GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If not for the headlines coming out of the desert this summer, the Phoenix Coyotes' success in the opening two weeks of the season might be the talk of the NHL.
Phoenix is 3-2 under new coach Dave Tippett, and when the Coyotes face the Blues at 9:05 CDT on Thursday night, they'll be coming off a 1-0 shootout win over San Jose.
The victory garnered welcome attention for the hockey team, but it seems a conversation about the Coyotes can't take place without a mention of the franchise's bankruptcy case.
The Coyotes' status in Glendale remains in limbo after a judge ruled earlier this month that neither a bid by the NHL nor billionaire Jim Balsillie was acceptable.
Few who have followed the court proceedings know what the next step will be in the saga, but everyone realizes that the decision of Phoenix owner Jerry Moyes to put the club into bankruptcy proceedings last May has clouded the situation.
"May 5 was an awful day for all of us that put our hearts and souls into selling the game of hockey in Phoenix," said Blues TV analyst Darren Pang, who held the same job with the Coyotes the past four seasons. "The most frustrating part is, once it gets into bankruptcy, there's no control from anybody and there's no answers from anybody."
According to reports, NHL officials were en route to Arizona on that fateful day, toting an offer from pro sports owner Jerry Reinsdorf to buy the Coyotes for $148 million. But Moyes, who, reports claim, was losing $28 million a season for the last three years, didn't believe that Reinsdorf's bid would sufficiently pay off the team's creditors.
So instead, Moyes, working in conjunction with Balsillie, filed for bankruptcy, believing that the courts would award the franchise to Balsillie. Balsillie would then pay off the creditors and move the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
The move only made Balsillie a bigger antagonist in the eyes of the NHL, which had warned Balsillie when he tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006 and Nashville Predators in 2007 that he wouldn't be allowed to move a team unless conditions warranted.
Balsillie balked at the league then, going as far as prematurely selling season tickets in Hamilton in 2007 when a purchase of the Predators seemed possible.
The NHL Board of Governors voted 26-0 against Balsillie as an owner last summer. But the league seemed to have little control as the case went to bankruptcy court, which began accepting bids for the Coyotes franchise.
Balsillie's bid, which was contingent on moving the team to Hamilton, rose to $242.5 million. The NHL countered with a bid of $140 million, with the idea of reselling the team to a local investor.
After five months of negotiations, Judge Redfield T. Baum of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court rejected both offers. Baum ruled that the NHL should be able to control the identity of its owners and location of its franchises, but he also deemed the NHL's offer unacceptable because it did not satisfy payment to all creditors.
"It would have been easy to look at the numbers that Jim Balsillie had and say, 'Well, that's who should own the team,"' Pang said. "But there's so much more that went into it. Judge Baum did a phenomenal job."
Balsillie has chosen not to appeal.
"From the beginning, my attempt to relocate the Coyotes to Hamilton has been about Canadian hockey fans and Canadian hockey," Balsillie told reporters. "All I wanted was a fair chance to bring a seventh NHL team to Canada ... I believe I got that chance."
During the process, Wayne Gretzky decided to step down as coach. Gretzky said that none of the remaining bidders had interest in retaining him, a decision based on the estimated $8 million the team owes Gretzky, who is also part-owner.
"I'm confident that the best is yet to come for hockey in Phoenix," Gretzky, who was 143-161-24 in four seasons, wrote on his website after his resignation.
Phoenix hired Tippett, the former coach in Dallas, and Tippett has the Coyotes playing well to start the season. Fans in Glendale have seemingly responded, selling out the team's home opener, although that was due in part to discounted tickets.
"When they criticize hockey in Phoenix, they're criticizing the fans," Pang said. "They're saying there's no fans there, and I know from being there for four years, there are fans there. The fact of the matter is, the team hasn't been in the playoffs since 2002.
"But last January, when the Coyotes were in fifth place, and they pounded Detroit in front of a capacity crowd, it was on the front page of the newspaper and there was a buzz. There's only one common denominator, and that's winning."