Like most children growing up in Canada, hockey was a beloved part of my childhood. Doing my best imitation of Bobby Hull (for some strange reason I was a Chicago Blackhawks fan) I would fire a slap shot imagining it was the potential Stanley Cup winning goal. Little did we realize that hockey was anything more than a game.
As the ownership saga of the Phoenix Coyotes (Hamilton Blackberry's?) plays out in court we are reminded once again that the game itself, at least in the professional ranks, is little more than a product peddled to generate money for players, owners, advertisers, television networks and a host of other spinoff industries.
From the perspective of Jewish law the crucial debate on whether Jerry Moyes, the "owner" of the coyotes had the right to declare bankruptcy is almost irrelevant. Jewish law, at least in theory, does not recognize the concept of bankruptcy insisting that a debtor is never released from paying amounts due. The notion that one can declare bankruptcy, start a new and successful business and yet not pay one's prior debts is one that Jewish law could not accept. While the creditor may not demand payment when the debtor is no position to pay; if and when the situation reverses, payment must be made and no declarations can alter that. Even if one were to accept that living in Canada we are allowed to follow the law of the land in declaring bankruptcy this is so from a legal perspective only, not from a moral one.
With hundreds of millions of dollars owed to creditors the first and primary obligation of the Phoenix Coyotes is to repay those creditors. Considerations of who owns what and where are secondary to this basic obligation. If Jim Balsillie's offer is the best on the table that is the one that must be accepted. If the NHL wants to keep the team in Phoenix they would be obligated to match the bid themselves if no other came forth.
Even if no bankruptcy were involved it is morally questionable whether one can insist that a buyer accept a lower bid for his product, something that happened with Balisillie's attempted punchier of the Nashville Predators. Denying a franchisee the right to maximize his investment is something Jewish law would look askance at.
One of the complicating factors in bringing the team to Hamilton is the fact that a Hamilton team would be infringing on the exclusive territorial rights given to NHL franchises. Thus both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres could effectively block the move or demand compensatory fees in the millions of dollars. Such concerns would be dismissed in a Jewish court of law.
Most authorities maintain that Jewish law offers no protection against competition from rival sources unless the rules by which they operate are inherent unjust i.e. one firm is taxed at a higher rate. Even those who maintain Jewish law offers some protection do so only in the situation where the market is too small to support a competing firm. A claim for protection of monopoly or near monopoly profits would go unheeded in Jewish law. Thus even if a 7th Canadian team would lower the profits of the Maple leafs - something very far from certain - protection would not even be considered (and then rejected by many) until such point as Southern Ontario (and Western New York) could only support one hockey team, a claim no one has suggested.
From the perspective of Jewish law we can prepare to welcome the Phoenix Coyotes back to Canada. After all they were once the Winnipeg Jets, the hockey team which was home to Bobby Hull and the WHL a league established to compete with to the NHL eventually merging with it. Go Hamilton Go.