Headline Hockey Sports Law

Desert Dog Drama: What Would You do if Your Client was a Coyote?

phoenix coyotesIn the Phoenix courtroom of Judge Redfield T. Baum, the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy drama continues to play out. On June 15th, Jim Balsillie’s attempt to purchase the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton took a hit. Judge Baum rejected Balsillie’s bid, however the Research in Motion magnate has vowed to keep going in his mission to bring a seventh NHL team to Canada. This is a story that won’t be going away anytime soon.

I was reading Ryan Ballard’s article on Martin Havlat and the concussion he suffered during this year’s playoffs. Despite being knocked unconscious in game 3 of the Western Conference Final, he was out there again two nights later for game 4. Near the end of his article, Ryan stated that if he was Havlat’s agent, he would have told him there’s no way he should be playing. I wholeheartedly agree. Havlat is a free agent this summer and you have to figure that teams will be wondering if he’ll be bothered by post-concussion syndrome (in addition to the myriad of other injuries he’s had throughout his career) before they think about signing him to a long term deal.

How does this relate to the Coyotes and the situation in Phoenix? Well, one of the things that seems to be glossed over when discussing whether or not the Coyotes should move out of Phoenix is the impact on the players. While for some players it would be no different than being traded, it would be a major upheaval for others. One example is Shane Doan. Doan moved with the franchise from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996. He has passed on chances to leave the desert through trades and free agency. He stayed because of loyalty to the franchise and because he and his family have become part of the community in Phoenix.

Included in his last contract was a “no-movement” clause. While this means that he cannot be traded, it also means that he can’t be sent to the minors should he ever fall into a prolonged slump. Essentially, he is a Coyote and only a Coyote for the life of the contract (unless he agrees to waive it, which seems unlikely). On, Darren Dreger asked whether the Coyotes potential move to Hamilton could be seen as a breach of Doan’s contract. While Doan does not seem like the type of guy that would create a stir over this issue, it has been suggested that Doan could declare himself a free agent if the Coyotes do indeed move. If I’m Shane Doan’s agent (J.P. Barry), this is definitely something to consider. It is a situation that does not come along very often (the last NHL team to relocate was the Hartford Whalers in 1997 when they became the Carolina Hurricanes). This could be a unique opportunity to see how the clause in the contract would be interpreted should the Coyotes move cities. If the Coyotes do move from Phoenix and Shane Doan is still property of the Coyotes, it seems to me that they have essentially breached the contract.

The instability of the Coyotes should also weigh on the mind of agents with clients who are free agents this summer. With so much uncertainty surrounding the franchise, I would be reluctant to encourage any of my clients to sign with Phoenix, definitely not for the long-term. The team hasn’t made the playoffs in almost a decade and it doesn’t seem like that will change anytime soon. Until this mess is settled, Arizona is not a place I would want one of my clients playing hockey.

Although Jim Balsillie continues to fight the good fight and try to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, a move from the desert does not appear to be imminent. However, with the franchise having lost hundreds of millions of dollars since they moved from Winnipeg in 1996, the viability of NHL hockey in Phoenix remains very much in doubt. For these reason, I would be very cautious as an agent if my client showed any interest in signing in Phoenix.