Wright pointed out that the Coyotes had never been profitable in Phoenix and that total losses amounted to $316 million. After a few more statistics painting a grim future for hockey in Phoenix, Wright pointed to another batch of statistics that predicted a highly profitable venture in Hamilton that would benefit the entire league.
After more opening statements confirming that the application for relocation had been filed, and that Jim Balsillie would be the best deal for creditors, the floor (or phones) were opened for questions. I was somewhat surprised that the Phoenix area and GTA press were the only ones participating with questions.
Following are some key points discussed by Walker and Wright:
- In response to a "what if" question about what Jim Balsillie will do if the judge rules against his efforts, Walker explained that it would be disrespectful to the bench to pre-judge what the ruling might be.
- An argument was made that something which had not been considered by those concerned about the territorial rights of Toronto and Buffalo, is that the three teams, being regional, should bring increased interest to hockey because of the natural rivalry created.
- A question about what would happen to current Coyote staff if Balsillie wins was asked, and a general response was that there would be many decisions to deal with including arena construction, television, and other things.
- When a more specific question was asked about Wayne Gretzky, the response was that Jim Balsillie does not speak publicly about private conversations in this matter or any other dealings. Walker did point out that no one had greater respect for Wayne Gretzky than Jim Ballsillie.
- The financing for the renovation of Copps Coliseum was discussed. Jim Balsillie will fund the immediate renovations required to get the team going next season if that becomes a reality. The ice plant, media area, the dressing rooms and the scoreboard will need to be quickly upgraded to bring the arena up to NHL standards.
- The longer term $150 million dollar renovations have the backing of the local mayor, provincial leaders, and Canadian national government. Some type of financing specific to Canada will be done through funds that are available and related to the 20 to 32 year lease option that Balsillie has on the Copps facility.
As things were winding down, being the only person with a view from the outside, I jumped in and asked three questions that I have never heard asked regarding the Phoenix situation.
First, "Why the intense interest in Phoenix which has ruffled the feathers of the NHL Commissioner and owners versus working within the system for an expansion team?" Clarifying, I asked "Why are you fighting to become a part of a group that clearly opposes what you are doing?"
Walker responded with a legitimate answer that the NHL has not shown a willingness to consider expansion or another team in the Hamilton area.
My next question went to the "fairness" topic that we have heard so much about. I asked, "Much has been made of the "fairness" issue. Why is it fair (to the other 29 NHL owners) for Mr. Balsillie to buy a team for $212 million and then move it to Southern Ontario where it has been estimated that an open bid could produce a value of $300 to $400 million dollars with Mr. Balsillie receiving the windfall profits of $100 million or more?"
Walker explained that the figures I presented were speculative at best. Further he explained that many folks felt that their offer for the Coyotes was too high. He assured the audience that the Balsillie camp had done due diligence and felt that it was a fair price and would be the best deal for the creditors.
Finally I asked, "As a compromise, if the NHL would agree, would Mr. Balsillie be willing to drop his bid for the Phoenix franchise in exchange for an open bid situation for an expansion franchise in Southern Ontario?"
My final query received a response that the question was outside the scope of the press conference and that I could speak with him later. I did send Bill Walker an email and he sent a very nice response and agreed to talk on Wednesday.
I was very impressed with the discussion of Bill Walker and Tom Wright. Both gentlemen were very knowledgeable, highly professional, and fully committed to bringing hockey to the "largest under-served hockey market in North America."
I'm looking forward to further conversations and a better understanding of a situation that has become far too inflamed on both sides of the coin. I can't imagine that there is not a middle ground (such as the compromise that I asked about) that would benefit all parties including the NHL, Phoenix creditors (including the City of Glendale, which was not discussed), Jim Ballsillie and the great hockey fans in the Southern Ontario region.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass