helm, once they realized they were trapped in a bad arena lease and their development plans were being resisted by Nassau County. Now Wang's project is hung up in a lengthy, politically-charged review and there's talk of the Islanders going somewhere -- possibly Kansas City -- if approval is not forthcoming.

In Phoenix, land developer Steve Ellman and trucking magnate Jerry Moyes partnered to buy the Coyotes from Richard Burke in 2001. Oh yeah, Wayne Gretzky was introduced as part owner and managing partner. Over time, roles changed as Gretzky became coach in 2005. The biggest change actually came only two months after the sale concluded, when the city of Scottsdale gave the final "No" on building a facility there. Ellman swore he could sway the politicos in Scottsdale, but they rebuffed him at every turn. They never shared his vision, even though the team built its practice facility in Scottsdale and went so far as to start a separate company to oversee its rink business.

Scrambling, the Ellman-Moyes ownership group wooed the city of Glendale, which welcomed a new arena and mixed-use development project to go along with the new NFL stadium that was going up. It was a tidy arrangement for Ellman, even if all the viability research pointed in the other direction to Scottsdale, where a majority of the team's fans wouldn't have to drive an hour to see games. His company procured the construction rights and set to erecting the arena while also building condos and stringing up shops like a movie set. Finally, the Coyotes had a home of their own in December 2003, after seven-and-a-half years in Phoenix.

In April 2006, only five years after purchasing the team, Ellman assumed majority interest in the Westgate City Center development, with Moyes getting majority title to the Coyotes. Gretzky kept his stake in both, while remaining behind the bench to this day. Reportedly, Ellman and Moyes are now at odds, which is sticky since the arena that houses Moyes' team abuts construction development -- some completed and some planned -- that Ellman controls.

While Moyes is probably pining for a do-over, Commissioner Bettman is faced with a tumultuous Tuesday. He has that court hearing as well as a potential Cup-clinching game to attend, all while various and sundry scenarios of great import continue to unfold behind closed doors throughout the league.

And I didn't mention the name Jim Balsillie even once.

At least the rest of us get to look forward to and enjoy the game -- or games -- that will conclude the Stanley Cup Final. That's a much better deal, I would say.