It's Phoenix or bust for Coyotes' Gretzky
Citing family reasons, head coach says he wouldn't move with team
Should Jim Balsillie get his wish and move the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario as their new owner, head coach Wayne Gretzky won't be packing his bags to join him.
In an exclusive interview with Hockey Night in Canada on Feb. 14, Gretzky told Scott Oake that he wouldn't move north for family reasons.
"For me, it's Phoenix or bust," said Gretzky, a native of Brantford, Ont., and father of five. "I've made that clear.
"For me, to pick up and move my family to another city is not going to happen."
In the same interview, Gretzky expressed confidence that a deal would be struck to keep the financially struggling Coyotes in the desert.
But his feelings may have changed on Tuesday when team ownership, of which he is a part, formally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Last week, a spokesman for the city of Glendale, Ariz., where Phoenix's arena is located, told reporters the league had assumed control of the Coyotes and that ownership paid $351,000 US in overdue rent on Feb. 25 — reportedly after receiving an unspecified loan from the league.
"This threatens to become very nasty," Oake told CBCSports.ca on Wednesday. "It's hard to imagine that Jim Balsillie will not get the support from some of the owners who were previously reluctant to welcome him into the club, given that he promises to relieve them of their financial support of the Phoenix Coyotes.
"He's the perfect NHLer if he was to go through the conventional route."
Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the popular BlackBerry mobile device, confirmed Tuesday he has offered $212.5 million US for the Coyotes on the condition the team relocate to southern Ontario.
Balsillie also agreed to provide $17 million in bridge financing to keep the Coyotes operating in advance of the proposed sale.
The NHL reacted swiftly, responding to the petition of sale by relieving Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes of his duties.
"We're just getting the [sale] papers and reviewing them and we'll probably be in court dealing with this whole issue," Bettman told a CNBC reporter on Wednesday.
"Obviously, if this is an attempt to circumvent league rules, then we're going to have to deal with it."
For years, many hockey observers have said Bettman isn't fond of someone coming into the league and telling him and team owners how to do business and threatening to move franchises.
"It's hard to keep resisting offers from a guy who's worth that amount of money, especially in this [uncertain] economic climate," Oake said in reference to reports that Balsillie's net worth has reached $1.7 billion.
"We know another team in southern Ontario would be strong; we know it would survive," Gretzky said in February. "I know you could put a team in … and sell 20,000 season tickets."
In May 2007, former Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold entered into a letter of agreement to sell the NHL franchise to Balsillie for $238 million, and Balsillie initiated a season-ticket drive in Hamilton before Leipold pulled out of the deal.
Three years earlier, Balsillie was thwarted in his attempts to buy the Penguins for $175 million when Bettman intervened and reportedly imposed restrictions that would keep the team in Pittsburgh.
Balsillie also has been rumoured to be in the market to purchase the Buffalo Sabres but he would not comment on rumours he met with team owner Tom Golisano in December 2007.