Balsillie willing to let Coyotes stay put for season

Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie pledged Wednesday through his legal representatives to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix for the 2009-10 NHL season if he wins a court-supervised bankruptcy auction.

Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is pulling out all the stops in an effort to buy the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes.

Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, pledged Wednesday through his legal representatives to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix for the 2009-10 NHL season if he wins a court-supervised auction.

Balsillie's offer is contingent on moving the team to Hamilton.

Balsillie's lawyers also told the court during Wednesday's 90-minute hearing he is willing to extend a self-imposed deadline to complete the sale to Dec. 31, in order to give the NHL time to find a local owner.

Should the league succeed, he will simply walk away.

Balsillie's lawyers also reiterated the $50-million US offer to the City of Glendale — the Phoenix suburb where the Coyotes play — to release the team from a binding lease agreement at Arena.

Balsillie's flamboyant lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, explained it was "a cost-free $50-million insurance policy for Glendale" because the city gets $25 million US up front — win or lose — if it backs Balsillie's $242.5-million US bid instead of the NHL's bid of $140 million US.

Most of the major secured creditors, including the City of Glendale, have supported the league because it intends to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix for the time being and seek suitable local ownership.

Failing that, it would explore relocation.

'A fairly significant change'

Judge Redfield T. Baum, who had scheduled Wednesday's hearing to discuss the merits of mediation, called Balsillie's revisions "a fairly significant change."

"To an old bankruptcy judge, $25-million cash, no matter what happens today — that is a lot of money," Baum said.

Baum was expected to rule late Wednesday on mediation, which Balsillie welcomes and the NHL opposes.

Baum has often stated a preference for arbitration and shown a reluctance to make a definitive ruling on ownership.

Any ruling in bankruptcy court reportedly is subject to appeal; a mediated decision cannot be appealed.

"They're having trouble selling tickets right now," NHL attorney Alan Meda told the court via a conference call.

"This team will not live. It cannot afford to delay a decision."

'Opening of the floodgates'

Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes, the lead debtor, told reporters outside the courthouse that Balsillie's willingness to keep the team in Phoenix this year might boost ticket sales, which bottomed out at fewer than 2,000 for last week's pre-season game against the Los Angeles Kings.

"It has been impossible to sell tickets because nobody knows if it is going to be here, so I think this will be the opening of the floodgates," Moyes said. "If the fans are convinced that the team needs to be here, and sponsors, this will be an opportunity for them to prove that the team should be here.

"That is what I have said all along. My first choice has always been to leave the team here and find support to leave it here."

Moyes, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 5, filed an emergency motion last Friday demanding Baum order mediation to resolve the case.  

Moyes initially intended to facilitate the sale of the Coyotes in bankruptcy court to Balsillie, but Baum has yet to rule on whether he or the NHL or neither will win the Coyotes in auction.

With files from The Associated Press