Friday, June 20, 2008

Battle lines being drawn in the Big Apple

“This is something that both sides should be settling, and quickly,” “No one needs this.” -- An anonymous owner of an NHL franchise, expressing concern over the latest troubles to flow out of the Rangers - NHL head office dispute.


Followers of the NHL are used to disputes and worrisome trends when it comes to the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes and such, but when you start to see the name of the parent company of the New York Ranges in the headlines, well it’s perhaps time to sit up and take notice.

In an unwanted bit of publicity, the NHL has issued a veiled threat of sorts to Madison Square Gardens, that if the Rangers owners don’t start to see the business template of the NHL as one endorsed by the league office, then they very well may not own the Rangers much longer.

With the two sides in a heated fight over the issue of control over the Rangers website, their past decisions to dis-regard current broadcasting and Internet policies and the Ranges desire to sell their paraphernalia in the manner they wish, not aligning themselves with the NHL’s larger on line retail presence.

It’s a dispute that has been raging for a fairly long period of time now, last November the Rangers took the most unlikely of steps as to sue the NHL in court, claiming that the league violated antitrust laws by monopolizing control of team promotions, a court case which the Rangers lost.

Wednesday saw the NHL once again was back in the courts, asking a New York judge to agree that MSG breached its contract by challenging NHL rules, a move that could clear the way for the NHL to strip MSG of the franchise title.

It’s the latest in unsettling developments from the league boardrooms, following on the heels of what seems to be a protracted vendetta of sorts against Ontario billionaire Jim Balsillie, who has made a number of attempts to secure an NHL franchise and relocate it to Hamilton. Each time the NHL has managed to find some caveat to slow down the process or bring it to an end outright. Much to the chagrin of Balsillie and Canadian hockey fans outside of the boardroom of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Last week the unfortunate spectacle arose of the Commissioners hand picked candidate for partial ownership Boots Del Biaggio, suddenly finding himself in legal problems of his own, making for another spin of the Nashville Predators soap opera and leaving many to wonder if the NHL has any kind of a handle on the investigation process required to examine potential owners.

Over in Anaheim when they're not talking about when Brian Burke will make his move to Toronto, they're discussing the latest legal woes of the Ducks owner Henry Sameuli.

Ottawa's Eugene Melynk is facing his own tribulations coming from his day job as the larger than life presence at Biovail.

The Tampa Bay Lightning finally changed hands again, but not before a long and less than clear history of financial concerns plagued that franchise through the years and right up to the latest purchase of the Bolts.

Combine the hot spots of judicial interest, with the lackluster nature of much of the southeastern footprint of the NHL, and one wonders how long the rest of the NHL governors will be willing to go along with the charted course of the upper offices of the New York headquarters.

Any businessman knows its good business to be making headlines in the business section, not so good when you spill over to the front page of the news and even worse when you become a frequent occurrence on the court report pages.

Mr. Bettman's latest press clippings are not the kind of thing that look to good when it comes time for the eventual performance review, optics as they say are everything. The commissioner may eventually win this protracted war with the Rangers, but at a clear loss of some of his credibility.

The more these embarrassing problems keep popping up, you have to wonder if perhaps out of the thirty owners (or those that will still actually own their clubs), there may not be a movement to find out what's going on in the New York office and make the necessary adjustments to get things back on track and off of the front pages of America's court report sections.

National Post-- NHL threatens to kick MSG out of league: report
Globe and Mail-- League threatens to oust Rangers' owner
Globe and Mail Hockey blog-- A titillating story
Globe and Mail-- NHL will need a big fire extinguisher to douse its many hot spots
Toronto Star-- NHL-MSG showdown starting to get very interesting
Bloomberg News-- NHL Threatens to Oust Rangers' Owners Over Lawsuit
Newsday-- NHL calls for penalty
New York Times-- N.H.L. Hits Back After Suit by Rangers
New York Times-- N.H.L. and Rangers’ Legal War Gets Nastier
New York Sun-- NHL May Lose by Checking Rangers
New York Sun-- Owner Woes, Europe on Bettman's Summer List
New York Daily News-- NHL wants to take Rangers away from James Dolan
New York Daily News-- NHL threatens to take down Dolans
New York Post-- Bettman to Rangers: 'Get Out!'

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