In a surprising turn of events, a group led by Jerry Reinsdorf pulled the plug on a bid to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday, the same day the NHL and another group submitted bids to buy the team.
Reinsdorf, owner of baseball's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Chicago Bulls, and his group of investors said they couldn't meet the Aug. 25 court deadline for putting in a concrete bid, blaming an "unwilling seller" and "an organized publicity effort designed to provide negative and misleading information to interested parties."
The group said through a statement that those factors prohibited it from reaching an acceptable agreement with the city of Glendale, Ariz., on an agreeable lease for the Jobing.com arena.
Another group of Canadian and American investors, using the name Ice Edge Holdings, also submitted a bid with a plan that would keep the team in Glendale.
Ice Edge chairman Keith McCullough released a statement saying the plan was to "revitalize NHL hockey in Arizona and the southwestern United States."
"In the last eight weeks we have worked with the NHL, the city of Glendale and members of the Coyotes organization to develop a solid plan for the successful operation of the Coyotes in Phoenix," said Ice Edge chief operating officer Daryl Jones.
Officials also want to work with hockey icon Wayne Gretzky, who coaches the Coyotes and owns a small stake in the club.
"The Phoenix Coyotes organization presents a number of great hockey and business opportunities," said Ice Edge CEO Anthony LeBlanc. "We will build on the team's brand, the Wayne Gretzky brand and a partnership with the city of Glendale to ensure that Arizona continues to enjoy the NHL for many years to come."
Reinsdorf and his group had initially put in an offer of $148 million US to buy and keep the Coyotes in Glendale.
The flood of action on Tuesday leaves the NHL and Ice Edge as the only two bidders willing to keep the franchise in Arizona.
While both parties didn't reveal a dollar figure for their respective bids, Ice Edge said it would come in with an offer of about $150 million earlier in the process.
Balsillie sets deadline
Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie filed an amended purchase on Monday, setting a Sept. 14 deadline to buy the bankrupt franchise for $212.5 million and immediately move it to Hamilton, Ont., with or without the league's consent.
Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of Research In Motion Ltd., based in Waterloo, Ont., wants his application ruled valid by Judge Redfield T. Baum despite the NHL board of governors' unanimous 26-0 vote against his bid to purchase the Coyotes.
Balsillie contends his offer would allow Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes to collect $104 of the $300 million he claims he lent the club.
The NHL and Ice Edge bids would leave Moyes with little, arguing the money was lost equity not a loan.
LeBlanc used to work for Balsillie as RIM's vice-president of global sales, but said his past relationship won't affect Ice Edge's bid.
The auction process for the Coyotes will take place on Sept. 10.
Thomas Salerno, an attorney for the debtors group led by Moyes, who took the NHL franchise into bankruptcy in the first place, said the "debtors are analyzing and evaluating the NHL offer. It was just received this afternoon."
Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, released a statement Tuesday saying the league would sell the team to a third party, which could still include Reinsdorf's group.
"We believe this step is necessary at this time in order to best preserve and maximize the value of the club asset for the benefit of the club's creditors and for the community of Glendale," said Daly.
NHL changes strategy
The decision marks a change in strategy for the league, which had been supportive of Reinsdorf-led bid.
Aside from calling Moyes "an unwilling seller" Reinsdorf's group also claims the Coyotes owner "created an expensive litigious environment that has had the effect of chilling the negotiations with the city."
"We have faced an organized publicity effort designed to provide negative and misleading information to interested parties," it said. "Not only has this stymied negotiations, but it has eroded local market demand for Coyotes tickets, luxury boxes, and sponsorships."
The NHL said the bankruptcy process has hurt the Coyotes' ability to move forward.
"The bankruptcy petition and subsequent events have been incredibly damaging to the club's business," said Daly, "and the sooner the club can be extricated from the bankruptcy process, the sooner club personnel can begin to restore the team's vitality and local fan base."
Among the issues Balsillie continues to challenge the NHL on is the assertion that it would be impossible for the Coyotes to move for the upcoming season.
Balsillie also filed a document on Monday that would give him the ability to walk away from the purchase if the litigious issues of the case are not ruled in his favour by Sept. 14. — one day before the team takes to the ice for its first pre-season game.
Balsillie also wants Baum to rule against the owners' vote and establish a suitable relocation fee if the NHL refuses to set one.
A hearing expected to address those issues and others is scheduled for Sept. 2.
The NHL, which has been funding the Coyotes, remains unyielding in its claim that the franchise can work in Arizona despite the tens of millions of dollars the team has reportedly lost since moving from Winnipeg in 1996.
The league has argued that a change in ownership and success on the ice could turn the franchise around.