Punxsutawney Phil has a pressure filled job; lots of people believe him, lots of people don’t believe him, others use his predictions and twist them to meet their own agenda, people often call him a glorified rat and he has cameras and mics jammed in his face every time he pops his head above ground.
Phil, meet Gary.
Groundhog Day In Detroit
Yesterday (April 7), Gary Bettman was in Detroit to hype the Winter Classic. While there, he was buttonholed by somebody with a camera and a mic and asked about the Phoenix Coyotes came up. As it always does. Like Groundhog Day.
Bill Murray starred in a movie of the same name with the currently still well preserved Andie MacDowell. The premise was Bill, the weatherman, was doomed to repeat Groundhog Day forever. It’s an excellent metaphor for the state of the Phoenix Coyotes, especially as a season is winding down.
Here we are again. Coyotes fans will remember a lackadaisical, defeated performance by the team against the Wings in their house in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. Close to substantiated urban lore has it that the team received a call while on the bus to the rink for their first game (Coyotes lost 2-4) informing them a move to Winnipeg was imminent. Less substantiated is that the caller with the oddly timed poisonous news was none other than 99 himself.
To a lesser extent, we’re in the groundhog loop of ownership again in 2013. There are implied, yet publicly unstated, deadlines floating around. There are buyers lined up to consummate a deal with the NHL and, later, the City of Glendale. The team needs to nearly run the table with wins for their remaining games.
And the hockey bloggers, “press” and “reporters” are lining up with the theory that suits their point, ALL based on one Bettman interview.
Positive Statements About Coyotes
Being lazy, I robbed the transcript of Gary’s interview from Joyce Clark’s blog, of course I asked permission first.
The first question to Gary really isn’t on the video at the end of this post, so let’s just call it a statement. We’ll talk about the exchange after the jump.
GB: We’re not planning on changing the realignment and we’re not planning on moving Phoenix, as we stand here today.
Q: Is any decision on Phoenix imminent?
GB: No, when it becomes imminent we’ll tell you. We apparently aren’t operating on the same time frame that a lot of your colleagues are.
Q: Well, what time frame are you operating on?
GB: On one that works on getting the project completed in a successful light.
Q: Do you have multiple… Can you give us an update on Phoenix?
GB: As Bill Daly said, quoting him who was quoting me, this is a work in progress and it remains such and Frank hates that when I use that over and over again. But we’re continuing to work on it and there are a lot of things that are in play.
Q: In terms of keeping the team in Glendale or…?
GB: Well, we haven’t been exploring the alternatives.
Q: You haven’t explored relocation?
GB: We are exploring everything we can to work this out and there seems to be considerable interest. You know, if you go through the history of this, there have been lots of reasons this has taken lots of time. There seems to be now, calm at the moment, a lot more interest than we’ve ever seen.
Q: Why do you think that is… going for a long time?
GB: Because there are a lot of things that happened. Some were with our control, some were beyond our control. Whether or not it was third party intervention, whether or not it was the work stoppage, whether or not it was the deal that went bad for a variety of reasons, the fact of the matter is, there seems to be more interest at this particular point in time than we’ve seen throughout the process.
Q: Is the city any more cooperative?
GB: Well, I’ve been in regular touch with the mayor and we agreed that when we get a framework lined up then we would come see the city. We don’t want the city to have to expend resources and time getting involved until there’s something concrete to present to them.
Bettman says the Coyotes are staying, he speaks with Weiers regularly, they haven’t considered relocation, there are lots of reasons for the process to have taken this long and that a deal is still a work in progress. Nothing new, but nothing negative.
Sure it’s possible to parse every word of an impromptu interview, but Gary is a lawyer and practiced in the art of making a general point but leaving himself enough wiggle room for some changes. So why not parse the majority of his POSITIVE interview in positive terms instead of looking for tripping point words? Seems healthier, to me.
The only way to construe anything encouraging to a relocation argument from the above exchange is to dismiss Bettman as a liar. I understand the theory behind that logic, although it would be difficult to find a lie in anything the NHL has stated about the Coyotes matter. Once the leap to the liar is made, nothing coming out of Bettman’s mouth can be used in a logical argument to support any theory. It’s the very definition of logic.
This Deserves More Followup
After stating in several different ways that the Coyotes aren’t going anywhere, the Q&A continues:
Q: Could there be some kind of combination of previous suitors?
GB: That would require a lot of speculation and information that might not be constructive to the process.
Q: I’m coming to you so that I don’t have to speculate…
GB: And I would prefer that we not talk about it because what’s more important is that we get through this process and I think we’ll have a better indication from these meetings this week as to whether we’re getting closer to resolving it.
Q: Is insurance the main issue this week?
GB: There are lots of issues. I know in your business it’s more interesting for the people that follow you to have specific things to focus on. This doesn’t get done until all of the essential elements get done and so it doesn’t take a focus on any one of the issues.
Q: Can you tell us when the meetings are and who is meeting?
GB: I think the meetings are either Wednesday or Thursday. NHLPA, IOC and double IHI.
To me, the only interesting question regards the “combination of previous suitors” which Gary answered in equivocating language instead of a positive denial. Despite prospective owners wandering all over the arena, there’s nobody speaking publicly about the mix of investors and potential investors.
Looking at the people involved, one positive statement that can be made about most of the individuals I’m aware of is that hockey is really important to them. The exception to that rule is, in my mind, Kaites and company who have been schmoozing city fathers recently.
The mixing and matching of partners is an interesting thing to consider. We really don’t know the ultimate composition of any of the groups, although it seems likely, logical, that groups and individuals have discussed pooling their resources to get a deal consummated. What the combinations are is guesswork at this point. We know the Ice Edge guys have been around this thing since the jump and have partnered with everybody else involved save, to the best of my knowledge, the Kaites/Reinsdorf crew.
Putting myself in the shoes of these people, the thorniest issue would be control. If I am laying out cash or a financial commitment or even my reputation, I want a return. Unless I’m just an investor, and most people investing in NHL hockey would by definition almost have to be huge hockey fans that would want a finger in the control pie. It’s NOT ABOUT THE MONEY for nearly all these guys, I’d be willing to bet.
Whatever it takes to get this thing done so everybody involved comes out as whole as possible is what we should all be rooting for.
Most of the buzz is based on Bettman’s responses to the Seattle questions. People are somehow convinced that the following sequence of answers means the Coyotes are definitely moving to Seattle, and SOON:
Q: How close are you following the NBA Board of Governors and the potential of the Seattle arena going in?
GB: Just from afar.
Q: Does it affect Phoenix?
GB: Not really. Phoenix is Phoenix. They’re going to, I assume the NBA Board of Governors will make whatever decision they think is in the best interest of the league and the franchise involved.
Q: Seattle in general. Do you have any thoughts on that as a potential hockey market?
GB: The research I’ve seen tells me that it would be a very strong hockey market. I haven’t looked at it in detail but it’s all anecdotal and third hand and obviously, if there were a team in Seattle it might foster a pretty decent rivalry with a northern neighbor, namely Vancouver.
We know from Coyotes Rumor Roundup that Gary had a chat with Jerry Colangelo last week, so we know that Gary understands “afar” includes personal conversations with an NBA mover and shaker. He then states an NBA decision (about the potential Seattle arena tenants the Sacramento Kings) doesn’t affect Phoenix, taking more stink off the possibility of moving the Coyotes. Yet, the combination of words above has hearts aflutter in Seattle and, to a lesser extent, Quebec City.
Adding fuel to the fire is any number of blog posts that choose to ignore or discount ALL the positive statements in the same interview about the Coyotes staying put.
If Gary is lying about one thing, and you dismiss him for it, how can you then base your conjecture on anything he says? And, to base that conjecture on a conversational statement that even contains the words “anecdotal and third hand” is even more ludicrous.
So pick your poison, if you believe Gary, you have to heed what he is saying. If you think he’s a liar, then you can “read between the lines” of whatever snippets of statements you choose to select, but it means nothing.