The NHL is threatening to kick the owners of the New York Rangers out of the league or force them to sell the team as punishment for accusing league officials of violating antitrust laws.
The NHL filed court papers Wednesday that included a draft letter from commissioner Gary Bettman proposing discipline against Madison Square Garden, L.P., that could lead to suspension or termination of its ownership of the Rangers. The Garden responded by accusing the NHL of using "bullying tactics."
In its court filing, the NHL asked a judge to agree Madison Square Garden breached its contract by challenging league rules.
Madison Square Garden sued the NHL in September, saying it violated antitrust laws by monopolizing control of team promotions. A judge ruled in November that the league seemed within its rights to take control of the team's Web site.
Madison Square Garden, which is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp., owns the Rangers, the NBA's New York Knicks, the WNBA's New York Liberty and several venues, including Madison Square Garden — the home of the Rangers, Knicks and Liberty.
MSG spokesman Barry Watkins said Thursday that the league was consistent but wrong in its handling of the dispute.
"Not surprisingly, the NHL is once again proving why an independent judge must address our claims. Despite trying to resolve our differences privately, the league has responded with excessive fines and now threats that have nothing to do with the merits of our position," he said.
"The NHL shouldn't be afraid of the judicial system. We will pursue our case vigorously and will not be intimidated by the NHL's bullying tactics."
MSG first went to the courts just as the league was preparing to fine the organization $100,000 per day if the company did not give the hockey league complete control over the Rangers' Web site and other promotions.
Madison Square Garden had accused the hockey league of having "veered into unlawful behavior" by seeking to control the licensing of teams for all commercial purposes and to stop teams from marketing apparel, merchandise and memorabilia.
MSG asked a judge to order the league to stop limiting team promotions and to clarify the boundaries of hockey league rights.
In its court submission, the league asked the judge to agree that MSG had violated its contract by violating a provision that bans owners from going to court to challenge the NHL's constitution or its league rules or procedures.
The league said such a breach can lead to disciplinary proceedings in which a vote of three-quarters of the members of the league can decide to issue fines, suspend or terminate membership in the league, order a sale of the club to a new owner or suspend or expel individuals involved in the team's management.
At the end of his letter, Bettman noted that the NHL constitution also prohibits league members from resisting or trying to prevent termination in the league through the courts.