Friday, September 25, 2009

Congratulazioni Wally Buono!

This article was first published in the September 25th edition of Main Street Week - page 7, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday

Congratulazioni Wally Buono!

With almost one hundred years of history in the books, the Canadian Football League has provided fans with many magical moments, legends and icons. Over twenty-seven thousand fans at BC Place witnessed history on Saturday, September 19th, as the BC Lions defeated the Toronto Argonauts 23-17 in Vancouver. Lions head coach Wally Buono established a new mark for career coaching victories, surpassing another legend, The Don, Don Mathews. In his twentieth season as a Head Coach in the CFL, Buono’s career coaching record now stands at 232 wins, 118 losses and 3 ties.

Born in Potenza Italy in 1950, Buono and his family arrived in Montreal in 1953 and that is where the future coaching legend discovered his love of the game. After playing at Idaho State University, he returned to Montreal to play as a linebacker and punter for the Alouettes, appearing in 152 games during his ten seasons with Montreal, winning the Grey Cup in 1974 and 1977. When he retired from playing in the league, Buono joined the coaching ranks as an assistant with the Montreal Concordes and eventually moved to Calgary as an assistant in 1987.

Promoted to Head Coach of the Calgary Stampeders in 1990, the history books began to record the accomplishments of Buono and his teams. His Stampeders won their division eight times in his thirteen years at the helm and they appeared in six Grey Cup games, winning the Grey Cup in 1992, 1998 and 2001. During his time in Calgary, Buono illustrated his ability to discover talented players and developed some of the greatest quarterbacks in the league’s modern history. Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia both went on to star in the National Football League after winning the Grey Cup in Calgary with Buono. Dave Dickenson, another Calgary player and CFL all-star, would later join Buono in BC where the head coach groomed another talented QB, Casey Printers.

In 2003, Buono became the Head Coach and General Manager of the BC Lions and was a crucial factor in the resurgence of the Lions on the Vancouver sports scene. With Dickenson and Printers, the Lions lost the Grey Cup in 2004 but in the third year of four consecutive division titles in 2006, Buono was once again raising the Grey Cup in victory; defeating the Alouettes by a score of 25-14. It was the fifth Grey Cup in franchise history and fourth for Buono as a Head Coach. In his career, Buono has also earned the Coach of the Year title three times, 1992, 1998 and again in 2001.

The 59-year-old coach is also very active in the community, helping to raise awareness as a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and he is involved in Operation Christmas Child; bringing gifts to children in impoverished nations.

After a 1-4 start to the season, Buono and his Lions are finding their form and have improved their win/loss record to 5-6. Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan sit atop the Western Division with identical 6-5 records and the race for playoff positions is heating up as the season heads into the home stretch. As Toronto and Winnipeg flounder in the Eastern Division, there is a real possibility the Lions will crossover in the playoffs to take on the Eastern teams. With this year’s Grey Cup taking place in Calgary on November 29th, it would be another magical moment if Buono’s ninth trip to the Grey Cup brought him through Montreal. Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gretzky Steps Down as Coach in Phoenix

The news today out of Glendale did not come in the form of a long-awaited decision by Judge Redfield T. Baum on the Coyotes bankruptcy case; instead, it was an announcement by hockey icon Wayne Gretzky that he has stepped down from his position as head coach of the troubled Phoenix franchise.

After four seasons as coach, filled with highs and lows, Gretzky’s decision did not come as a surprise. However, the timing and the fact that the announcement came via a statement on his website did shock many. The NHL’s all-time point leader deserved a proper send-off and many will wonder, was the decision his or was he pushed out of his position? Those questions will remain unknown until Gretzky himself addresses the media at a future date and elaborates on his decision.

As coach and part owner of the Coyotes, Gretzky found himself caught in the middle of the bankruptcy situation and had yet to attend the Coyotes training camp due to concerns his presence would become a distraction for his players. After being the face of the National Hockey League for decades, the league’s attempt to purchase the Coyotes did not include The Great One as a creditor. The league also made it clear; Gretzky and his $8 million contract where not part of their plans moving forward should they win the court battle. The salary Gretzky earned as coach has become a lightning rod for critics as they claim he was part of the financial woes the team is going through. While it is too much money to pay a coach, the salary certainly had more to do with selling tickets and using Gretzky’s name as a marketing tool in the desert then it did his ability as a NHL coach.

With a 143-161-24 win/loss record behind the bench, Gretzky’s young Coyotes were finding their way through a powerful Western Conference last year. At the all-star break, they were in a playoff position before teams like Anaheim, Columbus and St. Louis made a late season charge that saw the Coyotes drop down to 14th in the conference by season’s end. Although he will not be a part of the coaching staff this season, Gretzky is confident in the young talent assembled in Phoenix.

“The Coyotes scouting staff has put together a great group of young and talented players who are going to improve tremendously over the next few years,” said Gretzky in today’s statement.

In his opening comments in the statement, Gretzky alluded to the fact a new coach has been decided upon, “I approached General Manger Don Maloney and suggested he begin looking for someone to replace me as coach. Don has worked hard and explored many options. I think he has made an excellent choice, and so now it's time for me to step aside.”

Who is this excellent choice? It appears Gretzky knows who his successor will be in Phoenix. Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada has been active on Twitter today, and has suggested former Dallas Stars head coach Dave Tippett is the new bench boss for the Coyotes. Calling the hiring a “done deal”, Friedman points out the connection between Tippett and Coyotes assistant Ulf Samuelsson, they were teammates in Hartford and the fact Tippet played under recently hired assistant coach Dave King with Hockey Canada.

As Gretzky steps down as coach of the Coyotes, what will be his next move? This writer would be interested in seeing Gretzky as head coach on a veteran team on the cusp of being in contention for a Stanley Cup. He clearly loved the competitive nature of coaching and with a .473 winning percentage in his four years, he has demonstrated an ability to coach at the NHL level. Perhaps he will enter the front office of another NHL team as a Director of Player Development while he awaits an opening among the coaching ranks.

Many writers have speculated during the courtroom drama that should the NHL lose in its attempt to buy the Coyotes from bankruptcy, Commissioner Gary Bettman’s position could be in jeopardy. Gretzky may or may not be in contention for the Commissioner’s role should it become vacant but he would be a tremendous addition to the league offices in any capacity. The Great One has put the league first on many occasions and his ability to market the league and perhaps bridge the gap that has formed between the league and the player’s union make him an essential part of the NHL as they attempt to move forward in uncertain economic times.

Regardless of Gretzky’s future with the league, one thing is certain in this writer’s opinion; as one of the greatest players to lace up the skates in the NHL, his decision to step down deserved more than a statement released at his own website. If the NHL’s powers that be have any foresight, The Great One will continue to be an active part of the NHL community. Have a great sports day everyone.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009 Can-Am League Champions - the Quebec Capitales

It seemed only fitting, with the best attendance in the Can-Am baseball league, the Quebec Capitales returned to La Belle Province tied in their best of five series for the Can-Am Championship with the Worcester Tornadoes at one game each. Game three of the series, which Quebec won 5-1 over the Tornadoes, saw Eric Gagne take the mound in front of 5,011 Quebec City baseball fans. The 2003 Cy Young Award winner did not disappoint and was in fine form, pitching a complete game and allowing only one run on six hits, while striking out eight Worcester batters. The victory gave the Capitales a 2-1 lead in the series and the momentum headed into game four.

The Municipal Stadium in Quebec City was ready for a championship on Friday evening and the 3,744 fans were on their feet after nine innings, cheering for the Capitales as they defeated the Tornadoes 7-4 to claim the 2009 Can-Am League Championship. Iberville Quebec native Karl Gelinas took to the mound for game four and after allowing two runs in the top of the first inning, he settled into the game, scattering five hits over six innings of work. On the evening, Gelinas allowed three runs while striking out five. Brett Palanski and Derek McDaid came from the bullpen to shut the door on Worcester’s championship aspirations. Neither pitcher allowed a hit in relief, McDaid allowed one run in the top of the ninth but it was not enough to catch the Capitales and ruin the party.

Quebec’s heavy hitters, Pierre-Luc LaForest and Pat Deschenes were factors throughout the series but it was first baseman Pat Scalabrini’s two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning leading the way on Friday. Scalabrini went two for three on the evening with three runs batted in. Center fielder Goef Tomlinson was also a factor, going three for five at the plate, with two doubles and one RBI.

Scalabrini told Le Journal de Quebec (translated from French), “I have waited eight years for a championship in professional baseball. It is incredible to win in front of the best baseball fans in the world. There were many magical moments in the final.”

The Capitales struggled in the first half of the season, posting a 22-25 win/loss record but found their form, winning the second half of the split-season schedule with a 31-16 record. In my recent interview with Miles Wolff, league Commissioner and owner of the Capitales, days before the start of the playoffs, the Commissioner expressed his optimism looking ahead at the playoffs.

“Yeah, our team is really playing well now, we are sort of peaking, we hope at the right time. We are excited about being in the playoffs and we are hoping we can go all the way to the finals. Some good things are happening and there is a good interest in baseball in Quebec City.”

The good things did continue to happen, as the Capitales defeated the Brockton Rox 3-1 in the first round before ending Worcester’s season by the same 3-1 mark in the championship round. For Quebec, it is their second Can-Am Championship; they raised the trophy in 2006 as well. Congratulations to all of the teams in the Can-Am League for another exciting season of baseball and felicitations to our friends at the Capitales and their fans for winning the 2009 Can-Am Championship!

For more information on the Can-Am League and their teams, drop by the league's website, Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Main Street Interview with Can-Am Commissioner Miles Wolff

For the September 18th edition of Main Street Week, available today at, I had the pleasure of speaking with Can-Am League Commissioner Miles Wolff. With permission from my editor, to help promote Main Street and the Can-Am baseball league, I have posted the article here for all Voice of Sport readers to enjoy. A big thank you to Commissioner Wolff for a great conversation and taking the time to speak with Main Street. For more information on the league, drop by

Catching up with the Can-Am Commissioner

Another exciting season of Can-Am baseball is in the books for the six-team league and the Quebec Capitales, as winners of the second half of the split-season schedule, have advanced to the playoffs in their quest for the Can-Am Championship. With many highlights this season and expansion possibilities on the horizon as awareness of the league grows, Commissioner Miles Wolff graciously took time from his busy schedule to speak with Main Street.

Miles Wolff is not only the Commissioner of the league; he is also the owner of the Capitales, bringing the team to Quebec City in 1999. ESPN, the American sports network, selected Wolff as the eighth best owner in all sports, a list that includes NFL, NBA and MLB owners. He has a Master’s Degree in Southern History and has authored two novels, Season of the Owl and Lunch at the 5 and 10 and spent 18 years as the President and Publisher of Baseball America.

With his interest in history and a keen eye looking towards the future, Wolff agreed that there are very few cities in North America like Quebec City, where people can visit a museum in the morning, watch a baseball game in the afternoon and enjoy fine cuisine on a patio in the evening.

“I have always been interested in history and Quebec is such a historic town,” said Wolff at the start of the interview. “We play up the history in the ballpark; we've got, on the walls, all the pictures of the old players and the history of baseball in the province. We really play up the history aspect of baseball in Quebec City and the province and because it is an old ballpark that helps the ambience. It's a great city.”

The Can-Am League made national headlines this past spring with the news that 2003 Cy Young Award winner and Quebec native, Eric Gagne, had signed with the Capitales after leaving the Milwaukee Brewers. The arrival of a MLB all-star in the Can-Am League and the exposure that went with it certainly raised the profile of the independent league.

“He is such a name and there has been such excitement,” said Wolff of Gagne’s arrival. “It has helped us far beyond anything I could have imagined. His name and his pitching for us has been a great boost.”

Baseball fans in the provincial capital have embraced the Capitales as they led the league in attendance again this season. In August, the team travelled to another Quebec town with a tremendous baseball history, Trois Rivieres. As interest in the league grows, would Trois Rivieres make a good home for a provincial rival to the Capitales?

“Absolutely,” said Wolff. “The City of Trois Rivieres has spent $8 million dollars fixing up their ballpark. It is a really nice facility so that is one reason we played there, to see if the interest was in the community.”

The Can-Am League is in a good position moving forward in the current economic climate. There is a limit of $100,000 per team for salaries and tickets are reasonably priced. The league could expand beyond six teams according to the Commissioner but not before next season.

“We'll have six next year but Ottawa could be one of those cities,” Wolff revealed. “I think over the next month or so, we will see how certain things develop but there is some good movement in Ottawa, so this could develop into the ability to get the stadium and get a team there, it would be very good for the league. We have one team that needs to move, the American Defenders of New Hampshire in Nashua. They won't be going back to Nashua next year, they haven't drawn that well so they are looking for a new home.”

Of course, each conversation with Commissioner Wolff for Main Street eventually leads to the question of a Can-Am team playing in Montreal. A group had expressed interest in a Montreal franchise last season but the lack of an adequate stadium forced the league and possible investors to adopt a wait and see attitude.

“I think getting Eric Gagne has just increased the visibility and the desire of Montreal to get a team,” said the Commissioner. “There is a lot of movement in Montreal right now, whether that will come to anything; Montreal is certainly on our radar. If we can find a location to put a stadium, I think that might happen. There is nothing very definite right now, other than lots of people talking.”

For the time being, Quebec baseball fans have a tremendous team in Quebec City to cheer for but with the possibility of teams in Ottawa, Trois Rivieres and Montreal, the Can-Am League could soon have a lot more Canadian content. Can-Am playoff coverage is available at The Voice of Sport website. Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 Can-Am Playoffs: Quebec Joins Worcester in Finals

After their games were rained out on Friday and Saturday, the Quebec Capitales and Brockton Rox played a double-header on Sunday to keep their best of five series on schedule. The Rox won the first game of the day, game three of the series, by a score of 6-5. Already down 2-0 in the series, if the Rox lost, their season was over; the win meant the teams were back on the field an hour later for game four.

The Capitales started quickly on Sunday, taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning and starting pitcher Karl Gelinas cruised along until the third inning. The bottom of the third saw Brockton’s bats come alive, as they put four runs on the board with three home runs; including back-to-back shots. With one runner on base, shortstop Dominic Ramos picked a good time for his first home run of the season, going deep against Gelinas to even the score at 2-2. The next batter, right fielder Keith Brachold, sent one over the wall for a 3-2 lead. The Rox were not finished, as first baseman Clyde Williams hit another solo-shot to make the score 4-2 after three innings.

The Capitales evened the score with a pair of runs in the sixth inning and moved ahead 5-4 in the seventh but in front of their fans the Rox kept coming. Second baseman Melvin Falu went deep with a runner on base to take a 6-5 lead and Brockton closer, Jerry Dunn, came in for the save to avoid the sweep and force game four. Brockton’s Adam Piechowski pitched one inning in relief to get the win, Gelinas took the loss.

The teams took the field for game four after a quick break with the league’s August Pitcher of the Month, Dan Sausville taking the mound for Quebec against Brockton’s Freddy Flores. The game remained scoreless until the third inning, when second baseman Josh Colafemina drove home a run with a triple and would later score himself to give the Capitales a 2-0 lead. In the fifth inning, Quebec scored three more runs to take a 5-0 lead. The Rox batters scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth and one more in the sixth to make the game 5-3 but the Capitales bullpen held strong and game one winner, Brett Palanski earned his second win with one inning in relief. Derek McDaid allowed one hit in the ninth but kept the Rox off the score sheet for his second save of the playoffs. With the 5-3 victory, the Quebec Capitales move on to the Can-Am Championship.

Awaiting the Capitales in the Finals are the surprising Worcester Tornadoes. The Tornadoes finished the regular season on an eight game losing streak and were 1-9 in their last ten games but they hit their stride at the right time. The New Jersey Jackals, winners of the first half of the split-season schedule, lost to the Tornadoes in a three game sweep.

In the regular season, Quebec posted a 53-41 win/loss record, while Worcester posted a 43-50 record and with the top two teams eliminated, Quebec has home field for the Finals. With the best attendance in the league again this season, it is only fitting the baseball fans in Quebec have the opportunity to witness the Capitales winning the Championship at home. Worcester won the league Championship in 2005, Quebec brought the Championship trophy home in 2006; both teams know what it takes to win it all, so it should be an interesting Final. Game one starts Tuesday, September 15th and live webcasts are available at Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2009 Can-Am Baseball Playoffs - Capitales take Game 1

There is a tremendous baseball history in Quebec City and the fans in the provincial capital have embraced the Can-Am League and their Capitales. The winners of the second half in the split-season schedule got off to a great start in their best of five series with a come from behind victory against the Brockton Rox. The Capitales did not disappoint the 4,415 baseball fans in attendance and hope for the same result in game two before heading to Brockton for the remainder of the series.

Brockton were 9-1 in their last ten games of the season and had a 7-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning before the Capitales scored three runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth to take the game 8-7. Brett Palanski got the win in relief, while former Detroit Tigers draft pick Jerry Dunn took the loss, walking two and allowing three runs in the ninth.

Former Cy Young winner Eric Gagne had a rough start, giving up a two-run homer in the top of the first and another in the seventh inning when Melvin Falu hit a solo shot to lead off the seventh. If not for the offensive outburst late in the game, Gagne would have taken the loss. Overall, he scattered nine hits over seven innings pitched. He allowed all seven Brockton runs, all earned, while striking out five and walking two.

At the plate, 2009 Player of the Year, Pierre-Luc (Pete) LaForest and third baseman Pat Deschenes led the Capitales. In the eighth, LaForest started the comeback, driving in a run with a single and Deschenes brought the score to 7-5 with a two-run double. After starting the bottom of the ninth with two walks, a fielding error by Dunn on a sacrifice bunt by center fielder Goef Tomlinson brought both runners across the plate to make the score 7-7 and Tomlinson advanced to second on the play. A single by left fielder Alex Nunez finished of the Rox as Tomlinson crossed the plate as run number eight. Deschenes went 3-for-4 on the game with three RBI and LaForest and Nunez had two hits each.

The loss spoiled a great pitching performance by Brockton’s Wayne Lundgren. The 6’7 right-hander from Baulkhan Australia pitched seven strong innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs while striking out six Quebec batters. Lundgren posted a 9-5 win/loss record in the regular season, with a 2.75 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 19 starts and compared to Gagne’s 6-6 regular season record and his 4.65 ERA, this was Brockton’s game to win until the bullpen let them down.

Game two goes tonight (September 10th) at the Stade Municipal in Quebec City with hometown hero Michel Simard (9-6, 4.16 ERA, 81 strikeouts) getting the start for the Capitales against Brockton’s Craig Anderson (7-4, 3.62 ERA, 87 strikeouts). Live streaming is available in French and English at

In the other Can-Am playoff series, the Worcester Tornadoes surprised the first half winners, the New Jersey Jackals, with a 7-3 victory in Worcester. Game two of this series also goes tonight at 7:05 pm. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Will Glendale Lease put Leash on Coyotes?

When examining the Phoenix Coyotes situation in bankruptcy court, all conversations lead to the City of Glendale and the lease agreement at Arena. All of the bidders in the bankruptcy auction have discussed the need for a new lease in order to survive in the desert. With perhaps the most to lose if the Coyotes leave town, what role will Glendale play in Judge Redfield T. Baum’s final decision? Is Glendale an innocent bystander in this situation? Are they part of the problem that led to the demise of the team?

The arena in question opened as Glendale Arena in December 2003, with the Coyotes moving in as the main tenants shortly thereafter. At the time, Steve Ellman and Jerry Moyes owned the Coyotes. After failing to secure a new arena in Scottsdale, the City of Glendale and the Coyotes owners reached an agreement to develop a 200-acre area, which included the arena, office space, an entertainment district, retail shops, as well as residential and other commercial buildings with Ellman, a real estate developer. The city sold the naming rights in 2006 for $25 million over a 10-year period to

Glendale agreed to reimburse the Ellman Company up to $180 million of the $220 million in building costs for the arena in exchange for signing a 30-year lease. Steve Ellman and his company operate 88 privately held companies in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean and he is one of the largest property owners in the Phoenix area, with current holdings in excess of 10,000 acres. The re-developed area surrounding the hockey facility would create new tax revenues for Glendale and allow the city to pay off the debt incurred by building the rink.

In an August 13th interview with James Mirtle, Phoenix reporter Brahm Resnik discussed Ellman's interest in the Coyotes and described the difficulty Ellman had in securing financing to purchase the hockey franchise. Resnik, a frequent guest on Toronto's Fan 590, went on to explain that Ellman's interest was the land on which the arena was to be constructed, not the arena itself. In the interview at From the Rink, Resnik is quoted as saying, “He (Ellman) was using the arena to get the land there, as a way to pay for Westgate, essentially. What a lot of people forget is that Steve Ellman put this team up for sale almost as soon as he moved into the arena.”

The city assumed control of the arena and much of the revenue streams generated by the facility. For example, the Coyotes offer their ticket buyers 7,500 free parking spaces as an enticement to come to games; public transportation to the arena is not available. Unfortunately, the city charges the team a $2.70 surcharge for every car in the city owned lot. Instead of generating a possible $10 million in parking revenue for the team, they have paid roughly $2 million per year to the city for parking privileges.

As for the re-developed area surrounding the hockey arena, a 2006 Phoenix newspaper report claimed the project was two years behind schedule and only half of what had been promised by the Ellman Company was actually being built, leaving Glendale without the projected revenue needed to pay for the arena. Looking at the Westgate Complex website today, whether the tenants listed are current or not, almost half of the retail space is for lease and unoccupied. Ellman dropped out of the Coyotes picture but continued as the main developer of the Westgate Complex, leaving Moyes as a reluctant owner of a hockey team in Arizona.

Court documents revealed the NHL was supporting the troubled franchise, paying $38 million to Moyes to help finance the team, yet at the all-star game, Bettman told Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean that the NHL had only given the Coyotes an advance on their portion of revenue sharing, which would be a maximum of $15 million. Perhaps the Coyotes received three years of revenue sharing all at once. Reports indicate that the NHL has attempted to renegotiate the lease at the Arena since 2008 with no success and court documents have illustrated that the $38 million was not revenue sharing but the NHL taking control of the team.

One question that remains, is the City of Glendale an unwilling arena owner, duped by brilliant businessmen with offers that were too good to be true? The answer to that question may lie in the connection between the city and Reinsdorf. There was great speculation at the time he made an offer to purchase the struggling hockey club. It has been reported on Toronto’s Fan 590 that Reinsdorf has been to two hockey games in his life, why the interest in the Coyotes? Was he doing Commissioner Bettman a favour? After all, Bettman at one time was the Deputy Commissioner in the NBA and implemented the salary cap in that league for Commissioner David Stern.

The City of Glendale and Jerry Reinsdorf already have a working relationship; perhaps that is why Reinsdorf believed he could negotiate a new lease for the Coyotes when no one else could. In the spring of 2009, the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers moved into their new $200 million Spring Training Complex in - Glendale. For an area that has been devastated by the current economic climate, how wise is it to invest more money in sports related facilities?

Glendale expected millions in tax revenue from the retail development surrounding the Arena but the development has only generated enough to cover debt repayment. Glendale has continued borrowing for sports facilities and this has negatively affected their bond rating, a dangerous financial situation in a difficult economy. A February 2009 article at CBS Sports raises the issue of the city’s bond rating. "Moody's bond rating agency has raised concerns about Glendale's ability to service its mounting debt, after the city borrowed $200 million to build the new spring training complex for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. Moody's cited continued declines in sales tax revenue."

The amount of money all levels of government in the United States spend on sports facilities is staggering. A report by the University of Maryland on Professional Sports Facilities, Franchises and Urban Economic Development illustrates the subsidies provided to American based sports teams. Between 1998 and 2003, 26 new facilities began operations for NFL, MLB and NBA teams, five facilities were for NBA and NHL teams. The average cost of the new stadiums/arenas was $320.6 million with an average of $208 million in taxpayer subsidies used to cover the construction costs. The study concluded there is very little to no economic improvement in cities that use tax dollars to build new facilities.

Unfortunately, for Glendale citizens and taxpayers, they have fallen into the trap so many others have fallen into, city and state officials investing millions for the right to have a professional sports team while cutting costs in more crucial infrastructure projects. When examining the lease agreement in Glendale, the only innocent bystanders in this situation are the taxpayers. With an election looming in 2010, the voters of Glendale will have the final word. Whether the Coyotes stay in the desert or not, one thing is certain, the debt created by the team will remain for years to come. Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Former Expo Pedro Martinez Back on the Mound

This article was first published in the September 4th edition of Main Street Week - page 5, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday

Former Expo Pedro Martinez Back on the Mound

Although he was only a member of the Montreal Expos from 1994 until the end of the 1997 season, baseball fans will certainly remember Pedro Martinez. The hard throwing right-hander from Manoguayabo, in the Dominican Republic, has returned to the field as a member of the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies. Plagued by injuries in recent years, Martinez signed with the Phillies in July as a free agent and after a rehabilitation stint in the minors, he returned to the majors on August 12th, winning his first game 12-5 over the Chicago Cubs.

An all-star eight times during his career and a three-time Cy Young Award winner, Martinez is the only pitcher in Expos history to win the award given to the best pitcher in baseball. Winning the award in 1997, Martinez had one of his best seasons while pitching at the Olympic Stadium, posting a 17-8 win/loss record, a 1.90 earned run average (ERA) and he struck out 305 batters while pitching 13 complete games.

He started his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers after joining the team as a free agent in 1988 and made his major league debut September 24th, 1992. After one season as a reliever in Los Angeles, the manager of the Dodgers at the time, Tommy Lasorda, believed Martinez was not strong enough to be a power pitcher and sent him to Montreal as part of the trade for second baseman and fan favourite, Delino DeSheilds, before the start of the 1994 season.

Martinez left Montreal as a free agent and moved to the American League, becoming a member of the Boston Red Sox from 1998 until the end of the 2004 season. He was a major factor in Boston’s World Series win in 2004, the first for the franchise in 86 years. After the victory, he dedicated the win to the fans in Montreal for their support of the ‘94 team that should have won the championship but did not get the opportunity to finish the season due to the strike, which led to the cancellation of the World Series.

In 2006, while a member of the New York Mets, injuries started to take their toll on Martinez and he began to spend time on the disabled list. He missed most of the 2007 season after surgery for a torn calf muscle and rotator cuff, pitching in only five games that season. He became a free agent after an ineffective 2008 season and an appearance at the 2009 world Baseball Classic did not yield any contract offers until the Phillies called in July.

In his 18 seasons, Martinez has 216 victories and he has struck out 3,131 batters, while posting a 2.92 ERA. He finds himself on a Phillies team leading the National League East division and he will certainly be a factor when the playoffs begin. He was only a member of the Expos for three seasons but Martinez holds a special place in the hearts and record books in Montreal.

Before signing off this week, here is some interesting Expos trivia. Who was the last player to wear an Expos uniform? After the 2004 season, the last year that major league baseball was in Montreal, a group of players travelled to Japan for a series of exhibition games during the off-season. Brad Wilkerson was the lone Expos representative on the trip and the Washington Nationals began play in the spring of 2005, making Wilkerson the last player to wear an Expos uniform on the field in an official capacity. Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Battle in the Desert - the Saga Continues

What started out as a quick trip to bankruptcy court for Research in Motion co-founder Jim Balsillie and Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes has slowly become more of a Norse Viking Saga, or perhaps a Greek Tragedy, or better yet that Star Wars movie with Jar-Jar Binks; although I will not disclose whom I think falls into the role of Jar-Jar. The court battle appears to be in the home stretch but with almost 80,000 pages of documents and over 1,000 filings in Judge Redfield T. Baum's Phoenix courtroom; there are still plenty of issues to sort through before the September 10th auction. The current debate revolves around whether Balsillie can take part in the auction because the NHL rejected him as an owner in a recent vote.

As the lawyers for the NHL and the Basillie group tore each other apart yesterday, the Ice Edge investment group must have been very pleased to just sit back and watch the proceedings with a smile on their faces. If the two big players are bringing negative attention to each other, pointing out all of each other’s flaws, Ice Edge begins to go from a long shot to one of the more reasonable choices for Judge Baum. After all, Ice Edge plans to keep the team in the desert for the short-term and they have secured deals with all creditors except the City of Glendale.

The Judge commented at the start of this court battle that the NHL was “wearing too many hats”; they have now added themselves to the list of potential buyers, putting on yet another hat. The Balsillie group has a point in their argument that the NHL, by becoming a potential buyer, have failed to keep the bidding fair and transparent. Any further attacks on Basillie’s character and integrity can only appear to be one potential bidder attacking another. Which leaves Ice Edge sitting on the sidelines, quietly watching the drama unfold.

For those unfamiliar with the bids, here is a quick recap... Basillie wants the team moved to Hamilton immediately. His Make it Seven campaign has grown into a legitimate movement across Canada as hockey fans on this side of the border feel let down by the NHL. An estimated 30-40% of league revenues are generated north of the border and in these current, uncertain economic times, fans and Canadian team owners should be questioning why they are supporting teams that are failing in the US Sunbelt.

The Coyotes have lost at least $30 million per year, for several years and if they remain in Phoenix, the conservative estimate of losses for the 2009-2010 season is $40 million. While there is not a large base of corporate support in Hamilton, fans would flock to Copps Coliseum and Basillie’s friends in the business world would certainly jump on board to support the team. Let us not forget the recent Fortune Magazine listing that revealed RIM as the fastest growing company in the world, Balsillie has deep enough pockets to guarantee the move will be a success. If it is not, he is prepared to cover the losses. Balsillie’s bid on the team comes in at $212 million, with $100 million going to Moyes as a creditor.

Since the beginning of the bankruptcy battle, the NHL repeatedly stated the team must remain in Phoenix. That is, until they became potential owners and their tune changed. They wish to keep the team in place while searching for local investment but now even the league has stated the team is gone in one year if no investors come forward. Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is the owner of choice in the NHL’s opinion but he did not like the public display of his offers and negotiations with Glendale. He backed away from the bidding process but there is little doubt he will resume negotiations with the league behind closed doors if they win the court battle. Say hello to the Kansas City Coyotes. The NHL bid comes in at $140 million, Moyes gets nothing but any future profit from a sale goes to the creditors, which could include the NHL and their financial partner, Michael Dell.

Ice Edge appeared to emerge from nowhere as bidders for the Coyotes with their proposal to keep the team in Phoenix while playing five “home” games in Saskatoon Saskatchewan. In 1987, the St. Louis Blues almost moved to the prairies after their own financial troubles and ironically, one of the games in their proposal has the Coyotes playing in Saskatoon against the Blues. The trouble with Ice Edge appears to be the question of how deep are their pockets. They have gathered enough investors to buy the team, can they sustain the massive losses that will follow as the team remains in a market place that has not embraced NHL hockey.

Minor league teams have drawn well in the desert in the past but the few hockey fans left in Phoenix are tired of the drama and citizens that do not watch hockey have to wonder why their tax dollars were spent on an arena for the Coyotes in the first place. These unhappy taxpayers will not be pleased if the City of Glendale renegotiates the lease agreement. The Ice Edge bid for the team is $150 million and hinges on the league approving the Saskatoon games, which at this time; the league seems reluctant to do.

Then we have the Toronto Maple Leafs... A move to Hamilton will infringe on their territorial rights and they are apparently prepared to take on the NHL in court to discuss the situation. The Leafs believe they have veto power to stop the Coyotes from coming to Hamilton. Balsillie is prepared to pay the Leafs something, $100 million in compensation was one number floated in bankruptcy court but it appears the Leafs want at least double that amount.

An important market in North America, a second team in Toronto or Hamilton would bring in a $300-400 million expansion fee, with the Leafs taking a major piece of the pie and the other owners splitting the rest. This is the true issue in this situation, expansion dollars. The league is dead set against a team moving into their priciest real estate free of charge.

Balsillie lawyer, Jeff Kessler argued in court yesterday that the NHL did not approve his client as an owner because of the possible lawsuit from Toronto. “God knows what they will sue for and the league does not want that battle,” said Kessler. This writer has to wonder, is it that they do not want to pick a fight with the Leafs, or can they not afford a fight with the Leafs?

While it may take several weeks to discover who Judge Baum believes is the best choice for the creditors, he has already acknowledged a lengthy appeals process is in the future of the Coyotes. If the NHL wins, Balsillie and Moyes will certainly appeal the ruling, claiming the process did not proceed fairly. Anti-trust laws in the United States will be challenged. Another factor to consider in an appeal would be if any new owners receive concessions from Glendale in a new lease agreement. Moyes will argue that he may not have lost an estimated $300 million if the city had been willing to renegotiate his lease.

The NHL will appeal a ruling in favour of Balsillie, claiming they have already turned him down as an owner and he has no right to move the team without following the proper procedures the NHL has in place regarding relocation. They claim it is impossible to adjust the league schedule weeks before the season begins. The league has also mentioned the players and their families having to move on a moments notice as a factor in rejecting Balsillie. A good point but as my hockey insider pointed out to me in a recent conversation, trades happen all the time in the NHL, players and their families do have to move sometimes at a moments notice.

Throughout the proceedings, Judge Baum has listened to all sides intently, scolding them for their actions when needed and revealing a tremendous knowledge of the sports world. Personally, I would not wish to play poker with Judge Baum, his poker face would be unreadable. The best guess anyone can have at this point is that there is a 33% chance the Coyotes land in Hamilton. In a way, it is too bad it is not the Dallas Stars in court, at least then we would have a name for this drama and all of us sports writers could come up with J.R. Ewing jokes... Have a great sports day everyone.